“Mayo football is in a critical state,” “the players are finished,” “the management aren't up to it,” “I hope Roscommon beat us to put us out of our misery.” They are just a small example of what I listened to last week in the build up to the replay against Roscommon. Fast forward three days and the Mayo for Sam bandwagon is in full swing. “That was Mayo's best performance in Croke Park,” “This is the strongest squad Mayo have ever had,” “every player played well,” “Rochford is a tactical genius,” “I think we'll win the All-Ireland this year.”
Football is funny, people's opinions and how they change overnight are hilarious to say the least. This is not just confined to the ordinary decent folk, the “experts” have gone full circle now. Mayo and Roscommon had no chance and were wasting their time turning up against Kerry in a semifinal last Monday at 1.59pm. By 2.35pm Eamon Fitzmaurice was likely to have a few sleepless nights because of how good Mayo were in the first half. That is why I love football, no one has a clue what is going to happen.
Running up the scores
While leaving Croke Park last Saturday after Tyrone and Dublin ran riot in their quarter-finals, I happened to be in the media elevator with quite a few of the well known national journalists who were sceptical of Mayo's chances against the Rossies. “How much have Kerry, Tyrone, and Dublin won by in total in their quarter finals?” I said out loud to no one in particular. “Thirty six points,” came from the back of the packed elevator. "Really," I replied, "that's going to go well over the 50 mark now because Mayo are going to win by at least 19 on Monday." A massive burst of laughter followed from everyone. I was not being serious but the people in that elevator didn't know that. I can only imagine my outrageous statement crossed their minds at the final whistle last Monday.
Because of family commitments I had to watch the game on Clare Island (I never bargained for a replay ) in the company of a certain Trevor Giles and Tommy Lyons (former Offaly and Dublin manager ). You just never know who you will meet and where. It was brilliant to see the Mayo jerseys all over the island.
Ruthless but still work to do
Mayo's performance against Roscommon was both powerful and ruthless but not without flaws, the Mayo statisticians will point out to Stephen Rochford about the number of poor wides that ran into double digits again. But we cannot take away from the way the players and management responded to severe amounts of criticism from within and outside the county. They annihilated their opponents who, truth be told, thought they were going to turn them over. The old saying that goals win games was not exactly true in this instance. “Goals kill games” was more appropriate . Mayo's three goals in rapid succession in the middle of the first half killed the game as a contest but they were all exceptional in their own right.
Kevin McLoughlin's goal was composure of the highest order (even though he hopped the ball twice ). After carrying the ball 60 metres he sided footed with his weaker right foot past a helpless Colm Lavin. This is the thing with McLoughlin, on several occasions while carrying the ball he looked like he was about to execute a kick pass or shoot for a point only to solo the ball instead and keep going, it fooled the Roscommon backs as they all gave up the chase by which point it was too late to put a tackle in on him. The next two goals were all about Keith Higgins, breaking like a steam train from the back. Mayo's power running had the Rossies bamboozled. Higgins first ventured forward before laying off to Andy Moran who dispatched superbly. The third goal came when Mayo's evergreen cornerback accelerated when a gap opened up for him to hammer home Mayo's third, and completely demoralise Roscommon. Higgins could not believe how easy he was getting through the Roscommon rearguard. He was my man-of-the match.
Strength from back to front
Mayo's ability to support from the back can all be attributed to their dominance in the middle third where Tom Parsons and the two O'Shea brothers completely dictated. As much as you want to give out about Aidan O'Shea playing basketball in the off season it has made his timing and ball wining ability from restarts and throw in balls invaluable. He wins almost all of them as Liam McHale used to do for us in his heyday. Defensively Mayo looked more assured with Chris Barrett further back and Donal Vaughan in from the start. It is hard to believe Lee Keegan was not even playing. Another perfect headache for the manager? It was great to see Shane Nally, Stephen Coen, and David Drake all contributing off the bench. Every Mayo player played well. How many times have we said that before? Thirteen Mayo players got on the score sheet which is quite remarkable. A much bigger test lies ahead.