Mayo look to take next step in Mullingar

GAA: National Football League

Moving it on: James McCormack passes the ball forward for Mayo last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Moving it on: James McCormack passes the ball forward for Mayo last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

After doing the heavy lifting in the opening three quarters last Saturday, like an experienced heavyweight working themselves back towards another title tilt somewhere down the track - Mayo will get some more rounds into their legs and lungs tomorrow afternoon in Mullingar.

Having got back to the big show, under the bright lights last December, only to come up short once more on points, Mayo have dusted themselves down, taken stock of what went wrong before and started to work on a few new tricks that they hope will see their hand raised in victory this time around - when it really matters.

While there is plenty of experience and guile still in the memory banks to lay a solid foundation to this work, there is lots of scope for something new to do the damage on opponents down the line.

The left and right combination that showed the potential of suppling the desired knock-out blow, or to build up the scoring jabs that will see them over the line, was on show last Saturday.

The twin threats of Tommy Conroy and Ryan O'Donoghue led the line superbly, combining for 2-4 between them on the scoresheet and looking like they could take on all comers, without fear or frailty.

The duo were supplemented by the metronomic kicking of Cillian O'Connor, who might not have lit the game up in the way that he can, but still finished the day with eight points; those little body blows that knock the wind out of an opponent and keeps the scorecard moving in your favour,that you can't do without.

He was also a few inches away from laying on a goal chance - with the kind of smart thinking only a real football brain can calculate that there's a chance even here - despite being bottled up by two defenders and with less than a second to make that decision and put it into action.

No County for Old Men

The influx of youthful thinking and energy was on display from the team selection, with Oisin Mullin, Enda Hession, Rory Brickenden, Fionn McDonagh, Jordan Flynn, Conroy and O'Donoghue - all getting starts in a key game for Mayo; while Eoghan McLaughlin, Bryan Walsh, Aidan Orme and James McCormack were all given game time from the bench.

The u21 class of 2016 or Diarmuid O'Connor, Michael Plunkett, Matthew Ruane, Conor Loftus and Stephen Coen, who all also got game time, were the experienced infantry core of this Mayo side.

The now grizzled old veterans in the group were the likes of Cillian O'Connor (29 ), Robert Hennelly (31 ), Lee Keegan (31 ), Paddy Durcan (26 ), Kevin McLoughlin (33 ) and Colm Boyle (34 ) - who made his first Mayo appearance since February 2020 last Saturday. Boyle resisted the temptation to step away earlier this year when a large number of his contemporaries did and has gloved up for another few rounds this year.

Moving things on

Mayo played with speed and movement, taking advantage of their core skills last Saturday - that combined with the muscle memory from competing with the very best always in reserve if needed, and James Horan was happy with what he saw overall, saying: "How we tried to play is the most pleasing. We are trying to tweak a few things here and there, overall very good, but as I said we got sloppy near the end", he said afterwards.

The next few weeks will be for that tweaking to be worked on with the ladder of rungs to climb back up to the top of the hill not far away in the distance now.

Mullingar will be the next staging post for this work in progress and Westmeath will welcome Mayo with their own egos a little bruised - after being pipped at the post by Meath last Sunday in Navan.

Jack Cooney's men looked to have done the hard work against their neighbours, but down the home straight - that old battling instinct that exists in the Royal counties football DNA, saw them edge over the line.

Mayo have been operating at a far higher level than their hosts for the past number of years, with our last meeting with them coming in a qualifier game in 2016, which Mayo made much harder work of than they needed too - and just four of those who started for Mayo that day five years ago, started last weekend.

It is a much different Mayo now and one that has the look of moving into the future to write its own new chapters in the long history of the game in the county.


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