It seems now that Mayo's dreadful display against Cork in the league final earlier this year was not a once off, but a fair reflection of where this team and management currently stands. In that final we played like a division four team. We looked every inch a division four team again last week. I realise that winning performances are not always associated with dazzling displays of individual or team brilliance. A winning performance is achieved by relentless work, harrying, hitting, running, tracking back, tackling, winning dirty balls. This is a basic requisite to be successful in championship football. That's what we wanted from our evening in Sligo. As a result of the defeat Mayo has also missed out on an attractive home tie against our old friends, Galway, in a few weeks’ time. It was planned to coincide with the official opening of the new stand, but that too must be shelved for the time being. This missed opportunity also means a very significant loss of revenue for the County Board and another hit to local businesses.
With regard to last Saturday's game, Mayo's performance was disorganised and lacklustre. It lacked the intensity expected of a championship encounter. We all expected a tough encounter against Sligo. They are a winning side with bucket loads of confidence and have made a very significant improvement under the astute management of Kevin Walsh over the last few years. Mayo, on the other hand, are very clearly lacking in confidence at the moment. However I still thought we would be good enough to overcome Sligo, and believe it or not, I felt we had sufficient quality to win a Connacht title this year. In hindsight, I believe this match could have been won had management addressed a number of issues that arose before and during the game. Once Chris Barrett was ruled out through illness, Mayo should have considered Liam O'Malley as a direct replacement. He has played well in several games throughout the league as an orthodox corner back and should have been the player nominated to replace Barrett. Instead we moved Donal Vaughan, selected at wing back, to corner back where he struggled to mark Sligo's most dangerous forward, David Kelly. The dog on the street recognises David Kelly's abilities as a corner forward. Keith Higgins, Mayo's slickest defender, should have been nominated/delegated a month ago to pick Kelly up from the start.
Once Eamon O'Hara was dispatched from full forward to assist with a leaking full back line, Mayo's management should have identified that we needed a good running extra player to attack from midfield. I have three in mind who could have filled this role; Gardiner, Vaughan, or McLaughlin. Instead Mayo kept their extra player, Ger Cafferkey, in the full back line as an extra where he was not much of a threat to Sligo. As it transpired we got a dream start and Alan Freeman looked like he could have beaten Sligo on his own such was his dominance in the first 10 minutes. He was excellent as a debutant. Unfortunately Mayo persisted in trying to find him with long ball which the inspirational O'Hara mopped up time and time again. It was obvious that attacking from midfield with a running option would have sucked O'Hara away from his sweeping role in front of the full back, and at least the Sligo management would have a decision to make. And finally, John O’Mahony persevered way too long with several players who were just not on their game. Throwing on players to try to rescue a match, when the momentum had clearly shifted to the opposition, was just a case of shutting the gate after the horse had bolted.
I cannot understand why the Mayo players looked so flat last weekend. Perhaps it was the schedule of challenge matches played that left them looking tired and drained. However one would expect that players should still be able to deliver a championship performance. This clearly was not the case however. There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm, little or no motivation, and there appeared also to be a number of players looking to the sideline to be rescued long before the final whistle. Management has to shoulder some of the blame here too. They are expected to provide the direction and tactical decisions their players need. To be effective in this regard you need some degree of an emotional connection with each player. I get the impression that the entire set up surrounding the Mayo football scene is not a happy one. There appears to be little or no connect between management and players. If I thought for a minute that this team was not capable of significant improvement in this year's campaign then I would prefer if our championship season ended at the next outing. The last thing we need is a 'handy' draw that would eventually lead to an embarrassment in some lion's den!