I didn’t travel to Ruislip last weekend to see Mayo’s opener in the Connacht championship. I am glad I didn’t. I did, however, listen to the coverage in its entirety on the radio. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I had a knot in my stomach for most of the match. I had an uneasy feeling that we were going to be beaten and I was considering the type of damage a defeat would cause to the future of Mayo football. Andy Moran, Mayo’s vice captain, is credited with a post-match statement that Mayo players aren’t working hard enough. Do the players realise that once they pull on a Mayo jersey they have a responsibility to themselves, and also to the county, to work hard? In the past lesser players were capable of standing up for themselves and the county whenever they were pressed. There was invariably a manliness about the majority of players picked to represent this county. I, like many others, am a fiercely proud Mayo man. I love this county and I love football. The majority of my close friends within this county are football people. They, like me, are genuinely saddened by the pitiful nature of the performance(s ) of the Mayo senior team, not just last Sunday but in recent times.
Yes of course we can’t be too judgemental in the month of May, but the reality is that we are clearly in a bad place right now if we cannot beat London reasonably comfortably. Remember, this London team could only manage a single victory, and that against Kilkenny, in division four of the National Football league this season. We have been ridiculed so often in recent years over similar performances you would imagine the thought of another bad display would have been enough to guarantee a hard working performance from the team. Andy (assuming he was quoted correctly ) also suggested in his post-match comments that Mayo were well able to compete against some of the best teams throughout the league. Here he mentioned Down, Cork and Kerry. Let us not delude ourselves with comments that suggest we are up there with the Corks or the Kerrys. Playing against an under strength Cork or Kerry team in the league counts for nought. Teams are now primarily judged on their championship credentials when the intensity and pressure is at its greatest. That is the time to stand up and be counted. Then and only then can you consider that you are able to compete with the big boys. I don’t want to flog last Sunday’s performance to death. It is over. Mayo survived and, as James Horan said, they did what they had set out to do. They won the match.
There is still hope though
Is there any hope for us against Galway on June the 26? Despite the awful performance last weekend I still think we can win the upcoming game, providing the team is lined out correctly. I am assuming there will not be even a hint of complacency going into this encounter.
We struggled at midfield last Sunday, so the return of Ronan McGarrity is crucial. Of course there will be a concern over his fitness, but his big game experience and his general know- how almost certainly guarantees him a starting berth. Keith Higgins is another class performer who will bolster our defence assuming, also, that he returns to full fitness. The role Trevor Howley played last Sunday must change. While I admire the qualities the Knockmore man possesses, his tenacity, winning mentality, never say die attitude etc, playing him as an extra defender does not suit him or this Mayo team. It didn’t work last Sunday. My sources on the ground indicated to me that his direct opponent, a corner back, was a much more potent threat when dragged to a forward role. I would much rather see Trevor deployed as a defender in the purist sense. It takes an exceptional player to play the roving role effectively and, to be honest, I don’t think Trevor understands what he is being asked to do. Also, the deployment of an extra defender must appear as a lack of confidence on the part of selectors in the selected six backs.
I believe there is too much pressure being thrown on to the young inexperienced shoulders of Jason Doherty. Jason had a magnificent National League campaign, scoring goals for fun, but in the process has alerted everyone to the fact that he is a forward of real class. He, like his manager, will fully realise that the yard or two of space he was getting in the league will no longer be there. I would deploy a big ball winner on the edge of the square (Aidan O’Shea ) and play two orthodox corner forwards off him. I would consider Trevor Mortimer as an inside forward along with Doherty for the Galway game. Alan Freeman could very easily play in the half forward line. Persisting with a two-man full forward line, with the extra man being deployed in a defensive role, is more or less raising a white flag before a ball is kicked. A smart opposing manager will also have devised a simple plan to counteract this move by deploying a good footballer (not necessarily a defender ) onto the roving defender.
What needs to be done over the next three weeks
Sort it out now. The Mayo teams that I was involved with had an exceptional free taker in Maurice Sheridan. From my count last Sunday we used seven different free takers. That must be close to a record in itself. I recall Maurice mentioning in 1996 that he had practised his free taking for 90 consecutive days. That is what made him so consistent and I would suggest so exceptional. Teams feared fouling Mayo attackers, because they knew that Maurice invariably punished indiscretions from opposing defenders. Identify two or three free takers this week and give them the responsibility to be prepared for June 26. The same applies for penalties. No excuses for missing from 11 metres.
Shooting practice and shot selection
Eighteen wides last Sunday speaks for itself.
It is difficult enough to devise drills for the breaking ball. Suffice it to say that invariably the player who wants it badly enough will win the majority of breaks. That is not to say that some serious work cannot be done at training in identifying where players should position themselves for breaks. Select a team that will guarantee a performance full of courage, daring, intensity and, at times, controlled recklessness.
As Andy Moran suggested, if you have that kind of spirit in the entire team, winning will invariably look after itself.