The man behind the main man

GAA: All Ireland SFC SF

Putting the plans in place: Tom Prendergast is one of the key men in James Horan's backroom team. Photo:Sportsfile

Putting the plans in place: Tom Prendergast is one of the key men in James Horan's backroom team. Photo:Sportsfile

While most of the attention that is paid to the Mayo sideline is concentrated on what James Horan is doing and possibly thinking, one of his main lieutenants, Tom Prendergast, is as much an important cog in the Mayo wheel. Horan’s trusted ally since their days together with Ballintubber is another deep thinker on the game, but likes to keep things simple when talking about how Mayo have got to where they are. “It's like everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it,” he said last week.

As Mayo head to Croke Park for their 12th time in the past three years in the current regimes reign, getting the players to improve their skills and their appreciation of what it takes to play in almost every position in the park is key to their success he believes. “In terms of improving players and players improving themselves something we focus on is that players are universal in terms of the approach. If you're an attacker, you’ve got to be a really, really, good defender and if you're a defender, you got to be a really, really, good attacker, because you can't break the game up to when it's in this part of the pitch it's defending, and when it's in this part of the pitch it's attacking. That's not the way it works. When you get the ball as a corner back, you're an attacker, and similarly as Cillian O'Connor and Alan Freeman have shown this year, we've got goals from our tackling high up the pitch. We have the versatility, that gives you the depth, we've quite a few players who can play in a range of positions which gives you the options. Cillian, Alan Dillon, Kevin McLoughlin have all played all over the forwards and further back. Keith Higgins has moved around, Aidan O'Shea has played full-forward, centre-forward, and midfield, I think you have to have that. It's great to, that improves the positional awareness of all the team, so a wing-forward has a very good idea of what your corner back is looking for in terms of the help that he needs, and the defenders have a appreciation of what the forwards need and are looking for in the quality and type of ball that's coming in and I think that's definitely improved.

We are a more fluid team, there's more fluency to the way we're playing and part of that is down to us having players who are very versatile and are very comfortable on the ball in whatever part of the pitch they happen to be. If we've a corner forward who is back defending and he gets on the ball at wing-back, he's got a good idea of what's required in that position and similarly, say Keith when he's attacking from corner back he has an idea of what he's to do.”

As for Sunday’s opponents, he’s sees Tyrone as playing very much in the same style that they always have under Mickey Harte. “They press the ball pretty much wherever it is on the pitch. They might give you easy possession behind your own 45 but that's about it, once you go beyond that they press pretty high up the pitch, much further than Donegal do. They are very effective tacklers and they'll look to compress the space. Space will be at a premium, I suppose we know what to expect and we have to play at a level right at the upper end of what we are capable of if we are going to beat them.” When asked had Mayo reached that level yet, Prendergast thinks they still have a bit to go. “I'd say not, we've got a way to go. We've been working hard since the Donegal game and after every game we look at where we can improve, we’re still working very hard on our skill execution and we still have a ways to go on that, even though we've done that, we continue to work on our tackling and we're just working hard on our attacking and lines of running. We did a lot well against Donegal and I think there's definitely scope for improvement and we're hoping to bring that to bear against Tyrone.”

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