The reputation of Connacht football rests firmly on Mayo's shoulders after Galway's no show at HQ last weekend against a rampant Tipperary. The scoreline was flattering for Galway but it should have been a lot worse had Tipperary taken all their chances, they ripped Galway asunder. In a year that promised so much for Connacht football it all boils down to Mayo's performance against Tyrone on Saturday evening.
Mayo find themselves in a quarter final without setting the place ablaze and without finding any consistent form. This can be looked at in two ways. Is it the sign of a team pacing themselves for one final push now that the serious stuff starts, or is it that things are just not happening the way we would want them to, as we struggled to shake of a very mediocre division four Westmeath in a round four qualifier last Saturday in Croke Park.
Some good, but worryingly some bad
To summarise Mayo's performance against Westmeath, Jekyll and Hyde springs to mind. Mayo were terrible for the first ten minutes, struggling to get into the game only to turn on the style scoring a very impressive 2-10 by the half time whistle. The media men in the press area in Croke Park were full of praise for Stephen Rochford's team, most wondered would Mayo win by more than 20 points, such was their dominance. I was hoping they would and show a ruthless streak that we haven’t seen in a long while.
Instead the exact opposite happened, Mayo came out for the second half complacent and strutted around the place as if the game was done and dusted. Despite me declaring on the airwaves on several occasions that Mayo were never in trouble, I got a little anxious and nervous when there were only 3 points in the game with 10 minutes to go. We need to remember that at one stage in the first half Mayo were 12 points up. Mayo were outscored by Westmeath by 0-9 to 0-3 for the first 25 minutes of the second half. It was very unprofessional and very worrying that they could let that happen. Dublin or Kerry would have annihilated Westmeath, how could we let a division 4 team dominate us for so long?
It took a last gasp goal from Aidan O'Shea to put a gloss on the scoreline. Had Westmeath not squandered some glorious chances in that second half we could have been in real trouble. When Westmeath ran at our defence in the second period they opened us up time after time. Tackles were missed and players were looking at each other wondering what was going on. I can only apportion this to players already thinking about the Tyrone game, which is understandable if I'm honest but not what I wanted to see.
No room for switching off on Saturday
There is no question that Mayo will have to play at least 25 per cent better against Tyrone than they have in any game under Rochford's watch, but if there is any team to bring out the best in this Mayo team it will be Tyrone. Mayo certainly won't fear them. Is it too big an ask to put in their best performance in a year? Will players who are struggling for form be able to put in one Herculean effort against the red hand? There is a real carrot there for both teams with Tipperary awaiting the winners in the semi-final. Mickey Harte was present last Saturday evening to run his eye over Mayo. He is a tactical genius that gets the best out of his players and he will have something up his sleeve for Saturday, that’s for sure.
Mayo have to get their match ups correct. It's not just Peter Harte and Sean Cavanagh that merit attention, although stifle either of those two and you go a long way to beating Tyrone. Tiernan McCann is another who is having an excellent season and careful planning is required to negate his influence. Mattie Donnelly, declared fit for the encounter, is another big performer for Tyrone. It's critical for Mayo to have a fit Diarmuid O'Connor, he is the key to our success. You can be guaranteed he will get special attention from more than one Tyrone player. This is the first championship match this season, Mayo are the underdogs, and for the first time in many years Tyrone are fancied to beat us. There is no hiding places from now on. I am clinging on to the belief that Mayo will press the light switch and turn in a performance that our supporters deserve. The time is now.
Mayo had another clear cut penalty decision turned down against Westmeath when Cillian O'Connor's jersey was clearly pulled in the square. This is a worrying trend. It seems on the back of the Aidan O'Shea incident against Fermanagh, officials are reluctant to give us anything. I'd be having a word with the authorities and expressing my concern about same if I was involved with the Mayo set up. The result could come down to a crucial call like that.