After what had happened in Croke Park the previous Sunday, there were not too many expecting to see Mayo dish out the hiding they did to Roscommon last Monday in the replay. It was one of those days, where almost everything went right for Mayo and nothing went right for their opponents. The reason for that was not luck or fortune, it was because Mayo attacked the game in the right way — from the very first ball and never let up.
Next up for Mayo is a meeting with Kerry in the All Ireland semifinal next weekend, the league champions will go into that one as favourites, but that is not something to which Mayo will be paying much heed, as Stephen Rochford said in the aftermath of the game. "We’ll go in as the underdog, but that doesn’t matter, I’m sure there is an almighty game left in us - if not more.”
As for being happy after the performance, Rochford knows it is just another step in the journey, saying: "We’re in the All Ireland semifinal so I’m as happy as that tends to leave any of the managers that are there, it’s a job done for today — but far from anything more than that.” One thing that did please him was that his side played for the full game, not just in the dribs and drabs for a few minutes here and there as they had in previous games. He said: "We just played with a more consistent tempo and stopped operating in spurts and taking our foot off the throttle we just sort of played a little bit more on the line and looked for the next score and allow the scoreboard build."
Adapting to situations
The few days before the game had seen the fitness of Lee Keegan become a major talking point, and when 15 minutes before throw-in it was officially released that he would be not starting along with Ger Cafferkey from the team that was named earlier last weekend, it did cause concern among the Mayo faithful. Explaining the reasoning behind both decisions the Crossmolina native said: “I think it has been documented about Lee having spent some time in hospital this week, he would have been available if needed going into the final 20 or 25 minutes, he made a really good recovery and it’s an opportunity to acknowledge our own medial team and in Mayo General for the good work they did with him. We just felt the way that Roscommon had on the ball [the previous week], we needed to put a bit more pace into the game and that’s what Tom [Parsons] and Donal [Vaughan] afforded us, they were really good around that middle third. Possession is nine tenths of the law and I thought we did well in getting our hands on the ball and we certainly didn’t turn it over half as many times as we did last week and that led to a lot of frustration in the camp last week.” He also said of Keegan: “As in 100 per cent he would be available tomorrow [last Tuesday], if not then Wednesday.”
The hard road has its benefits
That was Mayo's seventh championship game so far this season, it was only Roscommon's fourth, and it will be Kerry's fourth championship outing next weekend, while Mayo will be facing into their eighth in the semifinal. There had been talk in the build up to last weekend's game that fatigue might be a factor that could affect Mayo, but Rochford was having none if it saying: "I think, these guys, and I’m on about inter-county footballers in general, are trained from a conditioning point of view within an inch of their lives. There is nothing left to chance, we trained once this week - because we knew from a fitness level, on a physical basis, we were fine. The challenge might be, and as much as people wanted to write and talk about it, the challenge was what was the mental fatigue element. But when we sat down and reviewed the tape, the amount of frustration there was in all of us in regarding how poorly we executed [last week] - things that we just wouldn’t be happy with and that led to an energy of saying, look we’re going to be somewhat different again when we get back into Croke Park. With any of these, I’m no psychologist, and you don’t know until you get out on to the pitch, we put a big emphasis on starting well as we did last week, and we were rocked for 2-2, so I think with any of these it’s about playing on the front foot and trying to dictate the rules of engagement and in most parts we went about doing that.”
He also added that playing week-on-week has its positives, but people's impressions of that change as results go. “It looked tonight it was positive, you could be talking a fortnight's time that we looked a little leg weary. But I have no concerns with that, the carrot that now dangles in front of the group is there is a chance here to play in an All Ireland final, so Christ above, what did you come back for in January if this isn’t what it’s about, it has been a fascinating championship for everybody, it has been challenging and loads of players have got time and through the back-door last year we got more of a flow what our team was about and I just hope over the next fortnight that we continue in that frame of mind."
No sleep lost over criticism
As for the criticism that he and the rest of the management shipped from some quarters of decisions they had made in the previous week's game, the Mayo manager said he did not pay it any attention. "It’s like, you know - with all due respect when you don’t win games you take a shelling like. I’m a year and half into the job, it isn’t the first week I’ve taken it, and it would be great if it was the last week we had to take it, but that comes with the territory, we don’t have any agendas, we make decisions as we see them in the game and you know, that’s the same with subs and tactically how you play. You take it when it’s going, I don’t have any major issue with it, I didn’t lose any sleep over it.”
We had to win to be part of the conversation
Nationally there has been a lot of emphasis put on the top three sides being Dublin, Kerry, and Tyrone, Rochford was asked if it stung being left of out that conversation. He replied saying: “No you can’t control it, our focus was Roscommon, we hadn’t earned the right to be talked about as a potential All Ireland finalist or whatever, and by and large we still haven’t, we have to show up and put in a performance in 13 days' time, one that will be another monumental ask of us, the guys will be eager to get out there and make that performance, more of a consistent one than we have had for 2017.
“I can guarantee there was no motivation or discussion around being outside the top three or four, our sole focus this week was on primrose and blue - Roscommon. What can we do here, what can we do there, or what we can bring to the game and what we needed to do and how we could do that. What I’m talking about there is skill execution, timing of the pass - that’s one performance and the challenge that we will be laying down for ourselves is that can we replicate it, or one that is good enough to beat the Munster and league champions, the form that the other teams have been showing shows what kind of challenge it is going to be."