herald

Friday 20 April 2018

Mayo need a reshuffle and leaders

I admire dogged team spirit of Rochford's men and unlike Galway, they'll love it in Croker

Galway’s Thomas Flynn in action against Donegal’s Jason McGee during their All-Ireland SFC Round 4A match at Markievicz Park, Sligo last week. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway’s Thomas Flynn in action against Donegal’s Jason McGee during their All-Ireland SFC Round 4A match at Markievicz Park, Sligo last week. Photo: Sportsfile

You have to admire Mayo.They're the most scrutinised team in Ireland and watching them over the last couple of weeks, I kept expecting that the psychological battering they've taken in the past few seasons would kill them.

And yes, there are times in big games when their decision-making is poor and they lack for scorers but in terms of character and endeavour and leadership, you've just got to admire them.

They've been on a rocky road since the Galway game.

Derry, Clare and Cork are nobody's idea of an easy stroll back to relevance in the Championship but they've grown and they've built.

The worrying thing, however, is it's been the same players who have carried them to Croke Park on Sunday.

Galway’s Thomas Flynn in action against Donegal’s Jason McGee during their All-Ireland SFC Round 4A match at Markievicz Park, Sligo last week. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway’s Thomas Flynn in action against Donegal’s Jason McGee during their All-Ireland SFC Round 4A match at Markievicz Park, Sligo last week. Photo: Sportsfile

The leaders. The key players; Andy Moran, Cillian O'Connor, Aidan O'Shea, Lee Keegan.

That core of men have dragged them through the past few weeks and you can't but sit back and admire them for that, given what each of those players has been through.

I don't expect them to have many problems with Roscommon on Sunday but if you look at them coldly now as contenders, there are more weaknesses in their game than the other All-Ireland hopefuls.

Croke Park is an environment Mayo will be hugely comfortable in this weekend.

But it's important they show improvement in a few very key areas now.

Firstly, they need to put a bit more faith in their long kick-out.

For this to happen, Séamus O'Shea must return to form because with Aidan and Tom Parsons there already, they have plenty of ball-winners to win kick-outs and instigate attacks from more advanced positions.

Mayo's build-up play is just a bit too ponderous and slow when David Clarke goes short off the tee.

It's not essential that he hoofs it into the clouds every time but variety is a great thing for a goalkeeper and if the opposition aren't certain which kick-out is coming, it gives your options - long and short - a bit more space.

Their problems at full-back are obvious too.

Ger Cafferkey has had a tough year, firstly with a hamstring injury and now, with his form. And for the benefit of the team, it's imperative that management make a bold call here.

I'd like to see Keith Higgins go in at full-back.

At the moment, he's slightly lost playing this sweeper role.

He's not particularly effective in it.

Structurally, they looked solid last weekend in the first half in Limerick but when Cork ran at them in the last 10 or 15 minutes, they were vulnerable.

At that stage, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle were all gone from the pitch, which points to another Mayo problem: their lack of quality on the bench.

If Mayo were level with Dublin in the last 10 minutes of an All-Ireland final, which bench do you see winning the game?

Moran and Colm Boyle can only go for 50 or 55 minutes in these sort of matches now but sometimes I wonder if you'd be better off with a tired Andy Moran on for the last 15 minutes rather than replacing him.

Another part of Mayo's game that could do with a tweak is their delivery into the forward line.

They tend to put these balls into the corner for Moran and O'Connor to chase instead of playing with a bit more width and trying to hit the danger zone with their passes.

Look at the number of times Moran wins the ball in the corner, has to recycle it and Mayo are forced into three or four phases as the opposition reset their defence.

Radical

It's year two of Stephen Rochford's management now and we haven't seen anything too radical from him and maybe that's reflective of the depth of alternatives that he has.

But if Mayo are going to challenge for the All-Ireland this year, these areas require significant and immediate improvement.

As for their Connacht rivals, Galway, they're becoming something of an enigma.

Great to watch, lots of serious quality in attack, capable of anything - good and bad.

They have a solid structure behind them too but if they go man-to-man against Kerry in Croke Park on Sunday, they'll be devoured.

By contrast to Mayo, Kerry play with great width.They ping balls at the 'D' and have the runners coming in to do the damage.

Their movement was so smooth in the Munster final, it almost looked like every attack was straight from a play book.

Unlike Mayo, Galway won't feel particularly at home in Croke Park and they'll have to play a game largely alien to themselves if they're to trouble Kerry.

It's a year too soon for Galway to come up against this sort of challenge but they're going to right way and they'll be back.

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