herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Roche's Point

THE league table never lies - but it doesn't always tell the whole truth. After five rounds of the Allianz Football League, you will have noticed that Mayo (on six points) are currently ahead of Dublin (on five).

But which team looks to be moving forward with a coherent plan and, that key quality, momentum?

There's only one answer.

This column spends much of its time dissecting the Dublin footballers' every move, so you might wonder why not a greater focus here on how they hammered Mayo last Saturday? Here's why: because the bigger story wasn't Dublin's commendable relocation of the dynamic thrust that marked them apart for most of the first two years under Jim Gavin. The bigger story was Mayo.

True, one league meltdown never unmade a season - it might even have helped Kerry when they were crushed by Cork last April, and that's why no one was getting too carried away with Kerry's Groundhog Day reprise nine days ago.

By the same token, the notion that Mayo under new management would carry on in the same vein that made them consistent contenders under James Horan could never be guaranteed.

MESS

It's early - still far too early - to pass definitive judgement on the Pat Holmes/Noel Connolly axis but the initial auguries aren't promising. Yes, they have won three from five games - but Kerry were barely back from holidays, Monaghan were an indisciplined mess and rock-bottom Derry were just about beaten.

In the two ties to date that offered serious tests of Mayo's game-management, they have been tactically blindsided - first by Tyrone's blanket defence, then by Dublin's offensive blitz. They shot some ridiculous wides (15 in total) in an at-times clueless attempt to breach the Red Hand wall.

Against Dublin, the malaise was more all-encompassing. The one-on-one mantra might work when everyone is on his game; here, it left the Mayo full-back line horribly exposed during a scary first half.

ISOLATED

Leave aside the individual shortcomings (of some recidivist offenders and others who have previously excelled); what this Castlebar observer found stranger still was the number of times a Mayo player would take off on a run and be left totally isolated, no support runner in sight, to be swallowed up by a voracious Dublin. It was off-the-cuff, up-a-cul-de-sac football.

After four gruelling campaigns, is fatigue an issue? Perhaps. If so, this team's opportunity may have come and gone. But the honeymoon period is definitely over for their new double-act, who must prove their tactical smarts in Cork and at home to Donegal.

Some individual match-ups (Kevin Keane on Kevin McManamon, for instance) didn't make sense. Playing musical chairs with Aidan O'Shea, from full-forward to midfield and back again, won't help his development as a viable No 14 - if that is to be the long-term plan. Nor will playing a target man whom you then don't target nearly often enough.

After all the post-mortems, it would be typical of Mayo to reach another league semi-final. But equally typical if they're eventually found wanting.

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