Thursday 25 December 2014

Eugene McGee: Pointless measuring Mayo after stroll past naive rivals

Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30

Mayo's Chris Barrett tangles with Danny Cummins of Galway during their Connacht SFC at MacHale Park in Castlebar. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Mayo's Chris Barrett tangles with Danny Cummins of Galway during their Connacht SFC final at MacHale Park in Castlebar. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Mayo have learned nothing from this year's Connacht championship in relation to their prospects of winning the All-Ireland in September.

They've learned nothing for the simple reason that the quality of opposition did not provide sufficient level of pressure for the holders who have now completed an impressive four-in-a-row in the province.

One could argue that because Galway were beaten by 16 points last year in the final and only lost by seven this year, it indicates that Mayo have made no progress, but one has to bear in mind that what Mayo have which Galway or any other county on Connacht do not is experience in how to control a game and make the right decisions, mainly when it comes to actually winning the game.

That was best shown in the semi-final against Roscommon when cool heads based on many a hard battle in recent times was what saved Mayo. Yesterday, watching this final in the blazing sunshine, a few things were very obvious from the start and they were all in favour of the champions.

For a start, the Mayo players were far stronger, faster and more resilient in the physical contests than Galway and, on the hot day that was in it, that was crucial.

The bar was set very high in that regard in the very first minute when Mayo centre half-back Colm Boyle buried Damien Comer with a fair shoulder that took the steam out of the Galway man for the rest of the game. So, Galway got that message very early on.

Secondly, Mayo players and management always knew in advance they were not going to lose that game because they knew they had better players than Galway.

And thirdly, Mayo's key players, of which there are now many, were able to perform yesterday, whereas many of Galway's were struggling for long parts of the game. Add all that up and it is clear that measuring Mayo in Castlebar yesterday, as opposed to measuring them against Dublin, Kerry or whoever is next in line this year in Croke Park, is a fruitless exercise.

Mayo had Galway by the throat yesterday for most of the game, but particularly the first half and that was that. From now on, they will not have such a luxury, so we may forget about the comparisons.

Some things may cause concern for James Horan and Mayo brains trust of course. For example, they conceded 16 scores while only getting 17 themselves. The positioning of some Galway players in defence went haywire, not helped by the withdrawal before the game of reliable corner-back Joss Moore.

STRUGGLING

His replacement was struggling and so, too, was the other corner-back, Donal O'Neill, and Galway were slow to make adjustments. O'Neill's problems allowed Cillian O'Connor to have a field day as his confidence grew by the minute and was exemplified by his crossing over to the opposite corner of the attack to send in a perfectly-flighted ball across the goalmouth for the inrushing Lee Keegan to palm into the net for Galway's first goal in the 23rd minute. From now on, opposing mentors will hardly be as tardy in making decisions.

Of course, Keegan's goal when he was almost on the opposing goal-line raises yet again his tendency to charge up the field from his wing half-back position rather than confining his play as a purely defensive half-back. Something for Mayo people to ponder upon no doubt. The experiment of playing former midfielder Aidan O'Shea at centre-forward does not seem to be a serious proposition based on what we saw in Castlebar. He drifted in to a wing-forward role for periods and maybe there is a bit of uncertainty in the camp about what to do with the big Breaffy player.

Also of interest was the return of Barry Moran, who made such a big impression with Castlebar in the club championship, to midfield, but the jury is probably out on that one too.

But I wonder will they ever consider utilising Moran as a target man full-forward some time this year? After all, it is generally agreed that the attacking formation that Mayo have been using in recent years is lacking something and maybe Moran as a target man might be worth considering. Alan Mulholland will be reasonably satisfied after yesterday compared to last year's debacle. Had they scored the penalty in the second half, the game could have been tight to the very end and that surely is progress?

I was disappointed with the performances of recent U-21 players in the first half, but in fairness, they did improve after the break and made quite an impact. What the team desperately needs is at least one or two seasoned players capable of organising Galway on the field and preventing silly mistakes, including the hatful of bad wides yesterday.

There is plenty of attacking potential in this Galway panel, but they need to toughen up, get a lot more streetwise in how the modern game of football is played and strive to match the physical attributes that Mayo and other leading teams now have.

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