Tuesday 26 September 2017

Mayo under Horan are totally different animal

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It's hard to credit that, just two years ago, Mayo needed extra-time to bail them out of Ruislip in James Horan's first championship game. Since then they have won their next six Connacht championship games in three seasons by a cumulative total of 61 points.

OR MAYO THAT GOOD?

It's hard to credit that, just two years ago, Mayo needed extra-time to bail them out of Ruislip in James Horan's first championship game. Since then they have won their next six Connacht championship games in three seasons by a cumulative total of 61 points.

This year alone their cumulative winning margin against Galway and Roscommon, traditionally their biggest rivals in the province, is 29 points. Such impressive margins may not be so much down to a weakening of standards in Connacht however as a steady improvement in just about every facet of their own play.

Their planning for the 2013 season began 11 minutes into last year's All-Ireland final when David Clarke picked the ball out of the net after Colm McFadden's goal. Can you see them conceding a goal that soft this season?

MARQUEE FORWARD NOT REQUIRED – LOAD IS EVENLY SHARED IN MAYO

Mayo have spent half an autumn, a winter and a spring listening to how they would be All-Ireland champions had Michael Murphy's father remained in his native county!

So much is made of the absence in their team of one of those 'grade A plus' forwards but they have improvised and come up with such an impressive variety of ways and sources to build and take scores.

Four defenders – Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle (twice) – were among 12 different scorers. All done in the absence of Cillian O'Connor, Jason Doherty and Michael Conroy. Only scoring goals in three of 10 league and championship games is, however, a concern.

SMALL STEPS ENSURE

BIG STRIDES FOR CAVAN

The building blocks are slowly being put in place on and off the field in Cavan. Their first back-to-back wins in the Ulster championship in 12 years came down to patience, faith in a system that works well and an appreciation that what are weaknesses for some are strengths for others. A plan built on simple pragmatism.

The perfect example was Cavan's 10th score to give them a 0-10 to 0-7 lead in the 48th minute of their Ulster quarter-final.

Team captain Alan Clarke was put away into a rare passage of space inside Fermanagh's '45' but within 25 metres of the goal, a distance ripe for a shot, he elected to offload to Martin Dunne who had come out to meet him and had his back to the goals.

It was the correct choice. Clarke knew Dunne's strength was his ability to turn sharply and connect from tight angles which he duly did.

They have recognised the need to play a certain way to take them a certain distance. The aesthetics really don't matter.

LIGHTNING CAN STRIKE TWICE IF YOU'RE A MEATH FULL-BACK

Kevin Reilly's goal from just outside his own 45-metre line, carried on the wind with such force that the bounce deceived Wicklow goalkeeper John Flynn, changed the face of the last Leinster quarter-final in Aughrim.

It was speculative, fortunate and freakish but not unprecedented from the Meath full-back and captain this season. He did exactly the same thing against Roscommon in a league match last March, a first-half goal, also despatched from his own half that deceived Geoffrey Claffey with a replica bounce, effectively laying the platform for recovery in Division 3 and eventual promotion.

But such direct route plays, once the staple diet of more successful Meath teams based on the simple principle of a forward winning his own 50/50 ball, are much more of a rarity these days.

Ironically, Reilly's goal and his release for Joe Sheridan's point were essentially the only scores that involved distance kicking in their approach work. Almost everything else stemmed from shorter, more measured movement of the ball and support play.

Meath's switch to this more fluid, mobile game has been slower than most but a process that began under Seamus McEnaney last year has been accelerated.

Graham Reilly and debutant Eamonn Wallace, a renowned underage athlete who missed out on last year's All-Ireland minor campaign because of those commitments, are two of the fastest ball carriers around and between them they scored seven points.

BEST SCORES OF THE WEEKEND

1 After kicking eight points from play against Armagh, Martin Dunne was always going to be a marked man, doubly marked in this case with Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey planting himself in front of the Cavan danger man for so long.

So to score three points from play in those circumstances was quite an achievement. The third of those scores was probably his best of the championship so far as he sliced over a left-footed shot from an acute angle on 66 minutes in Enniskillen to prod Cavan back into a 0-12 to 0-11 lead at a crucial time.

2 Take your pick from Mayo's impressive bunch; from Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle in the first half to Andy Moran's sliced effort in the second. But Alan Freeman's catch, turn and score from Aidan O'Shea's delivery at the end of the first quarter was something different.

3 Joe Sheridan has become a peripheral figure under Meath's new management but he used his introduction with 10 minutes remaining in Aughrim to serve notice of his capacity for the spectacular, a point from the right sideline into the wind with his first touch.

Irish Independent

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