Saturday 21 October 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: Battle-hardened Mayo can hurt Kerry but Kingdom will be ready for war

Mayo's Aidan O'Shea. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Mayo's Aidan O'Shea. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Tomás Ó Se

Tomás Ó Se

I used to say that the championship didn't truly start until the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Save for the odd fairytale run, the games to that point were usually one sided and meant little in terms of the big picture. At least when we got to the final eight teams you were left with the heavyweights - but let's face it, the quarter-finals this year were desperate.

It feels like we've sifted through an awful lot of chaff to get to the wheat. I have to say I liked the idea of the Super 8s when it came out first but I'm not so sure now.

I saw someone say the winning margin across the four quarter-finals was 58 points. It was awful lopsided stuff and doesn't whet the appetite for the extra games we'll have next season. But at least now we are teed up now for two brilliant semi-finals.

The championship needed Mayo to come to life and they did just that yesterday. After labouring their way through the back door, they finally found themselves and their swagger.

Yesterday they reminded me a little bit of ourselves in 2009. We were trying awful hard in training that year but when the games came we couldn't get it together. We should have lost to Sligo but survived and eventually we got to Croke Park and came out and hammered Dublin.

Survived

Mayo survived a couple of near misses in their run and yesterday they came to their milk.

Now, Stephen Rochford will have taken his share of slack in his time as Mayo manager - I'm sure the decision to change goalkeepers for the replay last year still haunts him - but he deserves great credit for this win. He got things just right yesterday.

Replays are always about who can learn the most in the build-up and Mayo won that hands down.

Right from the outset they looked tuned-in. They went after Colm Lavin's kick-outs in a big way and Roscommon couldn't deal with the pressure. It wasn't Lavin's fault. When kick-outs go wrong like they did for Roscommon it's down to a series of things.

Mayo just refused to give them an easy out and they crumbled under the pressure. And with no possession there was very little their forwards could do.

Rochford went into the game without his best player from the drawn game in Lee Keegan but he shuffled the deck and managed to find a way to eek more out of his side.

It looked to me that Keith Higgins was given more licence to get forward and that suited him down to the ground. He was a man reborn and he was my man of the match. Mayo's attacking backs have long been the strength of this team and that was the case yesterday. Colm Boyle was brilliant while Chris Barrett is a forceful character.

In fact the entire Mayo middle eight completely dominated. You had Tom Parsons in top form. Seamus O'Shea played better than I had seen him play all summer while the decision to start Donal Vaughan was shrewd one too. With that much running power in place, Aidan O'Shea could go and bend the game to his will. In my book, Aidan has been Mayo's best player this year.

And while Roscommon couldn't match their running power and they couldn't live with the physicality either. I'd imagine Rochford will get great satisfaction when he looks at the number of turnovers they managed. And when they had the ball they played with a confidence and a slickness that they haven't showed this year in the championship.

Now they are not the finished article by any means. No one is saying they are ready to cross the Rubicon and win the thing. Rochford will know that he came up against a Roscommon team that were hopelessly out of their depth and defensively naive. Mayo won't get anything like that time and space against Kerry. But they have a decent place to start preparations for that game.

We've been talking all year about the top three. Mayo hadn't done much this summer to suggest that they should have been in the conversation but they are coming good at just the right time.

I won't get too much into their semi-final with Kerry here but on that evidence, they have the hard running game to hurt them. They scored four goals yesterday and had another three or four really good chances. In a strange way I think it was the kind of result and performance that will ground Kerry for the next fortnight. They'll come to Croke Park and know to expect war.

Of all the sides coming into the semi-finals, Mayo are the most battle hardened. Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone have steamrolled everyone that has come their way while Mayo have gone to the edge a couple of times and are still alive. And they have shown that they are playing with a directness and a hunger that has made them so competitive over the last few seasons.

Let the championship begin.

Irish Independent

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