Friday 23 February 2018

Mayo's Connacht canter leaves them fresh for greater tests – O'Cinneide

Mayo captain Andy Moran and team mate Keith Higgins lift the Nestor Cup
Mayo captain Andy Moran and team mate Keith Higgins lift the Nestor Cup
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

ANOTHER one-sided double-figure victory clinched the easiest of Mayo's three Connacht titles in a row last Sunday, but no sooner had the final whistle sounded than the worry-warts started.

They've had it too easy and retaining their provincial title by a cumulative margin of over 40 points will come back to bite Mayo on the bum come All-Ireland quarter-final time, is the fear.

However, former Kerry star Dara O'Cinneide says those doubters are seriously underestimating manager James Horan and his team.

"If anything their run in Connacht has been a godsend when you think of the heavy casualty list they were carrying earlier in the year," he says. "The last thing Mayo needed in Connacht was a few more bruising encounters.

"Having three easy victories (against Galway, Roscommon and London) has meant they could slowly ease all their injured players back into action. This has allowed them to reintroduce players like Andy Moran and Alan Dillon very gradually.

"Look at the impact that Cillian O'Connor made when he got back on Sunday. He was obviously ready to return, but contrast that with Donegal (against Monaghan), where it was clear they had to rush some players back who were not yet ready."

O'Cinneide believes that Mayo's recent history means they will not fall into the complacency trap.

"So much of what players and managers say and do now is choreographed and Mayo's body language has been extremely positive this year," he adds.

"We had Ger Cafferkey on TG4 with us earlier in the year and I was struck by how he stressed that they knew they needed to push on this year. The hard thing for them is keeping competitive now. Apparently they had a very lively challenge match with Monaghan recently which is very telling, but the bulk of what they can do now is internal challenge matches between their As and Bs.

"You have to be careful with that, there is one trap you can fall into there," he warns. "Back in 1998, Tomas O Se was doing really well in (Kerry) training against Maurice Fitzgerald in our in-house matches. Now Maurice is a genius and Tomas' form on him was so good that he was thrown in at the deep end to start against Cork in the Munster semi-final, but he struggled badly against Aidan Dorgan.

"It was only in hindsight that we realised that Maurice, who'd had injuries, wasn't actually at his best and I remember Tomas saying that to me afterwards, that he'd miscalculated Maurice's form and his own.

"With internal matches you've got to be very careful that you're not getting a false reading of a player's form.

"That is probably something Mayo will have to monitor carefully – what is their real form in training? And how much pressure are players under from their second string?

"But the reality is that they will be coming into the All-Ireland quarter-finals as the freshest team in the country and, when you've got the experience they've amassed in the last two years, that's no bad thing.

"People tend to forget that Mayo did more things right last year than any other team apart from Donegal.

"Everyone talks about how the two early goals cost them an All-Ireland final, but the reality is that they gave Donegal a very good game and their real problem was that they just didn't have someone like Andy Moran (injured) to make the ball stick inside in the forwards.

"That was the real difference between the sides."

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