Monday 11 December 2017

Alan Brogan: Mayo still have enough quality to answer hard questions in qualifiers

"I’ve said before that Andy Moran was and still is a wonderful footballer but at this stage he should be coming off the bench with 20 minutes to go. He is an inspirational figure to both the Mayo players and crowd and to see him coming in would be a real lift." Photo: Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

It's time, hopefully, to focus on football again - with talk of doping and Diarmuid Connolly's suspension now in the past.

I wasn't surprised that Mayo were beaten. I'm sure they never like losing to Galway, but the Connacht Championship was not top of their agenda. Lee Keegan spoke last week about how they will regroup and get going again and although it's a bit of a trek for them through the back door, I fully expect them to be back in an All-Ireland quarter-final in August.

I make that prediction despite some obvious frailties that were exposed once again last week. The lack of a really top-class inside forward is something that still haunts Mayo.

I've said before that Andy Moran was and still is a wonderful footballer but at this stage he should be coming off the bench with 20 minutes to go. He is an inspirational figure to both the Mayo players and crowd and to see him coming in would be a real lift.

Instead, himself and Kevin McLoughlin were on the bench with the game in the melting pot with 10 minutes left.

Holding back Colm Boyle until the 68th minute is another decision that baffled me. Colm may not have a 70-minute high-octane performance in him like years gone by but for God's sake he was an All-Star wing-back last year.

Hopefully Stephen Rochford will have learned some harsh lessons last weekend to carry into the rest of the summer. If he doesn't, and Mayo don't go on a decent run through the qualifiers and into the All-Ireland series, he and a number of Mayo players could be close to the end. I'm backing them to answer the hard questions that will be asked of them in the next few weeks.

Mayo lost to a team that barely stumbled over the line but there was a lot to admire about Galway's performance - they went after Mayo from the off and Mayo just couldn't match their hunger.

Damien Comer (below) has developed into a real talent and I'd love to see him bulldozing around Croke Park later in the year. Add in Seán Armstrong and Shane Walsh and they have three forwards as good as what's out there.

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Damien Comer of Galway celebrates with Rian Sheridan, aged 4, from Athenry, Co Galway after the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Galway and Mayo at Pearse Stadium, in Salthill, Galway. Photo: Sportsfile

However, I'm not so convinced of their defence. I think they will manage fine in Connacht but the wide open plains of Croke Park will expose their full-back line. Danny Cummins and Michael Lundy, two decent players, made late appearances at a stage Kevin Walsh would have wanted them to use their undoubted pace to wind the game down.

Worryingly, both were caught in possession and turned over crucial plays in injury-time in what could have resulted in a Mayo equaliser. In the 70th minute Tom Parsons showed great desire to sprint back and basically pull the ball from Lundy's possession. It was like taking candy from a baby. Galway must get more from their bench from here on in. They can be proud of that win but they have a lot to work on before they can really be considered a threat come August.

Monaghan underlined their credentials when they disposed of a gamey Cavan side. At times they lived on the edge, and it took a goal from the ever-reliable Conor McManus to separate the sides.

Monaghan are a bit further down the road than Galway and the Ulster Championship takes on huge meaning for them but again a big win in Croke Park is what will really be the making of these players. I believe they can win Ulster on their day but they can't take their seat among the big boys until they take a scalp in Croke Park.

They are a team that leave every last fibre on the pitch, typified by their full-back Drew Wylie. I don't know him personally but I'd imagine he works really hard at his fitness and his overall game.

His skill-set has improved no end in the last number of years and he is as good a defender as what is out there at the moment. A few years back he was happy to stay at the edge of his square dogging a full-forward. Now you can see the confidence flowing in him when he joins in attacks.

This Monaghan team is at a mature stage and now is the time for them to deliver. Anything less than an All-Ireland semi-final appearance should be considered a disappointment.

Let's hope we see more of what we saw last Sunday between Donegal and Tyrone today. When Rory Gallagher took on the job of managing Donegal, I must admit I thought he was mad. I couldn't see how it could work for him going in so soon after Jim McGuinness. I know Rory, he is a smart guy, and he obviously saw something the rest of us didn't. What he has done with this young Donegal side in such a short space is time is incredible and a win today will be his greatest moment to date.

All the pressure falls on Tyrone, however, and they will be looking to rectify a disappointing end to last year. This has all the hallmarks of a defensive slugfest, the final score in last year's final was 0-13 to 0-11 to the Red Hand.

I don't expect anything else but I'd love it if Mickey Harte would let some of the attacking flair Tyrone possess off the leash.

Aside from Dublin, pound for pound I think they have the best footballers in the country - Kavanagh, Meyler, Mark Bradley, McCurry, Donnelly, Peter Harte, Lee Brennan to name a few. If they were given freedom to really express themselves they might have a shot at the All-Ireland.

In their current defensive structure they may get over Donegal but will struggle to have a real go at Sam.

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