Monday 23 October 2017

Colm Keys: Resilient as ever but continuing erosion of Mayo’s powers is highlighted in Salthill

Analysis

Mayo's Andy Moran. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo's Andy Moran. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The compensation, or consolation, if that's what it is, of being involved in another engrossing cliffhanger is wearing more than a little thin for Mayo by now.

On a day when the much-maligned provincial championships got a shot in the arm - in Ennis Clare threw everything at Kerry in a Munster semi-final and Cavan succumbed to Monaghan in an Ulster quarter-final that had more freedom than anyone could have anticipated - Salthill lived up to its top billing in a game that ticked so many boxes for the physicality and competitiveness it brought.

When Damien Comer knocked back Diarmuid O'Connor with a thundering shoulder in the second-half, it brought to mind how Comer was on the receiving end of a similarly forceful hit from Colm Boyle in the 2014 Connacht final in Castlebar, putting him out of the game early. The difference in Galway's approach, not just Comer's, three years on is huge.

This Mayo team were at the peak of their powers back then, with their energy all over the field a real feature of their play. They could overpower teams with athleticism and support runners coming from everywhere.

These days Mayo are more static, more calculated and they look the poorer for it. They're less likely to take a risk, though Evan Regan decided to shoot himself from difficult angles and distances in the closing moments when he should have been looking for Cillian O'Connor.

When they needed composure most it wasn't there and players like Kevin McLoughlin and Andy Moran, who have provided it so often in the past, were off the field.

Of course, they showed the usual quota of spirit and defiance. Forced to play with 14 men after Keith Higgins' ill-thought act on Comer earned him a deserved 27th-minute red card, they found themselves four points down as the game turned towards the 60th minute and can still look back with regret on not being able to close the deal with the wind at their backs.

Moments like Tom Parsons getting back to strip possession from Michael Lundy and Patrick Durcan hunting down a goal-bound Danny Cummins underpinned an enduring resolve.

This time it couldn't bail them out and the question arises as to how long they can continue to rely on such resolve as an escape route at this level? As much as their heart was willing once again, a little more of the light went out of them in Salthill yesterday.

The qualifier path ahead will be laced with plenty of potential pitfalls. Mayo are on the 'A' side of the draw and that gives them a relatively straightforward bounce out of the second round - playing one from the winners of Waterford/Derry, Louth/Longford, Wicklow/Laois and Sligo/Antrim.

However, after that the gradient could steepen in round three, with Tipperary, the losers of Meath/Kildare and especially Donegal/Tyrone - two counties with recent history of defeat to Mayo - among those in range.

That's all before a fourth round qualifier against one of the beaten provincial finalists.

It's a lot of football for a team that has now played 33 championship games in the last six seasons and clearly could have done with a less onerous schedule.

Twelve months ago it was a given that they would dust themselves down and go again. Right now it has little appeal. Of all the championship protagonists they needed rerouting least.

It's not just the schedule that will concern them. Clearly the impact that Aidan O'Shea is able to have is limited by a groin injury which has restricted his preparations up to now.

O'Shea came on after 47 minutes and used his presence to force turnovers in the tight exchanges, but for all the criticism there has been of him they certainly won't win anything without him in full flight. The potential for three extra games in July instead of one now, irrespective of the lack of game time he has had this season, will hardly suit an injury that needs careful management.

The issue of kick-outs has loomed again, just as it did sporadically during the league and, of course, between last year's All-Ireland finals.

David Clarke was tasked with going short more often than not, but that came with the price of two points being directly conceded - when Fintan O Curraoin bundled over Seamus O'Shea for Damien Comer to score, and when Comer got in ahead of Aidan O'Shea to engineer a free for a Gary Sice free and Galway's final point 17 minutes out. Two points in a one-point game.

Galway took risks with the kick-out too, but Mayo just couldn't exploit that when Johnny Heaney twice cleared off the line.

Inevitably it fell largely to O'Connor to stoke their momentum, but for how long more can his tachograph record the load he bears?

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