Tomorrow is a day of opportunity. Can Roscommon seize the moment and finish off Mayo, who have been doing their own version of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope for the last couple of months? Or can Mayo come up with something new to change a season which has provided marvellous entertainment but appears to be running out of road?
In normal circumstances the more experienced team usually wins a replay. They know what to do the second time round and take a more clinical approach. In this case there are a few imponderables.
If Roscommon really believe in themselves, then the advantage should swing to them. They had no experience of playing in Croke Park and did relatively well so there should be significant improvement in them. Their age profile is good with a lot of players coming to their peak age in terms of football. However, the big question remains: are they good enough to wield the dagger?
Mayo rumble on, or maybe stumble on. They needed a win last Sunday so they could dust themselves down for a couple of weeks before a semi-final. Now it is straight back to the grindstone. How they prepare is central to the outcome because on all known form, including the drawn game, they are probably still a bit ahead of Roscommon.
The issue here is physical and mental tiredness. Truly, though, there should be no real physical aspect as these are finely tuned athletes so eight days between games should not be an issue.
The second part is the mental aspect. When Meath played 10 championship matches in a short space of time in 1991 we had the same problems to overcome.
At that time we did very little training, we just had a bit of a kickaround a couple of times a week, spent the odd session in the pool but mainly took it easy. As a result we had the most enjoyable summer ever and there was never a problem with either physical or mental fatigue.
The best thing Stephen Rochford could have told his players after last week’s draw was to have a good night out, have a few jars and he would see them on Wednesday.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
That is hardly what happened, however, as most teams now seem to have debriefings like troops coming home from war. Sometimes players need to get away from each other and just chill. They spend so long in each other’s company that a few nights off is the best preparation. There is no training on the pitch which is going to improve things and the players are so disciplined and focused that time off is not going to dull their appetite for the game.
In fact, with the age profile in the Mayo team it would be best to do far less than more. If Rochford was really brave he might have told his players that they would be picked up on the way to Dublin today and to enjoy the week off.
Unless there is something radical going to be tried by the Mayo management today then team meetings at this stage must be fairly boring because all the players know what they have to do and they certainly try very hard in every game to do it.
Mayo, though, do need to change as their approach is a form of madness. They need to put somebody different to Ger Cafferkey at full-back, he has done nothing to improve things after his injury and is a major accident waiting to happen.
Chris Barrett or Brendan Harrison would be better and surely some of their subs could play in a wing position in the backs. They also need one or both of Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan farther outfield and to stop taking off Colm Boyle.
Leaving Keegan in at full-back last week for a while was wasting their best forward. Could they not go for broke and put him centre forward and Higgins centre back? Kevin McLoughlin should move back into a sweeping role or to wing back as he is no scoring threat up front but has the legs to do well at the back.
Perhaps Tom Parsons was not fully fit but he should start at midfield and Aidan O’Shea should play closer to goal for longer periods. They should practice kicking the ball in. Also, Andy Moran should not be automatically taken off.
He can still score which is not something many of the Mayo forwards can be accused of. Cillian O’Connor and Moran also need to pass more until the right time to shoot, both seem to feel they have to pull the trigger every time, it is understandable but there was a lot of very hasty shooting last week.
Andy Moran of Mayo in action against Sean Mullooly, left, and David Murray, 4, of Roscommon
Roscommon have a band of brothers who may be raw still but are going the right way. It is a while since so many brothers were involved in a big game in Croke Park — small families are a disaster for the GAA in the west. The Stacks, Smiths, Murtaghs and Comptons are able to provide half a team.
Roscommon were well organised and composed at vital stages last Sunday. That experience stands to players, but a county only gains in this regard if they have regular games in Croke Park each year. It is not the same playing anywhere else.
The team was well set up with Niall Kilroy playing his role as sweeper very well. That is not just down to him. Teams sometimes think a sweeper solves all problems but if other players out the field don’t do their job and force the opposition into blind alleys then all that happens is an extra man is coming through continually.
It is a hard skill for an individual player and his team to master. John McManus and Sean Mullooly were strong, mobile and brave in defence, but Roscommon have a lot of problems of their own.
The biggest by far is the shortage of scores against a tight defence. The Galway form against Kerry showed in sharp focus that the Connacht final performance was maybe not so good after all.
Scoring nine points was a dreadful return for any team and it was glossed over by getting two goals and also Mayo’s inability to run up the sort of total which it usually takes to win big games at this time of year, that should be around 1-16 to 1-18. Even Kerry, looking decidedly sloppy, got to that total so the Murtaghs and Smiths have to do better.
Last week’s game provided great entertainment of a certain standard. The replay will attract a big crowd again and one can only admire the enthusiasm of these counties and the belief of their supporters.
The best possible result for the GAA over the next few weeks would be either Roscommon or Mayo playing Monaghan in an All-Ireland final. Unfortunately that is not going to happen but there needs to be a big day out for the common man.
Mayo are in the position now where they need to be daring. Plodding on in the same format will only yield the same result, whether this time or next.
Roscommon are a work in progress, a developing team who are short a few outstanding individuals but who must hope that playing together for a few years might change water to wine.
My impression from the last two matches is that they are still a bit off the pace but are on the path to a bright future. Yet Mayo are not going to give up on the dream and will come out fighting again.
They should win and will win easier if they are brave enough with selection and show greater tactical adventure. Audaces fortuna iuvat. Fortune favours the brave, wrote the Latin poet Virgil. It really does.