Friday 23 March 2018

Comment: The main reason for Mayo's latest All Ireland heartbreak is simple - unfortunately, fixing it is not

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

If Mayo fans were feeling heartbroken on Saturday night - which they all assuredly were - then hopefully they didn't watch the Sunday Game.

RTE's entire stable of pundits sat around on couches discussing the football season that was, when host Des Cahill briefly cut through all the noise with one simple question:

Will this Mayo team ever an All-Ireland title?

"Just a yes or no answer," Cahill said when it looked like Colm O'Rourke was embarking on a meandering response.

The reaction from the enlarged panel was cutting if you are a Mayo supporter hoping that the team will bounce back from their eighth All-Ireland final defeat since last lifting the Sam Maguire.

Read more: Comment - It is simply ludicrous to question Mayo's bottle

Not a single pundit said that Stephen Rochford's men will win an All-Ireland title.

They've missed the boat, blown their chance, time has passed them by etc.

Jim McGuinness sung a similar tune on Sky - much to the chagrin of his punditry colleague and former Mayo boss James Horan - saying that he thinks every team has a life-cycle in which they need to reach the summit, and that Mayo's has possibly ended.

Talk like that is very premature and it was surprising how uniform it was among Gaelic football pundits in the aftermath of Mayo's one point loss to Dublin.

Sure, Mayo have now lost three semi-finals and three finals in the last six seasons - often by the slenderest of margins - while some of their key men are coming to the end of their careers.

Andy Moran, David Clarke and Alan Dillon will likely struggle to replicate their stellar seasons next year at 33 while skilled warriors like Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle are both the wrong side of 30 too.

But equally, it is worth noting that Lee Keegan, Cillian O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea - arguably Mayo's three best players, and three of the best in Ireland - are just 26, 26 and 24 so the spine of the side will remain intact, even if some limbs are lopped off.

Read more: Frank Roche's end-of-season Gaelic Football Awards - Player and score of the year gongs decided

However, turnover of players aside, when you really dig into Mayo's latest agonising brush with glory, it is painfully evident where the team falls short.

Coming into this season, the concession of goals at key times was a major issue holding them back. They appeared to rectify it to a huge degree in 2016, keeping clean sheets in the All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final before holding the Dublin forwards goalless from play across the two finals.

Their defensive effort was amazing, successfully slowing the runaway train that is the Dublin attack, but for all the good work they did in shoring up their rearguard, it wasn't enough to overcome the paltry contribution that came from their attack.

In Saturday's loss, Mayo's forwards mustered just 0-3 from play, and were outscored by the rest of the team who notched 1-2.

Unfortunately, this is a recurring theme when you look at their championship-ending losses since James Horan started the side on their current journey in 2011.

In the six defeats since then, Mayo's forwards have been outscored by the opposition from play in every game except one. When you break down the amount of scores their attackers are getting in each season's biggest game, then it becomes readily apparent why Mayo have yet to end the so-called 'curse':

2011: Mayo forwards 1-2 (5) - Kerry forwards 1-10 (13)

2012: Mayo forwards 0-5 - Donegal forwards 2-3 (9)

2013: Mayo forwards 1-2 (5) - Dublin forwards 2-7 (13)

2014: Mayo forwards 2-8 (14) - Kerry forwards 1-7 (10)

2015: Mayo forwards 1-5 (8) - Dublin forwards (2-9)

2016: Mayo forwards 0-3 - Dublin forwards 0-8

Unsurprisingly, the season where their forwards fired massively in their last game - in the cracking semi-final against Kerry in Limerick - was the year where the side looked the most dominant.

Read more: Comment: Handpass happy Kilkenny is completely unrecognisable from the forward who won an All Star - but is he better or worse?

Aidan O'Shea agrees - before this year's final he said that 2014 was probably this team's peak, but unfortunately for Mayo, the concession of some key goals saw them beaten by the Kingdom after extra time.

Worryingly for Mayo, while they have quality all over the field, they are lacking that little bit extra up front, and it doesn't appear that there is a ready-made stud to come in for 2017 and immediately start firing 1-3 from play.

Sure, players like Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and now Patrick Durcan are brilliant contributors from play, but the onus needs to now be on Mayo's forwards to exceed them.

If they do unearth an attacking gem or two, you can be sure that the Sunday Game panel will be eating their words during the season-ending show at some stage in the near future.

Online Editors

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