Tuesday 21 November 2017

Eoin Liston: Gap between top six and the rest on display once again

The dogfight Roscommon needed to create in order to give Mayo a rattle simply never materialised. Too many unforced errors, poor tackling and a lack of quality in the final third ensured the game was over at half-time.

Mayo can't worry about the quality of their opponents. After they dismantled Galway, it was time to show that ruthlessness was going to be a consistent feature of their play and they did just that.

The physical conditioning of their team is incredible and the pace at which they moved in possession made them difficult to stop. Without the ball, their work rate and the ferocity of their hitting squeezed the heart and soul out of Roscommon.

Some of the points kicked were first-class and they played scintillating football at times, with defenders and midfielders joining in the attack and, more importantly, contributing to the scoreboard. Their basic technical skills were from a different planet in comparison with the Rossies.

But their defence – an area where I would have the most concerns in terms of their All-Ireland chances – remains largely untested. The shot selection and final ball from Roscommon forwards was poor.

FREAK

For Mayo, it was akin to a training match. They could play at their own pace, and under very little pressure. Did they impress me? Certainly, and they have moved up in my estimation. Are they the finished article? I still have to be convinced, and will remain so until they receive a test from a team with aspirations similar to themselves.

The weekend did prove yet again that there is an insurmountable gap between the top six and the rest. In Leinster, Wicklow and Meath played out quite an entertaining game that hinged on a six-point swing in the first half after a missed Wicklow penalty was followed by a freak Kevin Reilly goal for the Royals.

But still there were only three points between them halfway through the second period. Meath don't look like they will be causing too many problems to the likes of Dublin when it comes to deciding Leinster honours.

Indeed, Wexford will be looking at them and fancying their chances to get to another provincial final and giving the Dubs a major rattle for the third summer in a row, should Jim Gavin's men negotiate their own semi-final against Kildare.

In Ulster, the Cavan and Fermanagh game had all the look of two Division 3 teams going head to head. Peter Canavan has tried to make his team difficult to beat and they do get bodies back and work hard. Cavan, too, concentrate on creating a solid defensive platform. It was never going to be pretty.

What disappointed me was that when things were going wrong at different times, they both stuck to their same rigid game plan. Fermanagh had an awful start and didn't score for almost 25 minutes.

Canavan managed to get them motoring after the break and he deserves credit for that. But why couldn't they try and mix it up a bit? Why not even do a simple thing like place a midfielder on the edge of the square and go long for a few minutes? Too often it was short, lateral handpassing, with men receiving the ball in standing positions. I fully understand why people are talking about limiting handpasses because when you see a match like this, it can be frustrating.

However, the key to short passing is moving at pace in everything you do. Then, just as Donegal and Tyrone have proved, it can be very enjoyable and exciting to watch.

The big difference here, however, was Cavan's quality up front in the shape of Cian Mackey, Martin Dunne and Eugene Keating. They did things with more urgency, used the space of the wings and were able to draw fouls from Fermanagh's defenders.

It represents a big step for Cavan. They have had brilliant success at U-21 level and they blew Armagh out of the water the last time out. Now they have secured a second win and have an Ulster semi-final to look forward to against Monaghan.

They will fancy their chances of getting to the decider. From there it is bonus territory but they are certainly moving in the right direction. But, like Meath in Leinster, they are a long way off the standard required if they are to trouble one of the big boys.

Irish Independent

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