Saturday 24 February 2018

Eugene McGee: Aidan O'Shea at full tilt can offer Mayo real options

Aidan O'Shea of Mayo
Aidan O'Shea of Mayo
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

It looks as if the Mayo selectors, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, are going to take one huge gamble in the hope of at last winning Sam Maguire for the first time since 1951.

That gamble is to play Aidan O'Shea at full-forward and gear the entire Mayo attack around that. For years we have all been claiming that Mayo needed a powerful figure in the full-forward line to complement the undoubted class of other attackers like Cillian O'Connor. Yesterday O'Shea scored 3-4 and it is a long time since a Mayo full-forward did that in the championship.

But, as always with Mayo footballers, there is a caveat to this proposition if possible success for the O'Shea tactic is to work. For a start one of Sligo's most inexperienced defenders, Daniel Maye, was left to cope with O'Shea and understandably this was a disastrous decision.

Why experienced and physically stronger corner-back Ross Donovan was not put on the Mayo man is a mystery.

Then Sligo decided to go man-to-man in defence which means they opted not to have sweepers, thereby leaving massive gaps between the midfield and the 21-metre line, into which Mayo outfield players continually directed long balls in front of O'Shea. Cillian O'Connor facilitated that by hardly ever playing in his allocated centre-forward role thereby providing all that empty space.

That will not happen again in this year's championship with Mayo. Instead opponents - one of whom will almost certainly be Dublin - will double mark him and probably bring in more outfield players to crowd the Mayo attacking area. That will change the whole scenario.

That is not to say that the Mayo gamble will not succeed however. For a start he is capable of beating his direct opponent for most high balls landing in the goalmouth and of course Mayo can opt for two, or even one in the full-forward line which would create that much-needed space for O'Shea.

As the scoreline indicates this game was a complete fiasco, just as was Dublin v Longford, Dublin v Kildare, Kildare v Longford and Cork v Limerick and some others. The provincial championships may be very strong in public estimation but does anybody care about hammerings like these being inflicted on weaker counties? The answer is a definite 'no'.

The irony for Sligo is that their final scoreline yesterday would have won them the last two Connacht finals they won. And where that result puts Roscommon is another story!

But there is more to Mayo's hammering of Sligo than Aidan O'Shea.

The residue of five seasons of highly intensive physical training was clearly visible as the Mayo players simply brushed their opponents aside with their power and really Sligo never got a look-in when it came to tackling the man with the ball, while they also lost a lot of balls in possession.

This results from the massive physical disparity between a handful of leading counties who are constantly in the top half dozen and the rest. That will be borne out later this year as we reach the last four in the championship.

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