Monday 22 January 2018

Eugene McGee: Mayo outmuscle Rossies to give neighbours a reality check

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea brushes through the tackle of Roscommon’s John McManus during yesterday’s league game Picture credit: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea brushes through the tackle of Roscommon’s John McManus during yesterday’s league game Picture credit: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
'The arrival of packed defences will be Jim McGuinness’s (pictured) main contribution to Gaelic football and if imitation is the greatest form of flattery, the Donegal man is surely a man apart in modern Gaelic football.' Photo: Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

It might be stretching things a bit to say that it was a case of 'never send a child on a man's errand' as regard Roscommon's assignment in Hyde Park yesterday but that is the impression the shocked Roscommon fans must have gathered as this encounter with Mayo unfolded.

For three-quarters of this game Mayo simply 'horsed' their opponents out of the way and after four years of very intensive training, bulking up and all the other things that top modern players undertake, the younger Roscommon lads were really easy meat for this sort of Mayo operation.

At the end of each half the home side did rescue their hopes and at least ended up not being humiliated but that is about all they achieved.

This game should not have been allowed to go ahead because of the atrocious conditions with pools of water in several parts of the Hyde Park pitch and one wonders what the ever-vigilant Health & Safety authorities thought of the game conditions.

Thankfully, no one seems to have incurred serious injury because of the conditions but that was more down to good luck than good planning by the GAA.

The most obvious difference between the teams was the experience that Mayo has garnered over many hard games against the leading teams in the country. That expressed itself above all in their ability to take the ball out of the possession of Roscommon players, or turnovers as they are called, if GAA people can handle that rugby expression.

It was pathetic to watch the failure of the losing players not being able to hold onto hard-won possession especially in the first half when Roscommon were completely at sea.

The only reason Mayo did not have the game wrapped up after playing with the strong first-half wind was some woeful attempts at scoring.

After about 20 minutes they had recorded nine wides and only three points. In that same period Mayo had stolen the ball off Roscommon players in possession about a dozen times and it was that quality that kept Mayo in a dominant position for the entire game almost.

The other big factor in this game was the domination of the midfield contest by Mayo through Tom Parsons and Seamus O'Shea.

Had the injured Senan Kilbride been there to shore up that position when playing against the wind the trend of this game could have been different. But the combination of midfield control plus the loss of a dozen possessions they had already won meant Roscommon players were constantly deprived of good ball.

But no doubt severely challenged by their manager at half-time after only scoring six points after near total domination, the Mayo players did respond by rattling over 1-5 without reply and keeping their opponents scoreless for all of 23 minutes even though it was they who had wind advantage.

The feature of the late Roscommon rally was undoubtedly the terrific goal scored with 10 minutes to go by recent sub Ciaran Murtagh. Old-style he fielded a high ball close to the goals, turned and blasted to the net. Would things have been different if he had been playing in the whole game?

I have no doubt there are already many Roscommon supporters saying that this defeat is a blessing in disguise as it will bring the team back to the reality of Division 1 football.

That is the favourite excuse of GAA people in this situation but in this instance it is just that - an excuse, not an explanation.

If these two teams meet in Castlebar next July in the Connacht final it is hard to see how Mayo could not win again.

You cannot buy experience and craft in football; instead these things have to be earned the hard way.

If Roscommon play as well in next year's first division as they have up to yesterday then they will have gained a huge amount of that vital commodity. But time is running out for them to acquire it in 2016.

Scores hard to come by against Donegal's 15-man defence

Watching football games live on television can often be more informative than being present at the game as a I noticed when viewing the Dublin-Donegal game on Saturday night from Croke Park.

The fact that we can watch immediate replays of various items of play is the big bonus of course and in this particular game I was reminded forcibly about just how much the style of play, if you could describe it as style of course, has been changing in the past half dozen years.

The arrival of packed defences will be Jim McGuinness's main contribution to Gaelic football and if imitation is the greatest form of flattery, the Donegal man is surely a man apart in modern Gaelic football.

Of course this behaviour has now become the norm as far as players, coaches and managers are concerned but for the vast majority of football followers around the country at club and county level the packed defence system is totally alien to the game they have grown up with.

But media coverage in general has been far less negative than the spectators so we can expect to have packed back lines being accepted soon as a great skill. God help us all!

What made me focus on of this latest development in how the game is played occurred in the 31st minute of the first half when I noticed that all 15 Donegal players were corralled into a space in front of their own goals that extended between about 25 metres and the end line while Dublin decided they only need six players in the same area to pursue their effort at getting a score at the same time.

It hardly came as any surprise that even the talented set of forwards in the Dublin line-up could only offer token efforts at actually creating a scoring opportunity and so it happened when after a lot of passing, huffing and puffing, Dublin midfielder Denis Bastick made a token effort at a score which went badly wide.

In Donegal terms, that arrangement of their players is listed as a great success because they thwarted the big-name opponents.

In McGuinness's time, of course, the ball would not have gone wide but would have been turned over by Donegal who would then have mounted a massed attack from their own end-line and more than likely would have scored.

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