Sunday 18 February 2018

Just how close is this Mayo team to being the real thing?

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

SUCH are the anomalies in the format of the All-Ireland football championship that Mayo exited the 2010 All-Ireland championships on June 26, but, two years on, they won't even join the Connacht race until June 24.

Their late arrival is one the inconsistencies in a championship system where Meath and Longford have already played three times, while eight other counties have had two games each.

Not that it concerns Mayo, who knew from last October that mid-summer's day would have passed before they began their bid to retain the Connacht title for the first time since 1997.

And since they are 1/80 favourites to beat Leitrim in the semi-final in Castlebar on Sunday and 2/7 favourites to win the Connacht title, their supporters are already looking forward to a trip to Croke Park on the first weekend in August for an All-Ireland quarter-final test.

Mayo's short-term optimism is based on a number of encouraging factors, not least that they have lost only three times to Leitrim in Connacht history and only once to Sligo in the final.

Add in Mayo's extended run in the Allianz League which took them to the Division 1 final and it's easy to understand why hopes are so high in the county that a return to Croke Park is virtually a done deal.

So, with all the other All-Ireland contenders having shown their hand, how do Mayo stand up to a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) test as they head into Championship 2012.

STRENGTHS

1 They have been in Division 1 of the NFL for 14 successive seasons, something no other county has achieved.

They may have won only one title in that period (2001), but their consistency in the group games has been remarkably solid. That should always be a good starting base for the championship.

2 They have gained valuable experience in Croke Park in recent years. They may have mixed the good with the bad, but they will have learned from it all. Better to know the Croke Park experience than try to visualise it.

3 They have as many natural footballers as any county and a whole lot more than most. When their game is going well, they play a highly productive game and are difficult to counteract.

4 They've added a steely edge to their game which wasn't always there.

5 On their day, they are capable of beating any county. Indeed, top All-Ireland contenders, Dublin, Cork and Tyrone all lost to Mayo in the championship over the last eight years, a treble success which not even Kerry managed.

Mayo beat Kerry in this year's league semi-final in Croke Park, which will be a further boost to their confidence.

WEAKNESSES

1The burden of history. Mayo always insist it doesn't bother them, but 61 years without an All-Ireland senior title (1951) for a county that had won four up to then must have a corrosive effect.

2Croke Park and big final syndrome. Mayo have won only once (2001 NFL) from their last 12 appearances in All-Ireland and NFL finals. A dreadful record which scarcely inspires confidence.

3Midfield. Mayo are not as well equipped in that general area as the other major All-Ireland contenders.

4Lack of real hard-edge tests in Connacht. If Mayo beat Leitrim and Sligo, they will be up against opposition who will have met Division 1 and/or 2 opposition in the All-Ireland quarter-final. It could be a big step up. Connacht has fallen behind the other three provinces, which is damaging to all western ambitions.

5Failure to deliver under real pressure. Mayo have regularly failed to do themselves justice on big days. What trips the doubt switch when things begin to go wrong during games at the business end of the championship?

OPPORTUNITIES

1 Mayo face Division 4 opponents (Leitrim) in the Connacht semi and, if they win, will meet Sligo, who wintered in Division 3. It makes Mayo the envy of all their peers in the other provinces.

2Their extended league campaign means that the late start to the championship is no disadvantage. On the contrary, it has enabled Mayo to plan the season to perfection.

3It's generally expected that Mayo will win Connacht, allowing them to arrive in the All-Ireland quarter-finals under the radar, which is a plus.

4The long wait for an All-Ireland win can be harnessed positively. Donegal, Derry, Armagh and Tyrone won All-Irelands for the first time over the last 20 years. It proves that a breakthrough is always possible if all the jigsaw pieces are slotted together properly.

5No dominant force in the land. There's little enough to choose between the main All-Ireland contenders, presenting Mayo with every chance to assert themselves.

THREATS

1Complacency in Connacht. James Horan will have worked hard to counteract it, but Mayo supporters assume the two-in-a-row is secure. If that seeps through to the players, it could be dangerous. Leitrim won't be strong enough to exploit it, but Sligo might. Failing to win the Connacht title would wreck Mayo's All-Ireland prospects.

2Post League final trauma. Mayo ran dismal championship campaigns after being league runners-up in 2007 and 2010. Also, none of the last 10 league runners-up have won the All-Ireland.

3Perception among strong opposition. Until such time as Mayo win an All-Ireland title, the major powers will always believe they can outwit them on the big day.

4Hype. It won't flare up if Mayo win Connacht, but if they reach an All-Ireland final, it could become corrosive as it did on occasions in the past.

5Recent Connacht history. Mayo won provincial titles in 1999-2004-2006-2009, but were beaten in the next years.

Irish Independent

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