Tuesday 28 January 2020

Martin Breheny: Mayo's problems not gone away

Breheny Beat

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford addresses his players before the start of Sunday’s defeat to Cavan at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford addresses his players before the start of Sunday’s defeat to Cavan at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Moving on was very much on Stephen Rochford's mind after Mayo's defeat by Cavan last Sunday in a game where they seemed well on their way to winning when leading by five points shortly before half-time.

Driving on at home against opposition that had gone four games without a victory on their return to Division 1 should have been relatively straightforward for a team that came so close to winning last year's All-Ireland title but it didn't happen.

Instead, Mayo were outscored by 1-10 to 0-6 from there on. Dismay all around MacHale Park, but Rochford was already looking ahead.

"The reality in the league is that, win or lose, you have another game coming in a week, so you can't ponder on the result too much because if you do, you are starting behind the opposition," he said.

He was right. If Mayo lose to Tyrone in Omagh next Sunday and Cavan beat Kerry, Rochford will be dealing with a squad whose survival in Division 1 will be out of their hands. In that scenario, Roscommon are the only ones who could save Mayo by beating Cavan in the last round. Even then, Mayo would need to beat Donegal in Castlebar, a far-from-certain result at any time and especially this year when Monaghan and Cavan left MacHale Park with full points.

Rochford also referenced last year when Mayo were in an even more precarious position after losing four of their first five games, before saving themselves with two wins.

However, there are some significant differences. In the wake of the controversial player revolt after the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final, which forced the resignations of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, Rochford's appointment came on November 30, by which time other managers were well advanced in planning for last season. Also, Castlebar Mitchels were on their way to the All-Ireland club final so he couldn't call on any of the Mayo champions until after St Patrick's Day.

With Rochford getting to know the players, and vice versa, in rather unusual circumstances, Mayo's slow start to the league was understandable but there's no such excuse this year. Of the eight teams in Division 1, Mayo needed to win the league most of all. Instead, they are out of contention after Round 5 and now have relegation fears.

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After losing to Monaghan in the first round, a defiant performance against Kerry, followed by an easy win over Roscommon, suggested that Mayo were highly motivated.

Two games later, it's all so different after the embarrassment against Dublin and a second-half flop against Cavan where they were utterly incapable of figuring out how to unlock a massed defence. And when Cavan broke forward, they didn't even have to explore the wings for openings, instead pouring through central channels with ease.

Mayo were without Aidan and Séamus O'Shea, Diarmuid O'Connor and Jason Doherty of last year's team but surely the squad is experienced enough to build on a five-point lead against opposition with brittle confidence until they discovered they were on to something. Besides, the above quartet has been out of the picture for a long time so it's difficult to see how their return will, on its own, give the team the added impetus required to complete the unfinished business of recent seasons.

In fairness, Castlebar's Danny Kirby did well at midfield, getting forward to score 0-4 from open play. Is he the man to add a new dimension on a consistent basis? Only time will tell. Fergal Boland looks promising too but Mayo need more than a few newcomers to drive things forward. Too many established players aren't under pressure to retain their places and played accordingly last Sunday.

That did not apply to Andy Moran, who worked as hard as if it were his first game, but it's not very encouraging for Mayo's prospects of making 2017 the All-Ireland famine-ending year if a 33-year-old remains their most industrious forward.

As ever, it's wise to caution that a few games in spring cannot be taken as a guide to the season. Still, Dublin have managed to combine remarkable league consistency with summer excellence since Jim Gavin took over. They don't need another league title anything like as much as Mayo, yet they're scrapping furiously for every point and keeping well on track for the five-in-a-row.

On the basis of the last two games, some Mayo players appear to view the league as a prize not worth fighting for. It's a strange mentality after all they have been through. It's not an encouraging sign.

Irish Independent

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