Wednesday 25 April 2018

Martin Breheny - Scenic route leaves Mayo looking good for last four

But rout of Roscommon is difficult to assess because of Connacht champions' capitulation

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea tussels with Seán Mullooly, left, and David Murray of Roscommon. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea tussels with Seán Mullooly, left, and David Murray of Roscommon. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WINNERS 9-73, LOSERS 0-42. Average winning margin? 14.5 points. Remove the drawn Mayo-Roscommon game from the list and those are the alarming cumulative totals from the four All-Ireland quarter-finals in their last season.

It was as if they were so stung by being discarded after 16 years that they decided to leave a bitter legacy for the 'Super 8' series when it rolls in as a replacement next season.

There was certainly nothing super about Kerry v Galway, Tyrone v Armagh, Dublin v Monaghan and Mayo v Roscommon (replay), with yesterday's mismatch the worst of all.

It delivered the second-highest winning margin from the quarter-finals (Kerry's 27-point win over Kildare in 2015 holds that distinction) and would have easily moved to top spot if Mayo's finishing had been even slightly better.

Still, when a side scores 4-19, missed chances don't matter so Mayo's analysis is all positive, unlike Roscommon, who will struggle to find anything good amid the debris.

The grim truth for them is that they were dismantled early on, demolished by half-time, and totally demoralised in the second half.

It would have been satisfactory for a developing squad if they ended the season as Connacht champions and the positive memory of a narrow defeat by Mayo in the quarter-final, but now there's a risk that earlier gains may be lost amid the tide of desolation which swept all over them yesterday.

Were Mayo brilliant or Roscommon brutally bad? It was a mixture of both, which makes it difficult to accurately assess how much added value it brings to Mayo's All-Ireland prospects.

It will certainly help the confidence supply to have got so many parts of their game working at levels they didn't reach in any of their previous six championship games. The pace, movement and combination play they imposed on the game early on was a reminder of how efficient they are when on full power.

It ripped Roscommon apart and once Kevin McLoughlin fired in their first goal, there was no doubt they were on their way to a seventh successive semi-final.

It allowed them to play with a freedom and expression which marked their better performances over the last six years.

Still, there's a doubt about how best to gauge the real significance of the result. Roscommon were dreadful for most of the way, utterly unable to respond to Mayo's movement and allowing runners to zero in on Colm Lavin's goal untouched by human hand.

And when Roscommon had possession, their attacks were slow and predictable, frequently ending with a hopeful punt in the direction of an outnumbered strike force.

It will be all very different against Kerry, although Mayo's direct attacks could yield dividends against a defence that presented both Galway and Cork with quite a few goal chances.

None were taken but that was down to sloppy finishing rather than tight security at the Kingdom's gate.

The one significant difference between Mayo and the other three semi-finalists is in the level of competitiveness they encountered.

Mayo lost to Galway and, with the exception of yesterday, were well-tested elsewhere, unlike Kerry, Dublin and Tyrone, who won all their games easily.

It can be argued, of course, that Mayo's circuitous route to the semi-final indicates that they are inferior to the other trio but, as they have shown so often, their best performances often come in August so it's possible that their timing is just right.

No fewer than 13 Mayomen across all five outfield lines scored, quite an achievement especially since they were without the injured Lee Keegan.

Now the question is: are Mayo back to their best or was this exceptional performance more heavily influenced by Roscommon's weaknesses? The answer won't emerge until Sunday week when they move into a lane where the pace will be a whole lot faster than on any of the circuits they travelled so far.

As for the overall state of the championship, the four early season favourites have reached the semi-finals. And while that may be regarded as an indication that, for all its flaws, the system delivers in the end, a number of disquieting issues still arise.

How could Roscommon implode after delivering such a feisty effort in the drawn clash with Mayo? Why did Armagh offer so little resistance to Tyrone, and what prevented Monaghan from doing better against Dublin?

It was always unlikely they would win but they didn't even do themselves justice, no more than Galway did against Kerry.

And how's this for a confusing triangle? Mayo flattened Roscommon, who trimmed Galway, who beat Mayo.

Impact

The dismissal of Keith Higgins in the first half against Galway was probably the reason Mayo's season had to be recalibrated since it's highly likely he would have been worth more than the point which separated the teams.

It's irrelevant now except in terms of how the long route to the semi-final may impact on Mayo when they come up against Kerry.

They certainly showed no signs of fatigue yesterday - indeed their energy levels were very high from the start and remained there as they tormented Roscommon all the way.

And so the quarter-finals have come to an end - for three years at least - as the 'Super 8' introduces a round-robin mechanism to decide on the four semi-finalists.

It's highly likely that the same four would have reached the semi-finals if the new system were in place this year. As it was, it took five games, whereas the schedule will extend to 12 outings next year.

How many will be mismatches? And how many will be meaningless? Quite a few if this year is anything to go by.

Irish Independent

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