Thursday 22 March 2018

Sinead Kissane: Green and Red's most effective curveball could well be playing things straight

If Mayo decide against pulling a rabbit out of the hat they may see miserable run against Kingdom disappear

Mayo are expecting another outstanding performance from Colm Boyle Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo are expecting another outstanding performance from Colm Boyle Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

At half-time of the minor match at Croke Park last Sunday some of the Mayo senior players walked onto the pitch in their tracksuits to test the surface and jog through some scenarios in their heads ahead of their All-Ireland semi-final with Kerry later that afternoon.

As they milled around the Hill end, one of the players drifted away by himself to the opposite end of the pitch.

It was hard to see his face with his hood up but it was easy to recognise the figure.

Aidan O'Shea turned his back to the Davin Stand just before he reached the square, the big Breaffy man put his hands on his hips and looked upwards.

From the way he was standing, he had the shape of a man imagining high balls raining down on top of him.

Was this a sign he was going to play full-forward?

Was he formulating his aerial attack on the Kerry defence?

Well, no, not really, as it turned out.

The wrongs and rights of the decision to plant O'Shea at full-back and force an arranged marriage with Kieran Donaghy have been raked over and back this past week but perhaps this whole episode could be boiled down to the answers of two questions.

1. Was Donaghy's overall effectiveness in the game reduced? No.

2. Would Kerry like to see O'Shea play in the same position today? Yes.

While it's Kerry who have to find the answers to more questions after escaping with a draw, the chorus line remains overwhelmingly about their opponents for today's rematch.

What will Mayo do next? Because if Mayo are willing to sacrifice the talents O'Shea has to beat Kerry, you can't help but wonder where else will their willingness will lead them.

And it's that kind of willingness/desperation to win which can split-end into all kinds of results.

Ask any Kerry player and supporter and they'll probably say the win over Mayo in the 2014 All-Ireland SFC replay in Limerick was one of the most memorable days they have had in the championship.

If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then Mayo's disappointment and hunger manifested itself through ferocious tackling, work-rate and a fight to be first to the ball last Sunday which Kerry simply could not match at times.

The way Mayo performed six days ago also confirmed the nagging suspicion throughout the qualifiers and quarter-finals - that they were almost saving their best stuff for the big day.

Mayo have become a team who like to regularly toy with convention.

If time waits for no man then time certainly hasn't met Andy Moran.

As the last few players walked off the pitch after the full-time whistle last Sunday, Moran went over to Paul Geaney and shook his hand.

Geaney actually looked like a man who had just put his body through a high-intensity game of nearly 80 minutes.

Moran? He looked like he could drop and do 20 press-ups using one arm, with an extra 50 burpees for no other reason other than he could.

Maybe that's what notching up a total of 1-5 from play, with a hand in four other scores, does to you.

Because Moran was finished as a starter, we were told.

Mayo don't have a marquee forward, we were told.

Mayo will be feckin' wrecked with all the matches they tried their best to lose at times before the winning knack reared its head, we were told.

Moran shouldn't celebrate scoring a goal like that, we were told.

Yet, there was Moran celebrating another fine goal. And there were Mayo looking as fit and primed as ever with a definitive red-and-black strip.

So, the work-rate and fitness is there.

Yet, still we ask, what will Mayo do next?

They may have to deal with a sweeper or more of Kerry's half-back line staying put to protect their full-back line, they will still have to deal with the all-round attacking threat of Donaghy, but what will Mayo bring?

But why do Mayo have to bring something new, different or left-field?

Mayo have been hit with so much bat-s*** craziness in recent years - like O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor accidentally taking each other out at the Gaelic Grounds three years ago and like the two first-half own-goals Mayo scored against Dublin in the All-Ireland final last year.

Convention says Mayo need 'to do something'. But why fight potential craziness with curveballs?

What if 'doing something' doesn't necessarily involve walking the tightrope of high-risk decision-making like benching their number-one goal-keeper or removing O'Shea from what he does best?

What if it's more of the same from the likes of the brilliant Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Brendan Harrison.

What if it's Lee Keegan coming out on top in his round-two duel with Paul Murphy after the Kerryman edged it the last day. Maybe the grip needs to be loosened on throwing a curveball.

Maybe nothing works as well as the most important emphasis being placed on players playing to their strengths in areas of the pitch where they could do most damage.

Maybe Mayo don't need the big gamble.

Maybe the hassling and harrying of Donaghy for the low and high balls by an experienced fit-for-purpose defender is the simple answer to the big question of how to contain him.

Maybe the greatest trick of all for Mayo today is to have no tricks at all against Kerry and see where that approach takes them.

Irish Independent

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