Sunday 18 February 2018

Stephen Rochford all too aware unforced errors and turnovers must be eradicated for Mayo to take replay

Limiting damage caused by turnovers and mistakes will be key focus for Mayo

Mayo’s lack of goal threat last Sunday will be an area of concern for manager Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo’s lack of goal threat last Sunday will be an area of concern for manager Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

On Tuesday last, two days after the first All-Ireland football final stalemate in 16 years, Stephen Rochford and Keith Higgins arrived at Breaffy House Hotel in Mayo to face a fresh round of media questions. The almost eccentric final they were there to discuss had sent mixed messages.

Investigations were still ongoing. "Our preparation had been around winning and that has not changed," Rochford stated. "I suppose what the draw has provided us with is an opportunity to deliver our peak performance because last Sunday was certainly not our peak performance."

Rochford knows Mayo did so much right and yet the litany of errors they committed would make one wince if it were in February, let alone on the biggest day on the calendar. Higgins was asked how he rated the Mayo performance, percentage-wise. "Honestly, maybe 60-70 per cent," he began. "People say defensively we played very well but we still coughed up a few goal chances which we can't be happy with. The two goals they got - while they came off our guys in the end, they were actually goal chances for them. So you have to be critical of that and say that wasn't good enough and Dave (Clarke) had to make another save or two.

"Then going down the other end we turned over a lot of ball and gave it away too easily. Conditions didn't help that but we coughed up a lot of handpasses and that kind of stuff. Definitely there are aspects (of our performance) that we can work on. There were a lot of unforced errors - when you are dealing with the six forwards that Dublin have, in fairness to them, you make a mistake they will pounce on it and create chances themselves. You are never going to get a 100 per cent performance but you have got to cut out the stuff you have control over and that's where the simple mistakes come into it."

Mayo's mission is to somehow repeat the obduracy which limited Dublin to nine points, their lowest points total in championship football since the notorious All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal in 2011, and gain the extra few per cent that would turn a draw into a victory. The popular notion that Dublin have the greater room for improvement, that they can't be as bad again, was put to Rochford.

"It is certainly not the consensus within the Mayo camp. The view there is that it does not matter one damn bit to me, and I don't mean to sound arrogant or disrespectful. We will look to get our heads down, we will view the game. I have already said it is half-time in this battle, to learn from the first half of it and look to better ourselves. What pleased me is that we were consistently at the pitch of the battle in terms of our intensity and hard work but our skill execution wasn't at the level it needed to be or we expected it to be in order to win an All-Ireland final."

Asked to put his own percentage rating on the Mayo display, Rochford said they were better than in the semi-final against Tipperary. "Maybe 70 per cent. People might say that Dublin were at 60 per cent but it will make absolutely no difference come five o'clock Saturday week. The things we need to do again will be at the pitch of what that battle will be. We need to go back and look at the goals that were scored by Dublin.

"Our turnovers around the middle of the field need to be better; it was nowhere near the level it needs to be to win any game, never mind an All-Ireland final. Again, we were a bit light in terms of creating our own goal chances. We created one and maybe a half chance with Paddy Durcan in the first half so there is plenty of scope for us so maybe 70 per cent is a bit generous."

The damage inflicted by Brian Fenton is something that will have been occupying their minds preparing for the replay. Twice he was allowed to get free near the Mayo goal, the first run leading to the opening Dublin goal in the ninth minute.

"What I would say is that happened in the first 10 minutes and those chances did not occur over the remaining 60 minutes. Maybe in those first 10/15 minutes it can be a little bit helter-skelter, it is the break of a ball. It came originally from a Dublin kick-out. You need to go back and see is there something there that we could do better or was there something in our game plan that let us down or something that we did not do. Those are the sort of things that we need to rectify."

Higgins, asked what they learned from the experience, said that it will have deepened their belief that they are good enough.

"We had been saying before the game that we can match Dublin in a lot of areas. That we were well capable of beating them. Maybe that will give us more belief. But against a team like Dublin if you turn the ball over as easy as we did they'll kill you on the counter-attack. So that is one thing we really have to nail down."

Rochford understands that the intensity of the tackling and the conditions contributed to the high turnover count. But the number of unforced turnovers committed by his team is a different matter.

"They are the ones that you get frustrated with, but you have to look at what the other elements around the play that may have been a factor on that, was it that there was no outlet to move the ball to, did we dilly-dally on the ball - and that was certainly the case in two or three instances in the first half. It is the unforced ones that really get under the skin of a coach or a manager.

"If you get four or five in a game, you take that, but having 17 in the first half and I can't think of what we had in the second half, is just not good enough. Making mistakes is part of the game as well, we say making good mistakes is fine but if you make a mistake where you have gone away from what the team is trying to do that is not something that we look to tolerate. We need to weigh up those in the video room, it may not just be the person who did not execute the skill, it might be he got a crap pass first, the support was not there, he could have been awarded a free for a tug on the arm or whatever, but if it is something glaringly obvious we need to call that out."

Higgins gave a frank assessment of his own performance when asked if he was happy with it. "No, not particularly. I had four of five simple turnovers during the game and stuff like that. Playing a team like Dublin it is so hard to get the ball off them. Then you have simple turnovers it makes things frustrating. So from that point of view I wouldn't be happy with it at all."

The second goal resulted after he lost the ball up the field and Dublin broke, winning the free which Diarmuid Connolly floated into a momentarily unmarked Dean Rock. "I was giving out to myself about that one," admitted Higgins. "I went down the pitch, gave away a stupid handpass; they get a free. Connolly puts it on a plate for Dean, another day he would have held that ball and popped it in the back of the net himself. Just unfortunate how it worked out but again you have to look at the causes and I have to take the blame for it myself."

Mayo's lack of goal threat will also be an area needing attention. "We played three guys inside," Rochford said. "We won some good primary possession but Dublin double-tackled us there at times. With the conditions, maybe we should have run the ball more and looked to mix it up more than we did. There may have been some factors in how the game developed that we did not have the capability to do it. When we did create those couple of chances they came from our running game and we probably adapted more to that running game just before half-time and in the second half than we had done in the earlier part of the game."

Asked about Aidan O'Shea's role within the team, having played much of the game near the Dublin goal, Rochford said he needed more time to assess what came of his contributions. "Certainly every time he was winning ball inside in the full-forward line, he was occupying two or three Dublin players and that has a knock-on effect as to what can happen for other players. Maybe not all that presents itself in front of you seems like it is because there are other little things that are happening. He is a big player for us and he will continue to be a big player for us."

Rochford said that Lee Keegan was under no instruction not to go forward more. "If there was an opportunity for him to get forward, as with any defender, they have the freedom to make the play in accordance with what they see in front of them, same way as Paddy Durcan, Keith (Higgins) or Brendan Harrison may do. He was not under any specific order to not go forward but in Diarmuid Connolly you are dealing with one of the very best footballers in the modern era and your primary job as a defender is to defend."

Higgins talked of conceding two own goals in the first half and was asked if they made him fear the worst. "For the first one the fact that we were two points up when they got it - they get the goal there is still only a point in it. For the second one alright you are beginning to wonder but again you just have to look at the reaction. While we were doing all right, you look up on the scoreboard and they're two goals and no points you wonder what is going on.

"But again I suppose the type of game it was you thought that maybe we could get a break down the far end. You can't let anything bog you down, we have learned not to let those incidents get us down and keep plugging away. The turning point for us was the 15 minutes after half-time. Dublin usually start the second half very well and kill teams off. That was a big period for us, Andy (Moran) got a big score for us right at the start and Paddy (Durcan) went up and got a point that was crucial."

When Cillian O'Connor kicked the equaliser with seconds left of the seven minutes of stoppage time, Higgins was "somewhere around the halfway line". What was going through his mind? "When he kicked it first I thought it was dropping short to be honest. But in fairness to him if you want anybody in that position we'd want him."

He was asked if criticism of Mayo might be tempered by this performance. "No I don't think it will put an end to it. I think the only thing that will do that is actually winning. I think there was criticism all summer. Some of it was maybe justifiable. A lot of it I think was overboard but look again that's my opinion because I'm inside the camp. But to be quite honest with you we've probably got so much of it over the last few years that, not that we don't take any notice of it, but you realise there's no point dwelling on it. You just have to go out and prove them wrong."

But will it have earned you more respect, that performance? "Yeah, you would hope so. But like I said you only get the ultimate respect if Sam Maguire is on the bus on the way out of Croke Park with you. That's the bottom line."

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