Friday 21 September 2018

The schedule, injuries and age profile: Ten reasons why Mayo will struggle to claim Sam Maguire in 2018

13 May 2018; Mayo players stand for the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann prior to the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Galway at Elvery's MacHale Park in Mayo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
13 May 2018; Mayo players stand for the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann prior to the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Galway at Elvery's MacHale Park in Mayo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Frank Roche

Frank Roche

SO then, another early-summer calamity for Mayo to be greeted by a fresh wave of morose obituaries.

Haven’t we been here before? Have the backs-to-the-wall comebacks of 2016 and ’17 been erased from all memory?

Given the above, this column has no inclination to declare it game over. Why can’t they make it back to the ‘Super 8s’? Especially since they’ve four weeks to regroup for the qualifiers?

But reaching the last-eight is not the Holy Grail for Stephen Rochford and his decorated veterans. There hasn’t been a ‘back door’ All-Ireland champion since Cork in 2010, and the myriad negatives emerging from a third straight Connacht SFC exit to Galway make the journey ahead more taxing then ever.

Here are ten reasons why they probably won’t sup from Sam in September …

1 The schedule

More onerous than ever. Starting on June 9, they must negotiate seven games in nine weekends – winning four qualifiers and probably two out of three Super 8 outings – to even reach a semi-final.

2 Age profile

Seven of the 15 players who started on Sunday are the wrong side of 30: David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle, Séamie O’Shea, Andy Moran and …

3 Tom Parsons

His horrific knee injury is devastating for the player and potentially ruinous for his team. He was pivotal to Mayo’s 2017 run; it’s hard to see where they can instantly unearth a midfielder to match his mobility and footballing savvy … unless they relocate Leeroy.

4 Lee Keegan

Will Lee Keegan be fully match-fit? The 2016 Footballer of the Year sounded upbeat on his shoulder injury rehab when interviewed on Sunday, but is it fair to expect instant miracles?

5 Squad depth

Parsons, whatever about Keegan, won’t be the only absent regular for their first qualifier. Diarmuid O’Connor will be suspended, placing further pressure on a squad of dubious depth.

6 The red mist

Never mind suspensions, Mayo are paying a massive on-the-day price for rash acts of ill-discipline. Their last three SFC losses have coincided with totally avoidable straight reds against Galway last June (Higgins), Dublin last September (Donal Vaughan) and Galway again (the younger O’Connor).

7 Blanket blues

Their ongoing struggles to ‘beat the blanket’. In recent outings, attempts to navigate through a packed defence have been a mix of the pedestrian (going sideways and nowhere fast) and the impatient (wrong shooters in the wrong place). Sunday was more of the same; only Higgins and McLoughlin offered any penetration from deep.

8 Where is the next Andy?

Andy Moran was typically out-in-front and clipped a couple of excellent points before his radar went askew prior to his late substitution. Trouble is, there was no one else to take the baton. Conor Loftus didn’t step up in open play. At least Cillian O’Connor should be fit to start in June – they need him fully firing too.

9 'Fortress' Castlebar?

Mayo need to avoid a big hitter (the loser of Tyrone/Monghan, for starters) but it’s debatable if a home draw would help given that they’ve lost four on the bounce there in 2018.

10 Can Mayo still reach the Super 8s?

Yes. But, as with last year’s series of close shaves, they look vulnerable on any day ... and even if they make it, the cumulative effect of the above suggests they are now further away from challenging Dublin, not closer.

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