Friday 23 August 2019

Three matches, three different jurisdictions and three currencies - Mayo's never-ending journey is never boring

Carney expects big reaction in qualifier clash with Down

Second chance: Mayo captain Diarmuid O’Connor knows he and his team-mates can’t afford to waste any more opportunities. Photo: Sportsfile
Second chance: Mayo captain Diarmuid O’Connor knows he and his team-mates can’t afford to waste any more opportunities. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Three championship matches, three different jurisdictions and three different currencies. Even for Mayo's much-travelled support, that's quite the novelty.

After their trip to New York and a home match with Roscommon which they lost, Mayo will slip quietly back into action with a trip to Newry tomorrow evening, hoping for the right reaction to their surprise defeat in a Connacht semi-final four weeks earlier.

Roscommon have since embellished that form with an even more emphatic win over Galway in last weekend's provincial decider.

But for Mayo, defeat in Castlebar at the end of last month will ensure that, if they are to qualify for the 'Super 8s', they'll be playing matches over the next five weekends - three in the qualifiers followed by two more back-to-back quarter-finals.

That's a sizeable toll for any team to deal with, not just one that has had its fair share of qualifiers in recent seasons.

To be on the road to Down for their opening fixture of the qualifiers represents one of the more challenging fixtures they could have been handed.

Last week, the Mayo county board expressed their dissatisfaction with the 7pm throw-in time, knowing the impact it will likely have on their support numbers.

Former Mayo footballer and current analyst Martin Carney feels morale has taken a considerable blow after the Roscommon defeat but is expecting a reaction.

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"It was a huge surprise, a big blow to their morale and, I have no doubt about it, to their self-belief," he insisted. "But they have had four weeks to regroup. If it had happened last weekend and they had to play this weekend, it might have been a different scenario.

"But the time has allowed them to reflect on what has happened and get their house in order again."

Carney believes an element of complacency crept into Mayo's game that caught them early on and put them on the back foot.

"The thing they have to do most of all, apart from psychologically recovering, is to get the sense of the collective in operation again," he said.

"Against Roscommon they were left exposed far too often. Take, for example, Brendan Harrison, in his contest with Conor Cox. There was never any back-up for Harrison to cover Cox when he was taking those scores,

"Even for the first goal, Cathal Cregg's run past Keith Higgins, nobody came to take Cathal. In the past, that wouldn't have been an issue with the team.

"I just sense that, unbeknownst to them, there was a little bit of complacency."

Carney accepted that the performance, in general, was still strong.

Issues

He added: "They won most of the Roscommon kick-outs that day. Aidan O'Shea gave a super performance at midfield, probably one of the best performances that I have seen him give.

"Okay, they shot 15 wides and on top of the 19 wides they had in New York, that's high. But these are issues that they have had time to work on."

Cillian O'Connor's imminent return - he played in a challenge against Clare last week - will bring some resolution to the free-taking issues they encountered against Roscommon and at stages during the league as O'Connor recovered from knee surgery.

Carney acknowledged that the "bit of chaos" surrounding the last-gasp free in the Connacht semi-final didn't help matters.

"The last person that you would have a ball to, to take a free, is Kevin McLoughlin. He doesn't even do it for his club.

"Again, this is maybe a reflection of the lack of order in the team. The guy who wanted to take it was Conor Loftus who came in as a sub, but the ball was taken off him and handed to McLoughlin.

"McLoughlin missed it but there is no blame attached to him. He's not a free-taker, end of. Three place-kickers were on the line, Jason Doherty, Darren Coen and Evan Regan. Had their place-kicking been on a par they would have actually won the game," he suggested.

Carney feels Mayo will travel to Belfast with some degree of nervousness given their Newbridge experience last year and the knowledge that Down are a county renowned for making rapid progress "if they have a sniff of something in their nostrils."

"Defeat at this stage would precipitate a few retirements," he predicted.

"The lads in the 32/33 bracket have played a lot of football, the appetite to start from scratch again might not be there.

"But I expect a strong reaction and a strong display from them. If the ambition is still strong and they can find the motivation which they have always found easily in the past, then I think they will have too much for Down."

O'Connor's return will help to offset the loss of Matthew Ruane, who has made a huge contribution at midfield but broke a collarbone last week.

Another promising player, James Carr, could also come back into consideration.

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