Three questions facing Mayo ahead of Rebels clash
After four successive provincial victories and successive All-Ireland defeats, the bar has been set high for Mayo. Here are three questions that will be asked of the Connacht champions ahead of their All-Ireland quarter-final with Cork.
Will history repeat itself for Mayo at quarter-final stage?
James Horan’s men may have fallen short in the last two finals, but those disappointments cannot mask the fact they have been the most consistent team over the past three years, and have been particular ruthless at this particular stage.
In 2011 they met the Rebels in the last eight and the reigning champions were sent packing on a scoreline of 1-13 to 2-06. The following year Down were dismissed with 15 points to spare while last year Donegal relinquished Sam Maguire after a 16 point hiding.
Questions over the standard of the Connacht championship may persist, but the men from the west are quick out of the traps once they hit the open spaces of Croke Park.
Where will Mayo get best return out of Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran?
Few doubt the merits over the qualities of Aidan O’Shea, one of the most dynamic players in the game. More of a source of debate is where Mayo should start the Breaffy man.
Horan has moved the combative midfielder into a more advanced position this season to much debate. Critics point out that it does little to address their main problem of adding to their firepower, but at the same time is a considerable presence on the 40, ties up the centre half and takes the pressure off those around him. Thomas Clancy is still relatively inexperienced at this level but could be set for big challenge on Sunday if he retains the number six jersey for the Rebels.
Barry Moran has overcome a series of injury set-backs to continue his fine form for Castlebar earlier this season. The towering midfielder has demonstrated at club level the danger he can cause on the edge of the square and there is every possibility that if the game remains in the melting pot, or indeed if his side are trailing in the closing stages, Moran could find himself as the target man at full-forward.
Will we see a strategy with future opponents in mind?
Donegal were below-par last year, but Mayo saw off their defensive system in a ruthless fashion. In Connacht they are used to teams packing defences and they have generally advanced with little trouble.
The general consensus is that it is Kerry and Dublin, who adopt a far more attacking philosophy than the remaining contenders, who will pose the bigger problems. The conundrum for Horan is that the Rebels are expected to follow on from their Sligo performance and drop some forwards into deep positions.
Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan and Keith Higgins will need little invitation to attack should Colm O’Driscoll, Mark Collins and Brian Hurley move towards their own defence, but will Horan instruct a more disciplined approach with potential future opponents in mind?
Cork will have something to say about that and Mayo themselves would not publicly admit to such thinking with the “taking each game on its merits” a well-worn line.
However after four provincial successes in succession, only landing Sam will suffice for this set of players. Future planning is only natural given their near-misses and Horan would ideally hope to move into the last four after a stern examination of their credentials.
Log on to Independent.ie tomorrow as we bring you three questions Kerry must answer in their bid to make the semi-final