Tuesday 21 November 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: Galway and Mayo both need an x-factor forward

Sam won't be heading west any time soon unless a young Michael Meehan is unearthed somewhere

Michael Meehan will be hoping to deliver some of his old magic for Galway. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Meehan will be hoping to deliver some of his old magic for Galway. Photo: Sportsfile
Tomás Ó Se

Tomás Ó Se

It's an old joke that, if Lee Harvey Oswald had been from Mayo, JFK would probably still be alive today. Until (and unless) they win Sam, they'll remain the butt of black humour. But that line is every bit as relevant to Galway today in that they're just as bereft of a marquee forward, a game-breaker in other words.

I don't doubt that's the reason behind Michael Meehan's recent return to the squad after three years out with injury. Kevin Walsh knows that Galway don't have an X-factor player in their attack.

The likes of Paul Conroy, Damien Comer, Shane Walsh and Danny Cummins are all capable of brilliant things. But they only produce it in flashes. Meehan, at his best, did it for Galway every day. In my opinion, if it wasn't for injury, he'd have been one of the true greats of the game.

I was talking to Padraic Joyce about this recently and he said that the problem with Galway's attack today is that inconsistency in key men. So I can see why Walsh sees the appeal in a 33-year-old Meehan. He's thinking if they can get that man even half right, he'll add a huge amount to a decent team.

Injuries

I'm just sceptical about whether that's really feasible, though. Given the injuries he's had, I just don't see how Meehan could come back anywhere close to the player he was in, say, 2008 when he scored for fun (0-6 from play) against us in a rain-drenched All-Ireland quarter-final.

Nine years later and crucified with injury since? I just can't see it but I'd love to be proved wrong.

Walsh commands huge respect in Galway football, given his playing career, but he needs someone on the field with a similar aura.

I saw some of his players saying recently how they felt "in awe" of Meehan when he walked back in to training and I'm sure that's exactly the psychological impact Walsh had in mind.

Even in the background, Meehan might already be inspiring people. If so, Galway could be interesting this year.

For me, their game with Mayo in Salthill tomorrow represents the first proper contest of the season. Put it this way, we'll know more about Mayo tomorrow night than we will about Dublin or Kerry.

Because Mayo probably need to lay down a marker here. Look the big teams expect to be in a different rhythm come August and that'll certainly apply to Kerry and the Dubs. But what's the future for Mayo if they lose in Salthill? Will they still be seen as contenders for Sam? I'm not so sure. I'd worry it would play havoc with their heads.

I know they came back from losing to Galway last year. But two years running?

So, psychologically, Mayo are in a strange place now.

I was reading something that Ronan O'Gara said recently about how so many people see a positive in them being only a point off arguably the best team we've seen in a generation last year. But O'Gara was saying the problem is that being so close becomes the issue in your head. It becomes the negative.

Being a point away from something you crave so badly and not getting over the line can scar people. So make no mistake, there's pressure on them here.

Physically, Galway knocked them back on their arses last year. That can happen when one team just isn't fully tuned in. Mayo's heads were in the air in Castlebar. They just didn't see the punch coming.

But they're going to Salthill this time with a different mindset.

I still think they have the best half-back line in the country. And, in Lee Keegan, I believe they have the best half-back we've seen in the modern game. I love Colm Boyle too. That man backs off nothing. He's the type of player who lifts a crowd.

If you are to beat Mayo, that's the line you've got to target.

They took last year's defeat to Galway on the chin because I think they could put it down to a little complacency on their part, having won five Connacht titles in a row. Sam Maguire was their only focus. And Mayo showed their experience afterwards, whereas Galway, having subsequently replaced them as provincial champions, did the exact opposite.

And the big question for Galway is have they improved for last year?

No disrespect, but I loved what Tipperary did to them in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final by just going for the jugular. There was a lesson there for everybody, but one that hasn't been heeded. You have to go for it if you want to win a game, but look at Fermanagh against Monaghan - just sat back. Derry against Tyrone - just sat back.

Too many teams look over-coached to me. Robotic almost. They're going out obsessed with keeping their shape and nearly forgetting to play football.

Look at Galway in the first Connacht final against Roscommon last year. Shocking stuff. Boring, defensive, devoid of penetration or support running. They looked afraid to think outside the box. Then a completely different team in the replay. Won by 11 points. Why? They went for it.

The difference in one week, chalk and cheese.

Galway have fast forwards, a big asset. When you have that, you have the ability to move an opposition's defence around the place. Get the ball into that kind of attack early and even good backs can be made look foolish. But fast ball is a must.

In the All-Ireland quarter-final, Galway were back to their tentative worst.

Maybe something in their heads told them they had nothing to worry about. Maybe they were listening to tradition, but if so, tradition was spinning lies. Because Tipp are a different animal today and the likes of Quinlivan, Sweeney and Acheson just ripped Galway asunder.

Kerry, Dublin and Mayo wouldn't have fallen away the way Galway did that day.

They're a young team on an upward curve, but one still with a lot to learn.

They made a big statement the way they turned Kildare over in the Division 2 final, but I'd worry for them here if Mayo turn up ready for war.

You see, I suspect Stephen Rochford might have been trying to pace Mayo's season a little differently last year, but they can't have been happy the way they were turned over in Castlebar. The way they were bullied.

That's the issue here. They need to lay down a marker. And you know what? They need to show that they've added something new up front too, because that's where they've been coming up short over and over again.

Above anything, I'm hoping for a cracking game of football here because I think both teams probably feel the need to make a statement of sorts. We all know Mayo's issues.

But Galway will have been badly bruised by how last season ended.

In hindsight, I'm not sure Kevin Walsh could have done much to get them mentally right for that game with Tipp, given that the Galway players would have been surrounded by confident noise, be it from supporters, social media, whatever. It definitely got into their heads and that's something he'll have had to thrash out with them at the start of this year.

Why weren't they mentally ready for that Tipp challenge?

Are Tipp better than Mayo? Absolutely not. But they hammered a Galway team that beat Mayo because they were better focused. You can have all the sports psychologists in the world, but ultimately that kind of stuff needs to be addressed in a locked room by the players themselves.

At some point last winter, both Galway and Mayo will have found themselves in that room. We're about to discover which group listened better. Mayo to win.

Irish Independent

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