Sunday 18 August 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: 'If O'Shea doesn't play – or even if he does play but is halfway wrong – Mayo are going to lose'

Aiden O'Shea of Mayo in action against Enda Smith of Roscommon. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Aiden O'Shea of Mayo in action against Enda Smith of Roscommon. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

Bob Hope: "Okay, what’s wrong with my game?"

Arnold Palmer: "If you're talking about golf, that's not your game!"

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In Lahinch on Wednesday, I got a glimpse of the difference between real golfers and the rest of us. Ryan Fox was so long off the tee, he nearly needed his passport stamped before lining up his second shot. I've honestly never seen the like. The son of an All Black, I suppose he was always going to be good at something.

But it's an education just to hear the sound of a professional's golf stroke compared to your own. A sound that nearly makes you question everything you do.

And there's a bit of that going on with Gaelic football at the moment. Of people looking at Dublin, maybe the game's equivalent of a perfect swing, and trying to somehow reinvent themselves as something they've never been.

The idea of just playing what's in front of you is being lost to a kind of paralysis by analysis, Galway being a case in point. Almost everyone I spoke to this week told me Mayo would beat them tonight. Why? 

As one Galway man put it to me in West Clare, ‘Sure we don't even play football anymore...'

I sense people having a real down on this Galway team since the loss to Roscommon and it's a moot point if they'll have the bottle for what's in front of them now. Put it this way, in my head Armagh had better forwards than Mayo last Saturday. But Mayo just held tough, as they tend to do. They got their match-ups right. Yes, they struggled at times with Rian O'Neill first and, subsequently, Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell.

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But there's a real dog in this Mayo team.

And there's also a dog on the line for them right now. James Horan's decision to take Andy Moran off in the first half was an act of ruthlessness not many had seen coming. But Kevin McLoughlin, his replacement, then pretty much vindicated the decision.

Hand on heart, I don't see that dog in Kerry or Galway.

Now I couldn't really understand why Armagh didn't press up on Mayo, but maybe that's for another day. Had they squeezed up, I think they might have won. Remember, Down created plenty of chances against Mayo by doing just that.

Like, tactically, Tyrone were brilliant last weekend. From midfield up, they planted ten players across three lines to hem Kildare inside their own half. It was a really smart tactic informed by a suspicion that Kildare just wouldn't have the composure to play through that press.

It strikes me that some teams really aren't putting enough thought into how to adjust their game-plan from one opponent to another.

Kerry certainly hadn't enough work done on their kick-outs for the Munster final and almost paid the ultimate price. Management of your own restarts is an absolute fundamental of the modern game now and a lot of teams are clearly struggling with that reality.

But Galway? If ever there's a team over-thinking things, it's them. It's like they're obsessing about problems they might never even face. The problems of coping with Dublin in other words.

Like, for the life of me, I could not understand their decision to change goalkeeper against Roscommon. That just made little sense. Bernard Power's range of kicking is far broader than Ruairi Lavelle's and that really came to bear against a Roscommon team pushing up on Galway kick-outs.

They read Lavelle's intentions every time, swarming in around the landing-zone.

And one quality that's glaringly absent in Galway right now is unpredictability. Without access to a big, bull of a man like Damien Comer on the edge of the square, they don't seem to have any other attacking ploy up their sleeve.

Asking Ian Burke to play that isolated role on a miserable, wet day against Roscommon made little sense against a really tight and tigerish man-marker in David Murray. It looked naive.

Galway's play that day amounted to a 70-minute outburst of pass-the-parcel. Just aimless, lateral passing, over and back, nobody taking the bull by the horns and trying to break a defensive line. Even Shane Walsh seemed almost under instruction not to take a risk. One of the paciest, most natural ball-carriers in the game all but playing in leg-chains.

Is this Shane himself calling it or a management decision? Either way, it's wrong. I'm a huge fan of the player but to get the best out of him, you''e got to plant him around the middle of the field and give him licence to make three or four really aggressive runs forward in each half.

In the Connacht final, Roscommon always had bodies back so, unless someone actually broke a tackle, nothing was going to give.

I've said before that Galway's modus operandi seems to be to slow a game down, even when it's not in their interests. It's self-harm. In other words, nobody's punching holes with their runs and going long just isn't an option because Burke simply hasn't the size or ball-winning capacity to be a viable target inside.

Galway's football is screaming out right now for somebody to just play off-the-cuff. To try something. To break away from the script and do something, anything that doesn't look like some version of line-dancing, over and back, over and back...

Because, if I'm defending against this Galway team, it's Hamlet cigar time. They're not going to surprise me. And, without the prospect of surprise, I'm in my comfort zone.

There's too strong a thread of caution running through everything Galway do. A fear of space.

It seems to me they're looking at everything from a pessimist's perspective. They have physicality around the middle in fellas like Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Peter Cooke but, in Comer's absence, they seem to have decided they have no big scrapper suitable to manning the edge of the square.

It means they're tied to this short game that's just not frightening anyone.

And so many of the players went missing in the second half against Roscommon, it was depressing. I remember Páidí saying of Cork in the '99 All-Ireland final against Meath that it was "basically only the fence that kept them in".

You knew what he meant and, while I wouldn't quite go that far about Galway against Roscommon, it was still pass-the-bucket stuff. A kind of death by a thousand passes, everyone afraid to make a mistake.

The one thing you can absolutely control in a game is the amount of fight you put into it. Galway didn't even seem to understand that in the Roscommon game. It was as if they'd all but forgotten how to play.

And here's the really damning thing. Mayo are crippled by injuries right now, the likes of Diarmuid O'Connor, Matthew Ruane and Lee Keegan all added to a lengthening list. Three outstanding players who were in great form, GONE. Yet, everyone's still thinking they could beat Galway.

We keep saying they've no marquee forward, but Darren Coen was outstanding against Armagh. And, if he backs that up this evening, who's going to meet that challenge in maroon?

Kevin Walsh has to be under serious pressure here. His trust in a system is absolute and that was fine two years back when they were still trying to catch their breath at high altitude. But now?

Sometimes it's feels as if we're all waiting for Galway to erupt. To get angry even. I mean what exactly does it tell us about them if they can only turn it on for games against Mayo? It seems to me that they play with a different heat against them than they do against anyone else. They put Mayo on the back foot, but no-one else.

Maybe the worst thing I can say about Galway is that they don't attack like a Galway football team. They have no target man inside. They play with a glacially slow build-up. They don't break any lines. It's as if they're playing football by numbers, everything wooden and pre-rehearsed.

And I get a sense of growing dissatisfaction within the county with the style of play. Which is no style in a sense. That ‘they don't even play football anymore...' line keeps coming back to me. To be fair, that wasn't the case when they played Kerry in the National League but only after the game was already gone from them. Even at that, they could, probably should, still have won that game. It's as if they only summon an appetite to attack when it's already too late.

Yet a voice in my head keeps telling me that Galway might just come with something different this time. Maybe it's just wishful thinking.

Or maybe it's because of a story I heard about Aidan O'Shea being in a cast. If that's the case and he doesn't play – or even if he does play but is halfway wrong – Mayo are going to lose. He's been their one constant throughout this season.

I've been a critic in the past, but not now. Put it this way, last Saturday was the first time I saw Jarlath Óg Burns being completely ineffectual in a game. O'Shea was the reason. He was the boss.

I can still find a hundred reasons to say Mayo will win this game, even with the players they're missing. And, on some level, I'd nearly prefer them to, given they might have a real crack at the ‘Super 8s' when fellas are getting fit again. But I have to believe there's something more in Galway than we've seen.

I have to believe they have some kind of Plan B in their armoury.

I think they'll win. I think they have to.

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