James Horan faces tough selection choices in the next few weeks as Mayo face a fight to keep their Division One status, says Ciaran Whelan, adding on this week’s Throw-In podcast that Mayo "need three of the last four points, which is going to be a difficult challenge."
The rescheduled clash between Mayo and Kerry in MacHale Park was one where Mayo’s spirit just could not make up for their lacklustre start, as Horan’s charges fell to a 1-14 to 1-13 defeat at the hands of the Kingdom. And for Whelan, the slow start in the game exposes the need for Horan to evaluate his position on some players.
"The big challenge I can see for James Horan is whether he is going to stick with the tried and trusted guys that have been warriors for the last 10 years for the summer, or is he going to be brave enough to maybe say ‘I need new energy, can the Mayo supporters be patient enough to develop a couple of players and hang in there for a year or two', so it’s a tough time decision-wise and Mayo are definitely in a period of transition."
Fans of the Connacht outfit can take some solace in the fact that their side produced a second-half fight-back that narrowed the gap from nine points at half-time to the minimum at the final whistle. But, as Whelan points out, more is expected in first halves of games from the reigning league champions.
"The positive from Sunday’s game was that they did get back into it and they controlled the second half. But they do have challenges, and going into Division Two, as we can see this year, is a dangerous place to be because every year your championship status (could be) in danger.
"The first half was hugely disappointing from a Mayo perspective and Horan will be annoyed just in terms of the level of intensity. They stood off Kerry. They let Kerry play the football that they like to play. The physicality wasn’t there, they didn’t track runners, and it looked at one stage that Kerry were going to absolutely obliterate them, and at half-time you felt Kerry were going to come out with the wind and kick on.
"That didn’t happen, so that’s a positive - that there still is a bit of energy there and there’s that desire that’s always been within the Mayo teams."
Kerry, meanwhile, went back home one point clear of Tyrone and Dublin in the league table, second only to Galway who disposed of winless Meath in Navan on Sunday. As for the Kingdom’s progress though, Whelan is not convinced that their defence is fully prepared for the summer’s challenges.
"I don’t think Mayo asked too many questions of their back-line, though they seemed to be better structured and they closed down space well," Whelan said.
"But they still have that touch of class up front and when they get a platform at midfield they can destroy you. They had that platform yesterday, particularly in the first half, but in the second they kind of sat back, as if they were trying to protect the lead and they invited Mayo onto them.
"That would be of concern because if you’re Peter Keane, when you get a run on a team you have to finish them off. I really don’t think the defence got asked too many questions, so I’ll reserve judgement as to whether they are really progressing in their defensive setup."