It doesn’t seem long since the FBD league started in January but it’s nearly as far back in the past as a potential trip to Croker on 18th September would be in the future, thereby leaving us at mid-term of the footballing season. So what’s going well, what’s unclear and what’s on the “could do better” list?
Back in December last, Stephen Rochford pointed out that the style would develop during the year, and there is clear evidence that this is the case. The style that has emerged is one where the kick-pass is used much more, there is less running/carrying from the half-back line, a new defensive structure creates a semi-circle no-shot zone from the 45 in and extra hands come back to pick up runners that came into the zone. Caff was given a man-marking role, rather than an out-and-out full-back role, Lee spent most of the league in a deep man marking role, Boyler was in the No. 6 position, Nally took up the sweeper role with both Tom Parsons and Diarmuid O’Connor falling back to pick up the runners that came into the scoring zone.
To me, there was a clear defensive plan, although it was unpicked on a few occasions (such as with Kerry’s two goals). However, as the man said in December, it won’t stay the same as we look to the latter end of the year. I expect Leroy to be unleashed a bit more, I expect Paddy Durcan and Zippy to have some roles (though I haven’t figured out what). Of the positions nailed down, I’d say Harrison, Caff, Leroy and Boyler would now be in any starting Mayo fifteen, with several others available to undertake other roles if different defending options are required to be rolled out.
At midfield, Parsons and Sheamie must be considered the front runners at this stage for the 8 and 9 shirts. Aido, Big Bird, Coen and Gibbons are also there, but I expect the latter three will be part of whatever Plans B/C or D are being cooked up. I do however expect that Aido will spend a lot more of this summer between the Mayo 65 and the opposition 20 metre lines, providing us with a central diamond of Boyler, Parsons, Sheamie and Aido. Very few counties would relish taking on that quartet.
How the forwards will shape up is very unclear. The league has shown a lot of rotation and a lot more quick foot passing, but otherwise no discernibly new attacking formation was road tested.
As to the likely line up, it’s hard to imagine a half-forward line without McLoughlin and DoC, as they are as important to the defence as they are to the attack. Add Aido to that duo and you have your 10, 11 and 12. As captain this year and top championship scorer for the last three years, Cillian must be a forward starter, but can we expect BOTH Freezer and Cillian in the same line? And what of Evan Regan and Jason Doherty, to say nothing of the six others recently named in the panel?
In my view, the new additions to the panel certainly give new options for fireworks as the summer progresses, but would they be ready for a heat of battle joust in August or even September? With that in mind, I’d expect a few of them to get a bit of game time in the second half of the London game and maybe the next game as well.
So, compared to other years, where are we now and where are the banana skins?
One of the things that was obvious in the league was that each half started well but old habits crept in as the half progressed leading to leads being lost in both halves. This happened in a good few games. This is a new system phenomenon and, as the year progresses, that fade-out should go too as the newer way of playing continues longer into each half of every game.
I think that our lads will be in better physical shape than other years. There is a new training regime that mixes the heavy training with the speed training which gets a longer peak, presumably aimed at the August/September period. The new defensive system will have come on a lot from the league. I am nervous that we haven’t seen a forward strategy, but I’d be shocked if one is not being worked on behind the scenes. And speaking of behind the scenes, the loyalty to the squad objectives has been exemplary. There isn’t a squeak of what’s being worked on, there are no rumours of any type and there are NO dissenting views being expressed on any aspect of the training. All of which suggests that the heads are in the right place.
The banana skins are there in every game, but seriously, do any of us really expect to trip up in Connacht? An All-Ireland quarter-final could bring Cork or Kerry. With Kerry having so many first fifteen starters over 30, they will sooner or later get a serious hosing. Don’t rule out the possibility that such a hosing could come from Cork!
Whoever wins the quarter-final will most likely face one of Tyrone/Donegal/Monaghan in a semi-final. Of these, Tyrone are the hardest to beat, simply because they can shut down opposition forward lines, but I couldn’t see them staying with us physically. Donegal are the most physical of the three, but we have had the August hex on them. Monaghan have found a few more forwards and could come to the top in Ulster, but are they a top four outfit yet?
Which could leave us heading for Croker on 18th September! Up against the unbeatable Dubs. The same unbeatable Dubs that we stretched all the way last year. The same unbeatable Dubs that seem to be even more unbeatable because they walloped a seriously ageing Kerry outfit in the league final last month. Are they as good as last year? Are we better than last year? Could we force our game on them early in the first half and force them to empty the bench early to shore up their defences? Could we unleash OUR new talent with ten minutes to go?
For one year, could we just refuse to be beaten?
Mid-term. Halfway there and it hasn’t really started yet. Could this be the year? Could it really, finally be the year?
It’s all there to be played for.
Keep the Faith!