Time to impose our will from the outset

Photo: MichaelMaye.com

It’s Thursday already and so the time is ticking down rapidly to our next all-or-nothing championship clash of the summer. Having gone the qualifier route last year, this glut of games shouldn’t really be a shock but, compared to the gentle schedule involved when going through the front door, it does take a bit of getting used to, even second time around.

Last year the two matches at home got us back into our stride nicely following the unexpected Connacht semi-final loss to Galway. The Kildare match, in particular, provided us with great momentum before we headed to Croke Park for Round 4. This year, HQ won’t be available to host the Round 4 games but, more pertinently, it’s Round 3A we need to be focusing exclusively on now because if we don’t get the required result on Saturday that’s our championship race run for this year.

Clare are more dangerous opponents for us than Derry were and having to play them on their home patch – the first time we’ve played at the opposition’s home ground in the qualifiers since Longford in 2010 and only the second time we’ve ever had to do this – increases the existential threat to us still further. That said, Cusack Park in Ennis is a ground that holds happy memories for our U21 players of 2006 and 2016 as well as the many supporters who were there to see those All-Irelands won at the venue.

There’s a good chance it’ll feel homely enough for our lads too on Saturday. This piece in the Mayo News (which is worth a shifty, by the way, as it contains plenty of practical info about Saturday’s game, relating to parking and what-not) quotes an official estimate of 8,000 supporters from the county making the trip to Ennis. We’ll be the like the Dubs soon, shouting loudly about going on away days to exotic locations.

As we know from last year, if you get a run the qualifiers it can prove to be a place to find out what works with the team. The readjustments made don’t need to be enormous – either in personnel or in playing style – but small tweaks can have big effects.

The main changes we made going the back door last year were replacing Robbie Hennelly with David Clarke (though let’s not reopen that whole debate again), re-integrating Seamus O’Shea – who’d been injured for the London game and only came on as a sub against Galway – back into the engine room and starting Andy Moran, until then largely a bit-part player in 2016, in the forwards.

Last year’s run wasn’t exactly without its issues and we struggled to maintain consistent form from one round to the next. But the changes we made – which later included going with a ‘false’ 3 and Kevin McLoughlin as sweeper – by and large worked. By the time we finally made it to the decider we were once again an extremely formidable outfit.

I’m not going to attempt to pick the team here or second-guess what Stephen and his selectors should do. I do think, though, that the form showed by a number of lads the last day needs to be recognised in terms of the team we pick to play Clare. Sure, we have to think about the whole 70+ minutes and making sure that we’re as strong at the end as we are at the start. I don’t accept, however, that we should be slaves to this kind of thinking either.

There’s a lot to be said for picking a team that has the capability to take this match by the throat and end it as a contest as rapidly and as painlessly as possible. One of the most frustrating aspects of our playing style right now is how long it takes us to impose our will in games. A Mayo GAA legend (in deference to whom I’m not going to name) summed up for me in a single word after the Derry game the essence of our current approach. Tentative.

He’s right, we’re too cautious, too hesitating in how we go about our business. There’s too much safety first, which starts with kick-outs to the corner-back position and then a slow, laboured build-up followed by low percentage kicked passes into the often double-teamed Andy inside.

This approach saw us give Sligo – who admittedly played an ultra-defensive game against us for the most part – way too much respect and it also meant that we diced far closer to death with Derry than we needed to. It was patently clear that we had the players to beat the Oakleafers the last day and when we eventually went for them bald-headed (our risible shooting notwithstanding) they had no answers.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to see us imposing our will on the game from the start on Saturday. With Aidan and Tom in the middle – perhaps aided and abetted by Donie and Stephen too – we should have more faith, Gary Brennan or not Gary Brennan, to put a bit more air in our re-starts and provide the platform for more devastating bursts into their danger zone.

I’d also like to see us with more shooters on the pitch from the off. Whether this is Conor or Jason or Diarmuid or Evan I’m not too bothered but we definitely need four scoring forwards on the pitch from the start and we need to get ball into them far faster than we’ve been doing so far this year.

Taking the game to the home team with a sense of purpose would also ensure we hit them in an area where they’ve proved themselves to be strong this year. Against Limerick, Kerry and last week against Laois, the Banner lads were out of the traps fast – they were 1-4 to 0-2 up on Kerry playing into the wind after 18 minutes – and a sure-fire way for us to ensure that this becomes a real battle would be to let them get a run on us early on. Instead, I’d love to see us take the game to them, build up an early lead and really ask questions of them.

Needless to say, this is a huge game for both counties. That’s the way it is when it’s knockout football. We’ve obvious ambitions to make it back to where we feel we belong, while Clare will have the same aim, perhaps hoping that, like Tipp last year, they’ll get paired in the quarters with a Galway team feeling a mite too self-satisfied about itself.

But while the road to Croke Park will begin to open up for whichever of us emerges victorious on Saturday evening, lofty thoughts about showcasing our respective talents at HQ a bit later in the summer have no place in the scheme of things now. Saturday’s contest is, for both counties, an elemental them-or-us battle for survival.

We’re favourites to win – of course we are, just look at the two counties’ contrasting records in recent years. But, as the saying goes, past performance is no guarantee of future returns and so while we deserve to go into this game as the team fancied by the bookies to advance, this will mean nothing once the ball is thrown in by ref Seán Hurson at 5pm on Saturday evening.

For what it’s worth, I’m confident we’ll do it but, for the reasons outlined here, I’m concerned that our style of play will make that job harder than it needs to be. Although I know that our buccaneering, all-action style of the Horan years is now, sadly, consigned to history, what I’d love to see from the team on Saturday is a more positive, daring approach, one aimed at seizing control of the game right from the throw-in.

If we can do that, victory will surely follow. Added to this, a win achieved in that fashion would also inject some serious momentum into this championship campaign for us, proving as it would that there’s life in this old dog yet.

46 thoughts on “Time to impose our will from the outset

  1. Time to throw the shackles off and go at them from the start. Clare away I agree is a tougher game than Derry at home. That said for 65mins anyone could have beaten us the last day. This team is resilient if anything and deserve our support.

    WJ – Without getting ahead ahead if we do beat Clare, I assume we could be heading to Ennis again to face Cork (If Galway beat Roscommon) or dare I say it….Limerick 🙂

  2. If we’re still in the hat for Round 4 and Galway beat the Rossies – I have a small hope (though my predictions have been way off this summer) of an upset there but Galway are deserved favourites – would it not be an open draw to see who plays who? Say Donegal beat Meath, then it’s Cork and Roscommon in one bowl and ourselves and Donegal in the other. No repeat pairings there so an open draw, no? If it’s us and Cork, then Ennis or Limerick would, I suppose, be the two options (seeing as they’d only have five or six supporters with them Ennis would do fine). If it’s the Rossies, though, the awfulness that is Pearse Stadium could be the obvious choice. I did say I’d be away for that one (if we make it through), didn’t I?

  3. WJ …
    Agree with your analysis above …. 4 scoring forwards, with AOS at 11 plus one.
    SOS and TP isvour best MF.
    AOS to compete for all kickouts and given licence to move between the mayo 45 ando the attacking 21.
    This should allow AOS to do what he does best. … win and compete for ball …lay of easy ball to off the shoulde runners and to drive forward down the middle.

  4. That’s the one RiseAgain…..you have it all there. Aiden was like a live wire the last day in everything he did and was an inspiration. However, he’s still being left with too much to do when he grabs possession…. People should be dashing to him to take the pass and not be content with the free he eventually is begrudgingly awarded! I’m continuously surprised and disappointed that our fellas are generally caught napping when the off the shoulder run is called for. You don’t want many of them in a game but they are so effective that a major effort ought to be made to get a few in….. an ability to include this aspect of play would unleash a powerful boost to the eventual destination of this great bunch.If we can take on board more urgency and intent and build more of that cheeky confidence into our play thus cutting down on our errors then we can bring our game to any arena!

  5. @mayomad, I read somewhere that Croke Park will not be available for Round 4 of the qualifiers… so won’t be there

  6. Those matches can’t be in Croke Park, Mayomad. Both Round 4A matches are fixed for Saturday, 22nd July, and that’s the date for the U2 concert at Croke Park. I could go off on one about concerts being held at HQ at this time of year but I faintly recall my being there at the same venue to see them back in 1985. Gulp.

  7. Great read Wj- where do you get the time!
    cant think past saturday, clare wont be a push over- our chorus of MAYO MAYO MAYO will be required,
    im MEANT to be working BUT im checking the blog constantly,
    really hope lee is deemed fit,properly fit, and not listed as playing and him been risky-
    we need to best foot forward,from throw in till 70 mins +
    and put the ball over the bloody bar,don’t think my heart could stick another edge of the seat drama
    so close to the one we had last week for weekend…
    there is no doubt we will have improved from last week,just hope we grab this game early and notch up the scores,

    cant wait,Cmon Mayo

  8. To remind people there’s a game to be played on Saturday… Consider any subsequent games on Sunday.
    Any talk other other that the game on Saturday shold be refrained from.
    There will time enough to consider other games if there is one on Sunday.

  9. Good man again RiseAgain! Ref to Conor Cooneys great interview the other day concerning his injuries record and where this Galway team is going to this year….abs no talk of cups or past, just focus on next game and get out and do what is required. Now that is challenge enough to be goin on with.
    Looking forward to that bypass opening when we can view another slice of this grand little realm.

  10. Good article Willie Joe. I want to see tempo. The slower sideways and safe play around the middle is a disaster for us not the opposition.
    We are not like Kerry or Dublin who can flash onto little openings after some sideways play around the middle.
    We are always at our most effective when we move forward with purpose and pace. Quick sidelines, quick frees, minimise backwards and sideways passes. Bursts from Higgins, Keegan.
    Put their half backs on yellows by continuously running at them with aggressive conviction.
    Two men always aware to the bursting through run left and right side of our forward line.

  11. Need to give the opposition the utmost respect but this team cannot and will not go down to Clare, period.

  12. When you think about fitness as well. We are up there as an extremely fit and strong side. It makes logical sense for us to set the pace of all our games as high tempo from the very beginning. It was probably our increased urgency from 50 mins onwards that finally sapped the legs of Derry. The way we played in the first half Derry could probably have seen through on into extra time. Getting the opposition having to turn and sprint repeatedly is what burns up their legs.

  13. Interestingly John Fogarty had a piece in the Cork Examiner a few days back that said that Cork might get a home game in round 4 to open Pairc Ui Cuiv, Now that would be a journey and a half.

  14. JP….it seems that what you want from Mayo is exactly what the Dubs and Kerrias have been at since the sun came out.Its no surprise that these two teams are the most impressive of the bunch going on their recent performances and they are so not cos they play like the Dubs or Kerry but because they employ the most effective means on the market.They have identified them and find them good to work with. The basis upon which it all depends was highlighted by the little Brolly when he offered this last week…..’ It’s all about the timing of the run……’ So let’s be watching our timing and let’s be upping the pace wherever we are on the field.Of course I know it’s all so easy from the comfort of the armchair!

  15. My feeling is that Clare are a fitter outfit than Derry, so I’d be wary of a running game from the off.

    Don’t disagree Willie Joe about the tempo though, but we have to mind the house too. Galway burned us in the first ten minutes of each half, won the match there by storming through our backline – we’ve got to stem this leakage. Ciaran Whelan was right I think to point out on the SG, the lack of a Cian O’Sullivan type figure to really marshall defence and direct forward traffic. (That’s if posters don’t think all his comments were a cunning plan to undermine Mayo ahead of our upcoming AIF tilt with the Dubs).

    We are transitioning well from defence to attack and the kicked passing is getting better. But, I’m a bit worried about Andy; those 50/50 balls he seemed to gobble up last year are not happening this year and I felt his shots on goal were quite weak, even though McKinless did well on them. Pebbles was right too, a few posts back, to point to Conor Loftus as an impact man when the game starts to lose shape, though I had to laugh when I heard Rochy say he was unlucky not to start recent games.

    On the plus side, Aido should be even sharper, 90 minutes last Saturday was some achievement. I did notice though that in the warm up he didn’t do any sprinting. Clare no doubt working on a plan to pull, drag and do whatever they can get away with. They’re no angels either – ask Paul Galvin!

  16. Could`nt agree more about …… taking the game by the throat. There was a time when we used to `choke` the

    opposition. Recently it`s been more like …… `after you sir`

    I would like us to be less gentlemanly and show more agression and intensity. But within the rules.!

    This is bloody hard work of course – -especially when we DONT have tho ball.

  17. When will the team be announced?.. I think I know the answer to this question.. About half an hour before throw in, we will finally find out the real 15 to take to the field, if Stephen Rochford previous form is to be maintained,.. It sort of takes the excitement out of the official team announcement, for the programme purposes, this evening or tomorrow evening….. The probability that their will be two or three changes…. James Horan programme selections were almost always the real selection… Pat and Noel mixed the official selection with the one or two exceptions… Some of ye posters got wind of Mayo changes prior to the throw’in in Salthill, I have to say that I didn’t hear anything myself…And almost everyone had heard about the change before the All Ireland Replay.. But it has to be better, if the opposition don’t know what we are going to do prior to match’s, if the fan’s in the stadium know, there is every chance of the opposition knowing… Who knows, maybe Rochford might catch us all by surprise and stick with the original selection… On a different topic, is it not a bit late in the week for the GAA powers that be, not to have announced, what suspension, if any Paddy Durcan will have to serve?… Don’t think there’s is any chance of Mayo or the player challenging the likely, one match suspension, but the player is entitled to challenge it at the same time… It’s just very late in the week, for such an announcement not to have been made!

  18. You will see no change in approach WJ. The approach has been adopted as that has been seen as what’s needed to beat Kerry and Dublin and there will be no deviation….in my humble and often wrong opinion.

  19. That’s my fear, Cantini. It’s all well and good prepping an approach for the likes of Kerry and Dublin (though I can’t see how this style of play would work well against either) if it means we’re giving others a better shot at beating us. Had Kielt’s injury time free gone over the last day we’d have had our chips for the year and if we let Clare come at us on Saturday, it’ll be our own lookout as regards the consequences.

    Leantimes – it’s likely to be Friday night for the team announcement as far as I know. Then, as you say, 4.30pm or so for the late changes.

  20. It is late in the week. The player would have no time to appeal.
    On WJ post, spot on. Regardless of team I’d like to see then throw off the shackles. I think Andy could be rested at start from frequency of games perspective although he wasn’t one who had to play 100 mins. Would really like to see Kirby but if AOS 11 it’s unlikely to happen.

  21. @Wj
    Well it’s a style that came pretty close to dislodging Dublin last year?
    But u are right on Kielts free…managers live and die on such moments. For now SR lives and he relied essentially on a toss of coin for that to be so as I would say Kielt capable of that free 50% of time

  22. I’m not sure it’s the same style at all this year. No Kevin Mc as sweeper (not so far at any rate) and more kicking of the ball to the inside men than we did last year, with little to show (as yet) for this tactic.

  23. It’s not a sweeper system, more like a 334 (wing forwards/midfield system making up the 4) defending the goal. Rochford has deviated from the past approach because it didn’t work well enough. If he didn’t he would be accused of trying the same ol same ol. I think he’s right to try winning through conceding less than the opposition rather than out scoring them. It brings it’s risks (a two point lead is a dangerous lead) but he’s got to try it. The makeup of the team and the greater talent base rests in the defence, not the attack

  24. We haven’t had to deploy a sweeper this year as none of the teams that played against us played with six men consistently in forward positions. They always dropped one back to defense leaving us with one loose back. We then generally deployed the loose man around the crown of the D. We also rotated the loose man/sweeper between Higgins/Boyle and Barrett. If we are called on to use a sweeper, it will be because the opposition uses six out-and-out attackers. I haven’t seen much of Clare but maybe someone else on here could tell us how they set themselves up.

  25. True, so far our kick passing hasn’t reaped the appropriate reward it has deserved Willie Joe.. But kicking the ball into the inside player’s has led to loads of good chances, many of them goal chance’s, the vast majority of which were not taken. Just poor finishing, if the same chances were created by running the ball, the player’s would still have to take their scores for it to count.. The difference is that in the running game, we are much more likely to be fouled and the stats on successful attempts from a placed ball are much higher than from play… The negative thing about constantly running the ball is that our half backs would be out on their feet having to all the defending and attacking, I think in the past that it led to Mayo conceding late goals in big match’s. If our kick passing game led to the more scores and it should have done, Mayo would be a different proposition… In fairness to Mayo last Saturday, it was our kick passing that led to a Wonder Goal by Connor Louftus, A move started deep in Mayo territory by David Clarke eventually led to Séamus O’Shea sending a very good ball to Cillian, the judicious off load to Connor Louftus and the rest is history.. It was the best goal scored in my memory in McHale Park.

  26. Tentative is a good choice of words. Is it possible that Mayo are trying so hard not to lose that they are forgetting that if they press teams they have the strenght to punish them. The fear of losing in these banana skin matches must be felt by the players. Press Clare and force them to play on Mayo terms and I expect to see Mayo advance to the next round. Im not from Mayo so perhaps im reading it wrong but a team that can force the Dubs into chaotic defending and mistakes should be too strong for Clare.

  27. Leantimes and fourgoal, that’s fantastic analysis of how we’re playing and spot on. The issue is much more to do with not taking our chances as opposed to the way we are playing. So far this year we have a conversion rate of 40% down from 60% pre QF’s the last 2 years. We are definitely creating more goal chances. In my opinion this stat was not helped by team selection the last day but I understand we needed someone to watch Christy mckaigue going forward. I would bring in Doherty, who is one of our most accurate forwards from play since 2012, and either loftus or regan for Andy who I think is missing too much this year.

  28. The more I think about it the more I think we should play loftus. He’s a goal machine and we are creating(and missing) so many goal chances.

  29. Going to be nothing easy on Saturday. Here’s the Bomber with an interesting take on Clare (from today’s Indo):

    “Aidan O’Shea is back to his best. He has carried that Mayo team a fair bit of that journey and he has suffered an awful lot of unfair criticism. If they had another two or three of his kind, they would have All-Ireland medals in their back pocket. He takes a lot of stick from defenders and, like his team, a lot of the criticism is unfounded. He’ll be up against Gary Brennan but I expect him to vary his position like he did last weekend because Clare are a side who are developing a momentum of their own after a taste of Croke Park last year.

    They had a good performance against Kerry and a convincing win as favourites against Laois. Their main assets are troubling for opponents – boundless energy, great work-rate and immense heart. They can be aggressive, they are a team that has belief and a nice variety between a running and kicking game.
    They have a good kick-out strategy, they are mobile in midfield with Cathal O’Connor and Brennan. Gordon Kelly and David Tubridy are proven leaders. They restricted Kerry to just two points from play in the first half from a total of just 1-4 – and you saw what Kerry did to Cork. And they also have pace up front in Keelan Sexton, Jamie Malone and Sean Collins. However, they only beat Limerick by a point and eventually Kerry outscored them when they were a man down and against the wind so that leaves a question mark when they are faced with superior teams.
    Their conversion rate tends to be low too and they concede needless frees. But Colm Collins wants this type of challenge, and they will empty the tank. Clare will target Division 1 football next season and are on an upward curve even if they come up short on Saturday.

    Not so for Mayo, who still remain a wounded animal. They will win and prove once more that it is often the wounded beasts everyone else needs to be wary of”.

  30. forget about regan and move on. loftus a natural. doc a poacher, cillian a leader. that’s our new starting 13 ,14. 15, zippy to replace caff.

  31. Too many Mayo supporters want to see the defenders running into forward positions to get scores with the ball in hand. This approach left us conceding goals in big games in the past. It is called football for a reason, and I am hoping to see more football on Saturday evening. This game will be won or lost in the final quarter whether you can handle it or not IMO. Clare are a good side make no mistake about it, and Ennis for me is a tougher ask than Ballybofey had that particular ticket came up at the weekend. We know our opponents in Ballybofey and we have some record against them. Clare is the complete unknown ticket.. The 16th man will be called upon on Saturday evening, loud and proud with a big flag in hand

  32. @Josh what if Loftus has a couple of quiet games and drops down the pecking order. Will it be forget about Loftus then?? Regan hit 1-4 against Kildare last year in the qualifiers!! Plenty of people were writing off Colm Boyle and Parsons around 2008/2009 so I wouldn’t write off Regan or anoint Loftus just yet. Not everyone can be like Cillian , Diarmuid or Aidan and step right in from minor to senior!!

  33. Your right Crete Boom,.. On different day’s different player’s shine… The recently retired Gooch, had his quite day’s… Andy Moran was a substitute for many year’s, who know’s when anyone will bloom, Boom or bust?.. At the same time if I were picking the team, I think I would name Louftus in the starting 15..The difficult question for any management is whom do you drop?..

  34. Start Loftus and let him do his thing, hes well capable of scoring goals and those are the one thing that we need a few of this coming Saturday. Ive watched his goal from last saturday a fair few times and he had full intentions of goal when he started his run and o connor was aware too of his intentions and must have been delighted to see your man coming in at speed to take the pass and shot.
    Theres nothing like the confidence of youth. No fear involved.

  35. Loftus scored the goal because the set up was right ….all played their part in the lead up with timing accuracy and intent.Was it the hand of God or are we clicking into gear gradually?? Hope so.

  36. the positive from last week is that we now seem to have some lively scoring options from the bench.

    man for man 15 against 15 we would have beaten anybody the last 5 years but it was the strength of the opposition bench that did for us.

    going forward we have to believe in ourselves. some of the “fringe” players the likes of loftus, doherty, regan and diarmuid will have a big say in how far we can go this year.

    i said a few weeks back that we needed to get more from doherty and diarmuid. tremendously talented players who can look a bit low on confidence at times. get behind them.

    cant wait. come on mayo.

  37. Crete Boom – Good point. I remember playing Roscommon when Diarmuid O Connor made his debut and some Mayo fans were saying he was only there because of his brother. People live in a “now” age where they except everything to happen and click straight away. I would hazard a guess most people at games don’t understand how players develop.

  38. Good stuff there PJMcManus. Bomber Liston’s remarks, which I posted above demonstrate the strengths of Clare, and he’s obviously watched them. I did see their game against the Rossies on telly last year and they ran them ragged. But, you have to say the Rossies were a beaten docket from the off: beaten provincial finalists, hammered in a replay, a turnaround of a week, and an away game at that. Walk over might have been an easier option!

    Bomber says Clare have a good kickout strategy. I’m worried still about ours. Derry didn’t press up at all and this suited us perfectly, allowing us to go long or short as we pleased. If Clare press us high they can get a lot of joy and it may force us to be quite laboured in the build up. Hence, as you point out, the need to make the kicking game pay.

  39. crete boom. I have been calling for loftus for a long time not just because he saved our season the last day. regan has got far more chances than loftus, saw regan in fbd in ballina this year , it Sligo, another blank, six wides again. yes retain but we need more forwards on the bench . what does crowe and drake offer, freeman Gallagher varley reape would offer more

  40. Players in form should get the nod to start tomorrow. Conor and Jason will be buzzing and full of confidence, they need to start. Its not a big selection headache anyway, play them ahead of the two defenders that lined out in the hf line. Six forwards, six backs, two mf an a goalkeeper. Play to our strengths and not worry about tactics, sweepers, processes etc and it will be plain sailing.

  41. Most comments today are on the ball,given reasons for our change in tactics from last year I do believe that we have not across the line over the last few years because we were not quite good enough, and think management are trying a slightly different style this year,but to get the best out of this we need players who can get the ball and use it I believe that Jason is one of those, along with COC so we are left with just one more to play either Andy or Connor would look the best placed to fill that space, but over the last week we have had posters questioning the tactics the players the medical team all who are doing well in my opinion, someone said that Stephen had not tried any towards apart from F Boland,but I think that D Kirby C Loftus and a couple more have been tried some with more success than others, and we are not privy to what happens at training so some players might have a small injury that curtails their involvement but allows some game time,anyway I still believe we are a top four team along with Dublin Kerry and Tyrone and hopefully we will come out on top in September, we should certainly be good enough to beat Clare

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