Mournemen downed but is “Armagh-geddon” day imminent for Mayo?

I was a little later than usual getting to work in Dublin city centre on Monday morning. As a result, I listened to the stoic and lifeless radio broadcast that was the Round 3 qualifier draw on my Luas commute. A few obligatory quiet Sunday evening pints were had the night before which made it a tad more difficult to rise from my slumber.

I wasn’t long wakening up.

First out of the hat…….Mayo.

Photo: Mayo Advertiser

Home advantage at least, I thought immediately – well actually maybe not advantage the way things have been going lately! I could sense the stares of my two fellow commuters sitting opposite me. It probably wasn’t helping that I was mouthing the words “Offaly, Offaly, Offaly” over and over again to myself for about 5 seconds.

And Mayo will play………

Nope. Not my lucky day. Bloody Armagh! That is a potential banana skin if ever there was one. Or perhaps orange skin in this instance if the metaphor has the same effect. Damn you Seán Cavanagh. You can forget about Seán Cavanagh as far as he’s a man I thought.

I listened dutifully to the rest of the draw and forgave Seán a bit when he pulled out a tricky away tie to Newbridge for his own county. I turned off when John Horan, the President of the GAA (yes the whole GAA, John, not just Dublin) started to ramble on about how fourteen Leinster titles in fifteen years was in no way linked to the funding that the county receives. Try to remember John, (or at least have the decency to pretend in public) that you’re the President of the GAA as a whole and not just Dublin.

So it is Mayo against the Orchardmen on Saturday evening in Castlebar. Admittedly, I think we all would have taken a handier draw. Armagh are not a side to be feared but there remains a vulnerability about Mayo at the moment. These qualifier games are just about getting through to the other side – a means to an end in reaching the Super 8s. There will be plenty of time for testing ourselves against high quality opposition at that stage. Still, it is what it is and we will need to be at our best this weekend. Improvement from the showings to date will be needed.  

Those Sunday evening pints were a necessity in my journalistic endeavours for the week ahead. Aided and abetted by a dedicate Mayoman, we dissected Saturday night’s events in Newry, predicted (wrongly!) the Round 3 qualifier draw and to try and answer (again!) the all too often pondered question – “So, where are we at now”? The answer is: none the clearer.

First off, Mayo were decent on Saturday evening – no more than decent I would say, but no less either. In many ways, it was a similar game to the Roscommon fixture four weeks ago. However, on this occasion, Down were more wasteful and inefficient in front of goal than Roscommon were. In contrast, Mayo were slightly more patient and much more accurate than in their Connaught semi-final defeat. There was a control to Mayo’s performance in the first half that unfortunately went missing for longer periods in the second.

Photo: Irish Times (Ryan Byrne/Inpho)

Still, there were plenty of positives. I’m trying to be less pessimistic in life as a rule; we will see how long this lasts. Aidan O’Shea was excellent throughout. He continued his irrepressible form and some of his fellow elder statesmen of the last decade also followed suit by putting in impressive performances. Lee Keegan looked back to his rampaging best, finishing the game with three points from play and David Clarke provided an assuredness that settled an at times nervous defence. I had been of the view that Hennelly should be retained but have no gripes about Horan’s call whatsoever. Clarke has earned the right to retain the jersey next day out too.

Brendan Harrison put in a much more solid performance too at full-back and overall, probably edged his dual with his namesake Connaire Harrison. Of most encouragement for me was the performance of Conor Loftus. He was predominantly accurate from frees and looked more comfortable in the centre forward role with more of the play in front of him. Loftus is a classy footballer but not the paciest and therefore thrived with a bit more open space around him, rather than being confined to the full-forward line. Fionn McDonagh’s championship debut provided cause for optimism too. Mayo’s forward line needs the impetus of youth.

Disappointingly, at times we made a rather average Division Three side look much better than they actually were. As I have written previously, we afford every opponent a chance and allow them to believe they can beat Mayo. Saturday night was no different. Mayo do not put teams to the sword in the robotic and efficient way that Dublin do.

For Down’s goal, it was like the parting of the Red Sea by Mayo. Moses and the Israelites had a more difficult passage than Caolan Mooney did in Páirc Esler. It was unforgivable that Down’s noted danger man Mooney was allowed to slalom through the middle of the Mayo defence without a glove being laid on him.  Colm Boyle was selected in a sweeping role presumably to provide protection to the full-back line but the Mayo defence looked suspect every time Down ran through the middle. Mooney should have repeated the trick in the second half only to blaze his shot over the crossbar. Clarke, too on a separate occasion was forced into an excellent save in the second half. All in all, none of my fears concerning the porous nature of the Mayo defence were allayed in Newry.

The loss of form of a few of our key players too is worrying. Quite simply, stalwarts such as Keith Higgins, Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin are not at the top of their game at the minute. Diarmuid O’Connor is just not quite himself either.

Photo: RTÉ

Management too were slow to make changes on Saturday night and some of the lessons from the Roscommon game were not learned.  By the 62nd minute, James Horan had only introduced two substitutes. Boland had replaced Doherty in the 53rd minute and a forced change was imposed on Mayo early in the first half when the black card shown to Darren Coen brought Evan Regan into the fray. One of the main findings from our National League success, or so I thought, was that we finally had some squad depth rather than just a strong first fifteen. It’s time for the men on the line to be more ruthless and make changes based on performances out on the pitch.

My own personal bugbear is our inability to control and shut down games that we should win comfortably.  The last championship game I can remember Mayo winning with ease was the All Ireland quarter-final against the Rossies in 2017. And even that was a replay! When Loftus goaled, we had a six-point lead against inferior opposition. It was time to put the tie to bed and have a calm, composed final twenty minutes. It was time for patience and possession. Except that’s not the Mayo way.

Down never truly believed they could win the game but we gave them every opportunity to start thinking they could. Our first half display, despite the concession of a terrible goal, was much better than the second half. In the first half, we were patient, retained possession, picked our moments to attack and took some nice points. For some reason the second half turned into an end-to-end scramble that we just didn’t need to engage in. There was far too much goalmouth action at the wrong end of the pitch for my liking. Nevertheless, in the end we ran out deserved winners in a tricky away venue and live to fight another day.

That day is Saturday and Armagh will be a step up in class of Ulster opponent. However, whilst Armagh will be a better calibre of opposition, the step up is not seismic. Armagh will doubtlessly be imbued with confidence following their defeat of Ulster neighbours Monaghan. Kieran McGeeney’s charges are playing an exciting attacking brand and have two or three forwards that would certainly make the Mayo starting six. Jamie Clarke and Rian O’Neill will warrant special attention from the Mayo full-back line and it will be interesting to see how Horan goes about his match-ups. If our defensive side of the game, both individually and as a collective, is not significantly improved, an upset could be on the cards in MacHale Park.

Yet for all the attacking prowess Armagh possess, their defence has proven to be their Achilles’ heel. This gives me the hope and confidence of a Mayo victory. Cavan scored twenty-three points in their Ulster semi-final victory and in four championship games to date, Armagh have conceded an average of nineteen points per game (extra-time against Down included). Mayo should and must exploit these deficiencies.

The absence of Matthew Ruane for the remainder of the championship is a huge blow but the Mayo midfield remains a source of strength. Jarlath Óg Burns looks a fine talent but I would still expect O’Shea to dominate aerially and if Diarmuid O’Connor can find his running game again, then this should give Mayo the platform they need for victory.

At this juncture, it is hard to make the case for All-Ireland success in September. Dublin look formidable. Donegal look more complete than Mayo right now. No other team have made a statement of intent. However, the good news is that it’s not September yet. Mayo do not need to be good enough to beat the Dubs right now. We need to do enough to beat Armagh and just stay in the reckoning. I firmly believe Mayo remain the most capable team to stop the ‘drive for five’. Plenty of hurdles lie in wait before then. Let’s get over Saturday night first.

31 thoughts on “Mournemen downed but is “Armagh-geddon” day imminent for Mayo?

  1. Good read Tom, we need to push for progress not perfection, not closing out games when we are in control of our destiny is a habit that needs to be acknowledged and solved, I think it is one of our biggest failings as a team that has cost us dear for the last 7 years, the current squad is good enough, Mayo to win on Saturday

  2. Super article well done.
    Interesting to think that it was the injury to Mattie that gave one of Loftus or Mcdonagh the chance. Both these players may prove to be very important this year. Obviously Ruane is irreplaceable given the form he was in but we must focus on the positives. It just goes to show that a significant amount of our younger players are really now beginning to find their feet at intercounty, including of course the likes of Tracey and Carr.

    Hopefully Diarmuid will come good at midfield and if not he will slot back to the half forward line and it’s up to someone else to step in and take the midfield jersey. It might be a year too early for Mickey Murray but who knows.

    Midfield is such a key position and one where no team can afford a passenger. I think with Diarmuid, he needs to focus more on his positioning and not exhausting himself at the expense of his performance trying to be everywhere. It’s a position that no doubt takes time to get comfortable in but I think he’ll get there sooner rather than later.

  3. Hard to disagree with any of that.

    Looking ahead to Saturday, two things worry me. Both are obvious: Number one is that we can be very slack in front of the posts playing in Castlebar. Think back to games like the qualifier against Derry a couple of years ago, last month against Roscommon, the league game against Tyrone last year. It’s a long list. That just won’t cut it on Saturday. I’d worry about our confidence if we hit a few early wide’s. We need to be tuned in and nail a few early scores and go from there. But I do think we will score enough to win on Saturday. The main positive against Down was that our shooting was far, far better. We will have to match that.

    Number two is what we witnessed at the back in Newry. That second half was very worrying. Give up that amount of space against Armagh and we’re in trouble. Down ran us ragged at times, Armagh are capable of that and being clinical at the same time. We’ve already paid the price last month, conceding two early goals and giving ourselves too much work to do.
    The half backs need to be clued in when to go forward and when to hold position. Horan needs to have a firm plan in place to deal with the threat of Armagh’s forwards. I’m not expecting miracles in the space of a week but himself and the coaching staff need to at least acknowledge that there’s a problem there and attempt to shore things up. I’d 100% move Kev Mc back there. Moving him out of the forwards might be no harm, as he hasn’t been up to his usual standard so far. As we’ve seen before, he’s nearly tailor made for being a free man at the back. He can win breaking ball, has the work rate, and has the ability to bring the ball out from the back very well, making an accurate, intelligent pass when doing so.

    Saturday can’t come quick enough now. Win or lose, you can be guaranteed we’re going to get some entertainment, it has that feeling to it.

  4. Enjoyable reading Tom. You covered alot of ground in the article.

    I hope we win and it’s a good game.

    However.

    I’d rather win a bad game that finished 4 points to 3 than lose a great game 3-23 to 3-22.

    We simply have to triumph again this weekend. We have no God given right to win Saturday, but for either ourselves or Armagh a loss Is going to make a hoop out of the Summer.

    I’m waiting for the Gaa president to come out with another nugget soon. Maybe that Dublins population is of no benefit to them whatsoever. He’ll back it up then by asking “if that was the case why did New York not beat Mayo” ?

    I think he wears Dublin pyjamas to bed.

    But sure the poor auld Dublin creatures have their own hardships. You could get the Dart if you weren’t careful while your waiting for the Luas.

    Harmless auld crathurs and Brendan Behan said “the auld woman liked bananas because they didn’t have any bones in them”.

    And they have their poor areas as well where a woman might try and get a free sheeps head off the butcher to make soup with. “Would you have a sheeps head there by any chance, and cut it as close to the arse as possible”.

    I’ll go to bed now and dream about Saturday and football and I might say an auld prayer for the poor misfortunate Dubs and the total inequality they have to put up with from the Gaa. The poor devileens get totally mistreated. It’s a bucken tragedy in a way.

    The way that Dublin team is forced to play in Croke Park week in and week out is a bucken disgrace, when they could be crossing the country in an overheated bus and the sweat pissing out of them and their heads closer to the roof more times than their arse’s are to the seats on the bumpy roads of Ireland.

    A bucken disgrace.

  5. Great stuff again Revellino! . ..Very interesting , well written informative article, Tom McLoughlin..

  6. A potential Orange Skin, what a great statement. Let’s hope it is still funny on Monday!

  7. Enjoyed that article Tom.

    Still laughing at Revellino and the banana with no bones, and the sheep’s head ?

    I’ll have to come back, because I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say in the first place.

  8. Ah lads what’s going on in training another major injury last night don’t want to say any more out of respect for the house rules and Willie Joe. What the feck are they at in training we’ll have no one left to play at this rate

  9. Well written Tom… you have a way with your words. I particularly like Armagh-geddon!
    Hopefully it won’t come to that.
    It annoys me to read how a 19 year old Armagh lad can be the complete package and yet we still think some of our lads in early 20’s are a year short of championship standard. I’m no great fan of Alex Ferguson, sir Alex. But he brought young lads in and set them free. I feel it’s time for James to big up the young lads and have a few new ones take to the field with belief in their own abilities. I’m sad to see us depending on the old stalwarts. Surely there’s a crop of youth who will shine if given the chance.
    In my eyes this is about James Horan. He needs to show that he enjoys this team and the exciting new talent we have. I’m rambling but I feel we need to release the shackles and just have fun…by winning. Come on Mayo… believe

  10. You’re okay, Backdoorsam. While nothing has been confirmed officially as yet, my understanding is that the story is accurate and that the injury is season-ending. I’d also share your concerns on that point about training. To lose two players with broken bones in training in the days leading up to knockout Championship matches raises the most fundamental questions about what we’re up to there.

  11. Would this make it three break injuries in training this season so far, Diarmuid, Matty Ruane and Seamus O’Shea?
    It could be something going wrong or could just be bad luck!!

  12. Like seriously what are they at in training the likes of broken wrists And collar bones never happened under Donie Buckley’s watch it rarely happens during a match never mind training. If Mayo played like men possessed against Roscommon they wouldn’t be in this mess now I know Diarmuid hadn’t being having a great season but he’s a huge loss. I hope now Horan makes Aidan O Shea captain he’s the man we always look to to get us out of a hole And he has been in great form this year

  13. What
    An
    Absolute
    Disaster

    Hugely limited squad options now
    It’s very hard compete when so many major players keep getting injured /are not fit

    I’m depressed

  14. Wait a minute
    Didn’t Horan say they wouldn’t be training till Weds night?
    It must have happened Saturday so

    Unless he was fibbing ……..and if he was then who is to say when COC and Vaughan will be back

  15. Questions have to be asked about what’s going on in training.
    Two broken bones in as many weeks.
    Ridiculous.

  16. I gave out about the number of training injuries before but they would be doing little or nothing this week so I’d say it’s just bad luck.

  17. Like last year, we’re carrying too many injuries now to make a serious impact on latter stages of the Championship

  18. In fairness it’s just pure and desperate bad luck Don’t really know if you can blame it on training regime Lads can’t be wrapped in cotton wool We really getting screwed from injuries especially in this last two years Even going back to 2012 we lost Andy and Cillian was a pale shadow of himself in the 2013 final after his injury Suppose this is the time to see Mikey Murray and if he is as capable as some posters suggest Hopefully he is as this would be a serious baptism of fire Just desperately unfortunate on Diarmuid a guy who always gives his best

  19. Can’t believe what im reading! Diarmuid has a broken wrist?. This whole season just seems like a write off. Can’t see us getting over Armagh now, we were thin on the ground in midfield as it is. Sinn é i think.

  20. 2 serious injuries in as many weeks is ridiculous. With 2 games in 7 days you’d imagine a recovery session and a kick around would be the norm this week. While accidents happen two in two weeks is not normal. The body needs rest as much as training and if we are to advance that would be key to being fresh in super 8s and not going hell for leather midweek. Very disappointing…With the advances in sports science and physiology in the game the importance of rest should be obvious and preparing for optimum performance for games should be our priority this time of year

  21. We need to apply a bit of Moneyball type game theory now. We have lost both of Diarmuid and Matthew Ruane and our other big physical players many of them are not near match fitness. The biggest loss from the combination of both of them is their mobility and power. This now means we have to:
    – Get subs on early
    – Take a risk on Mikey Murray/Vaughan/Stephen Coen/David Drake to get some power back on the field, who cares the positions, the team avg. size/power wise is falling through the floor with all these injuries.
    – In the replacement to the 26 for Diarmuid they have to have some semblance of matching at least his physicality
    We can’t replace the players, best we can do is replace the most replaceable aspects which are their mobility, size and physicality. Physically this can be done on avg. via starter selections/the extra call up to the 26 and the early usage of subs.

  22. Can’t blame what’s going on in training when you don’t witness it .. Saw Mayo training under Donnie Buckley and there was nothing spared . Very unfortunate and I’m very deflated . As WJ said we don’t have all the facts so time will tell if Diarmuid will be seen later in the year IF we get that far . Heart goes out to the lad .. Panel will be well and truly tested now .. Still think we should scrape by Armagh . Where does Ah Ref get his info .. He certainly seems to get the news very quickly .

  23. A quick thought, Diarmuid had caught very few if any kickouts so far this year. We know that Kevin McLoughlin has been struggling in the inside line. Maybe Kevin McLoughlin can be just let loose from midfield. Kevin is often around that middle third anyways. Kevin adds the same mobility and game sense as Diarmuid, really, we haven’t lost a kickout option in Diarmuid, he’s never been a kickout specialist.

  24. Older friends of the blog here will remember a day in Croke Park when Dermot Flanagan went down injured and, instead of a straight substitution , we altered four or five lines of the team in replacing him. As far as I remember that didn’t work out too well either.

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