A few more thoughts on last night’s action

dsc04142.jpgI got a bit bogged down last night on the detail of the match leaving me with no time to put down in words anything that might, if one were to get pretentious about it, be described as analytical. So, here goes.

In broad terms, I thought it was a solid, committed night’s work on an ugly old evening where the wind and rain meant that the playing conditions were far from ideal. Regardless of the mistakes that were made – and there were more than a few of those – I was impressed at the work rate the lads displayed and the fact that we kept plugging away right up to the final whistle.

We also played a lot of good football, as we did against Donegal, and – as BJ said in the interview he did with NewsTalk that I heard on the way to the game – I think it’s fair to say that we’re playing better football so far this year than we are at this stage last year. Then, we managed to scramble a number of scrappy wins but all this did for us was to mask problems in the side that needed to be addressed, with the result that our settled league team ended up being pulled apart, first on the sideline and then, eventually, on the pitch at both Pearse Stadium and Celtic Park. This year, we don’t have the comfort blanket of a strong league position but I think we’re learning far more about the capabilities of the squad that we have.

After the Donegal game, I opened with negatives so this time it’s only right to start with the good points about last night’s performance. First up in this respect would be what I said above about the overall performance and the excellent attitude shown. I don’t think our precarious league position is weighing down on the lads – like the rest of us, I don’t think they’re all that bothered about how the league pans out – but that doesn’t mean that they’re not trying. Far from it – they’re all putting in the work but you get the sense that they’re already looking ahead to June.

In terms of who did what, Austie obviously deserves the limelight, with his four excellent points from play making it his best performance in a Mayo jersey for a long time. I’d prefer to see him operating closer to the opposition’s posts – his points showed what he can do when he gets the ball in that part of the world – as he’s far less effective when he roams deep.

Andy Moran also had some good moments, especially in the opening 20 minutes when he took his marker to the proverbial cleaners. He also made and then converted the penalty we got in the second half and that goal was crucial to securing the draw. But he didn’t raise any white flags and, as half of a two-man full-forward line, you’d really be expecting him to do so.

Peadar Gardiner did trouble the umpires, with a point from play in either half, and I felt he played much better than the last day in Castlebar. He was full of all his old running and you could easily imagine him wearing the same jersey come Summer.

It was also good to see Killer make up for the poor second half he’d put in against Donegal by getting well stuck in when he replaced Mickey Mullins at half-time last night. He got a point himself and, with a surging run from midfield, he set up another for Trevor Mortimor. He did enough to repair the damage to his reputation arising from the previous outing.

Alan Dillon also did well for the twenty minutes he was on. Dillon can be notorious for blowing hot and cold but when he’s on his game, and he was last night, he can be a real handful for the opposition. I’ve no doubt but that had he stayed on and continued to play like he did in that opening period, we’d have won with a bit to spare.

We had fewer stars at the back but David Clarke, Keith Higgins and, in particular, Trevor Howley all deserve a mention. Clarkie was rock solid between the posts and made two crucial saves early in the second half when Laois were bombarding us, trying to get a second goal to break our resolve. The second block he made, from Quigley, probably kept us in the game at that point.

Keith was excellent again, appearing everywhere in defence and joining the attack when the opportunity arose. He did commit the foul on Quigley from which Laois got the final equalising point but his overall performance was impressive.

However, our best defender – especially in the second half – was Trevor Howley. Time and again, he came to collect crucial intercept ball and break up Laois attacks, moving the ball swiftly forward. He was an absolute rock at centre-back in that second half and, as a result, laid serious claims to the no.6 jersey for the Summer.

So, plenty to enthuse about but, of course, it wasn’t all good. Our full-back line was as bad as the last day, with Liam O’Malley’s consistently poor showings in the corner now a serious cause for concern. He seems either unwilling or unable to mark his man and his looseness so close to our goal makes it easy for whoever is on him to make hay. We really have to start looking at other options in that corner at this point.

Tom Cunniffe had another shaky start but, unlike the previous day, he stayed on and he improved as the evening progressed. He’s a young player, still adapting to senior level and has the skill to succeed in this position but with O’Malley so suspect in the other corner and BJ (who I’ll come to in a minute) a square peg in a round hole at no. 3, any slip by Cunniffe is going to get noticed.

BJ had a tough time with Quigley, which wasn’t surprising given the height advantage the Laois full-forward enjoyed, an advantage that Laois did everything they could to capitalise on by their Route One tactics. BJ actually did okay until Quigley got his goal but, as the Belmullet man himself pointed out in his interview with the Times in midweek, any slip he made would be costly.

I have a huge amount of time for BJ – a hard-working and committed player, whose versatility is almost a curse to him – but a full-back he clearly isn’t. Brendan Quigley proved the point last night and if Johnno leaves him there for the next match, Kieran Donaghy will surely confirm the fact emphatically. I still think BJ has a role to play, but I’d now put him at corner-back instead of O’Malley (another change of position for him but, at this stage, what’s another one?) and try someone else at no.3. That young Kieran Conroy looked alright in the ten or so minutes he played there last night but it would be a baptism of fire to let Donaghy loose on him. Do we have any better option right now? I’m not sure we do.

Elsewhere, midfield was poor, with Heaney and Gill totally at sea against the high-fielding Padraig Clancy. Heaney did get through an amount of work in his own half in the second period, while Ronan McGarritty, although patently unfit, curbed Clancy’s aerial dominance after he came on late in the first half. Gill was a disappointment, especially after his sparkling performance the previous day. He got a delicious point in the first half with the outside of his boot (he hit it so smartly that the ball was already in flight by the time I got the camera rolling) but drifted out of it after that.

Our use of the ball moving forward was also poor enough, especially in the second half where most of that ball won by Howley at the back was pumped in high to our small full-forward line. We wasted numerous chances with this aimless tactic at a stage in the game when we could have been asking some serious questions about the opposition’s appetite for the fight.

In summary then, we mixed the good with the bad. Our lack of presence at midfield is bordering on alarming but Ronan will get fit again and the likes of Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons (both, somewhat oddly, left on the bench all night) have what it takes to make a difference in this sector. What’s going on in the full-back line simply isn’t funny anymore: changes have to be made and they have to be made now. There’s nothing to be gained from letting the Kerry full-forward line having the same kind of sport with them as that enjoyed by Laois last night.

Today’s results leave us outside the relegation zone on scoring difference but, having thrown away two points against Donegal and having now dropped another one last night, we’ll need to win at least two of our final four games to have any chance of staying up. I’m not sure we’ll manage this but if, in the process, we make every effort to fix the elements that aren’t currently working while performing in the same wholehearted way as we’ve done in our opening three league fixtures, the campaign won’t have been a failure. As we know to our cost from last year, such assessments can only validly be made far later in the year.

9 thoughts on “A few more thoughts on last night’s action

  1. Backs were very loose again last night. BJ was second best all night, although he may have been carrying an injury. Cunniffe had a slow start but rallied well in the second half. Liam O’Malley didn’t cover himself in glory either. Howley was not tested last night and we cannot draw any conclusions there yet. Keith Higgins played well again, surely the fittest man in Ireland. There was a general panic in our back line when any balls (high or low) were let in. The forwards played well again this week (Mort was quite, just proves we don’t need him to play well for us to get something, although he still deserves his place on the team). A O’M got some nice scores. But a general criticism about our forwards is that they should score more goals, we had loads of chances last night and missed them all.

    On a positive side:

    – Good to see McGarritty back, he held Clancy well when he came on.
    – Killer also played well when he came on, surely has to start the next day. I also felt he played well against Donegal, but was trying a little too hard to impress, hence the wild shooting at the end.
    – Andy Moran rang rings around his man in the first half, he should score more often but hopefully that will come in time. He dropped out of the match in the second half a bit too.
    – DC made some great saves to keep us in the game and his quick distribution to find a man in space is an added bonus.
    – K Conroy took man (two men actually) and ball in his first aerial challenge with Quigley. I’ve been waiting to see someone clock Quigley since the U21 semi last year, it was great.
    – Good to see T Mort back too, but surely he has to be played in the half back line. He was our best player by a mile last year playing in half back line. The team is crying out for more strength in the back line. As a forward he runs down too many blind alleys.

    Footnote: Would like to see a full backline of Cunniffe, Conroy and BJ against Kerry. If they play a 2 man FF line, then BJ and Conroy should be started in there. Also half back line should be T Mort T Howley and Higgins. Relegation, who cares!

  2. Hi Shane – I agree 100% with what you’ve said there and you’ve put it far more succinctly than I was able to! I like your half-back line – T Mort is better suited there alright.

    Kerry should be interesting – if we can fix midfield and the full-back line (a tall order, I know) we could give them an uncomfortable afternoon at McHale Park.

  3. I was at the game Saturday night and although both sides were nothing great…. It was a really enjoyable game.
    A draw was the only fair result in the end but I have to say… the Ref was extremely fair to Mayo on a few occasions! It may not have went as well but for him!!
    Clarke was decent in Goal as always. Strong wind in Portlaoise but his kick-outs still stood the test.
    Tom Cuniffee was mediocre! Not convinced by him yet but don’t think we have anyone else to fill the position either.
    Billy Joe had his worst day yet in the league. In Fairness…. He hadn’t done anything to disapprove of him in the full back position until Saturday night.
    I think the blog is very unfair to Liam O’Malley. He was only on Tierney in the opening half and after that, did very well. He was the better member of the full back line!
    Conor Moran got hard done by. Heaney was getting cleaned in the centre of the field and McGarrity had to come on but removing Moran from the action wasn’t very fair as he really had not done anything wrong. Heaney went to Wing back and McGarrity then came into the centre. Howley was great, as was Keith Higgins.

    Im beginning to think our problems lie between midfield and the half forward line. The ball was continuously breaking here and we were getting nothing. They half forwards seem to be playing to close to the defence and when a ball is dropped in there is no one there to claim it. Alan Dillon got injured and we were stuck for a distance Free taker. Mickey Mullins sent what should have been a point well wide!

    Although a good game to watch…the negatives probably outweigh the positives!
    Our work will be cut out for us now with Both Galway & Kerry on fire & Kildare turning Dirty, Division 2 Beckons!!!

  4. Hi Claire

    The draw was definitely a fair result and, for a wet night at the start of March, it was a cracking spectacle. Both counties have a tradition of playing an open, clean game (remember how both counties got a right slagging in the media at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage in 2006 for not being “physical” enough?) and neither did anything to undermine that the other evening.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with you about the ref, though, then again, I’m not sure what was wrong with their disallowed point. We conceded what looked like a number of soft frees (and Tierney got six of his eight points from these), whereas Conor seemed to take a lot more punishment before the whistle sounded at the other end.

    I don’t accept that I’m being unfair on Liam O’Malley either. The simple fact is that he’s been underperforming for the best part of a year now in that position. He got cleaned out by Donegal in last year’s league final, he was poor against Galway in Salthill (admittedly, most of the team was that day) and Paddy Bradley tore him to bits up in Celtic Park in the qualifiers. He was poor again against Donegal two weeks ago and I saw little or no improvement on Saturday night. With that track record, I just think this is the right time to be trying out some other options in that position.

    As you’ve pointed out, there are problems at midfield and the forwards too. The main issue I saw there on Saturday night was how we kept lofting high ball into Conor Mort and Andy Moran and the Laois defence gobbled every one of them up. The one time that Killer took the bull by the horns and went through the middle, all manner of space opened up and Trevor got an easy score out of it. We could have tried that more than once, I think.

    The team is obviously a work in progress and Division 2 could well be what’s facing us. Still, if a few things start to come together, I wouldn’t rule out our survival just yet.

    All the best


  5. Thanks, Willie Joe, that was a great report.
    There were times in the none too distant past when Mayo had great defenders and tough mid fielders to rank with any side in the country.
    Unfortunately, wide-shooting was an art perfected by successive forward line ups back then.

    I’m happy enough with the way the way Johnno’s forwards are developing into an efficient unit but we do have major problems at midfield and in both back lines, especially at FB.
    I’d give anything for a David Brady type at midfield, only he’d need to be around 5 years younger and injury free.
    BJ is a stout-hearted man without doubt, and gives his all but his best is nowhere near enough at FB and Johnno seems unable to fill this gap, which has been there since Kevin Cahill hung his boots up.
    There are positives emerging all right and a team of sorts is slowly developing but Donaghy and Kerry loom up ahead and I’m afraid the shortcomings of the last two matches will be evident in Castlebar once more.

  6. Hi Eamonn

    That’s very true and I’m old enough to remember those days clearly. We used to think then that getting 70% possession around the middle was our God-given right – we happily take a 50:50 split now!

    The Kerry match is going to be an interesting one (sadly, one I’ll be hoping is on the box as I’ve commitments up here for Paddy’s weekend) but it’s far from mission impossible. Kerry were poor enough against Derry yesterday (though Bryan Sheehan is a top-class freetaker: anything within 50 or even 60 yards he’s almost guaranteed to nail) and, if we start well (which we have been doing in this league so far), we could put it up to them.

  7. The two lads on Mid West mentioned Conroy had been playing full back in training the last few weeks. I’d say throw him in the next day, if he even gets close to 50-50 on Donaghy what a boost it’d be for him.

  8. Well WJ, good over all assesment of the game. I still have serious reservations about Austin as an inter-county footballer at the highest level, he did finish with 0-4, but two of those scores were right from the throw in, in each half when the defenders weren’t up to speed, and on a few occasions he failed to catch a ball over his head when he wasn’t under pressure. But fair play to the guy he keeps plugging away and never hides from the next ball and you cant ask for anymore commitment from him. The full back line is a serious issue again, Tom Cunniffe while he did his best was beaten by his man numerous times, while BJ serious struggled against Quigley in the air( but not his fault, he’s not a full back), Liam O’Malley was also beaten a few to many times for my liking to the ball. I don’t know think Conroy is the answer at full back either. Maybe it is time that JOM drafts in a couple of club lads who may not be the best footballers, but are used to playing as a number three and giving them a run, because trying to convert midfielder’s isn’t working

  9. Likewise for your own take on the action.

    That’s a good point you make about all those full-backs playing for their clubs – surely there must be one or two of them that’d be worth a run in the position for the county?

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