A few thoughts on yesterday evening’s defeat

It’s difficult to get too worked up over our NFL opener against Derry yesterday evening up at Celtic Park and so I’m not going to spend all that long kicking over the traces. It was just a league match in early February, after all.

I suppose the first thing to note is that, for all our shortcomings, particularly at the back in the first half, we could – and, maybe, should – have nicked the points. We certainly had enough chances in the second half to rack up a winning score, even after Derry struck for their second goal. The playing conditions were, however, atrocious and our lads didn’t seem to be able to cope with all that wind and rain (where the fuck were they raised, then, one might well ask?), whereas Derry appeared to revel in it, especially in the first half when it sounded like they were using the wind as an extra forward or something. So, we could have done better in terms of shooting but the conditions were an obvious mitigating factor in explaining why we didn’t.

The big minus on the night, as it’s been for all of Johnno’s Second Coming so far, was our porous defence. God be with the days when we had backs built like brick walls who took no shit: these days, it seems as if even average teams can just open us up at will. Derry did so twice last night (by the way, their first goal was scored by Colin Devlin, not, as I reported, Paddy Bradley – I was just going on what the lads on the radio were saying, Guard) and in the first half they seemed to be able to stream through our backline at will.

Poor defending was our undoing last year (remember Salthill, with the freedom of the pitch given twice to Bane for those two early goals? Or what about Celtic Park last July, where Bradley and Muldoon skipped unimpeded through our rearguard?) and, on this first showing, there’s little or no evidence that Johnno is doing much about shoring up the area. Sure, we haven’t a full pick yet but the return of the Ballina lads won’t solve this problem on its own (though The Brother’s theory about Ronan at full-back is sounding ever more plausible) and it’s obvious that we have to experiment now or face certain annihilation in the Summer.

I don’t need to repeat all I’ve said before about BJ at full-back and although it probably made sense to shift David Heaney in there last night, the fact that these are the only two options for the position that Johnno could come up with is more than a tad worrying. On the plus side, it was good to see Tom Cunniffe coming on and playing well at corner-back but why did Conor Moran start in front of him in the first place? Cunniffe was outstanding up in Celtic Park last July and is one of our really exciting prospects so why he wasn’t just turfed in from the start strikes me as a bit odd.

Having not been there, it’s difficult to know what to say about how the half-back line fared but, such was Derry’s dominance during the second quarter of the game, you’d have to conclude that it wasn’t just the full-back line that was labouring. Keith Higgins’ man, Mark Lynch, bagged 1-1, but the other two Derry half-forwards only got a point (from Muldoon, who didn’t sound all that involved) between them. That would suggest that debutant Chris Barrett (who also scored a point) and Trevor Howley did okay. Can anyone who was there shed some more light on this? (There’s always The Mayo News on Tuesday for further enlightenment as well, I suppose).

Seamus O’Shea seemed to do reasonably well but, according to the Mad West lads, our best performer on the night was his midfield partner Peadar Gardiner, who seemed truly unlucky not to register a green flag at a crucial point in the second half. I can’t see Gardiner reclaiming a position in the half-backs come the Summer – not after last year, when he patently failed to defend all through the Championship – but, on last night’s evidence, he could well find a home somewhere in the front six. He’s well able to score too – if you check the scorers archive elsewhere on this site, you can see that he’s contributed on a regular basis since 2005.

The other good thing about midfield was that Tom Parsons seemed to do well when he came on in the second half. Again, I’d question why he wasn’t on from the start but it probably made sense to partner the greenhorn O’Shea with someone more experienced. I’d still like to see Parsons starting there the next day.

I wonder what the crack was with James Gill? It sounded like he was getting stuck in early on but then there was little heard from him during that period when Derry were rampant and he was then replaced by Heaney at half-time. Likewise, Austie – who seemed to be operating out the middle somewhere – didn’t trouble the commentators too much but he did register a point from play late in the first half.

I knew it would happen – this brief analysis has already run on far too long for a match at this time of year. In summary, there’s precious little evidence that anything tangible is yet being done on the sideline to construct a defence that’s capable of defending and while some worthy experimentation is happening, we need more of this and we need it to happen over the next three or four games. Next up, we have Donegal at home and, with a score (two of them in fact, this one and this one) to settle with the Herrin Gutters from last year, it would be nice to see – and this one I’m planning to get to and so intend to see – a performance with a bit more purpose to it.

4 thoughts on “A few thoughts on yesterday evening’s defeat

  1. Well reviewed. We have a habit of confering saint ststus on certain players, Keith Higgins being one of them. He was taken to the cleaners by the Laois, Dublin and Kerry opponents in 2006. In the u21 match v Roscommon same year he failed to stand out for me. However in the words of Jose Mourinho he seems to be an untouchable along with Dillon and Conor. Until guys like that are severly challanged we will drift in a soft comfort zone. Sorry to be so pessimistic but I fear for the next few years.

  2. I wouldn’t as downhearted – it only the start of the league and it sounded like it was a night on which you wouldn’t put the dog outside. If there’s no sign that things aren’t starting to come together towards the end of the league, I’d be worried too.

    I quite like Keith, I have to say, though I’d agree that he’s far, far too loose to play corner-back. But remember that 06 semi against Dublin? Even after Brogan had wiped the pitch with him, there he was in the end as a link man in the move that led to Mac’s winning point. Brogan, of course, got his All-Star but Keith helped ensure we still won the match.

  3. Fair appraisal of the game WJ, and congrats on the year in blogging. The defense maybe porous but it’s the attack that is worrying me more so at the moment, 14 wides by my count the last day and Andy Moran was the only one that offered anything by way of a continous threat and Conor Mort should have been off before he got the goal. Cuniffe looked good alright and will be a deff starter come June, the thing with Conor Moran that as far as I can see when he first got into the Mayo side is that he’s not a corner back, hes a half back if anything.

  4. Hi nooneshoutedstop

    I’m painfully aware that my “analysis” is based on second hand info from Billy Fitz (who named off at least ten Mayo players after the game as having done well) and the other guy on Mid West. We’re you at the game, by any chance? If so, were the conditions as bad as they were making them out to be?

    Fourteen wides is poor alright and when you combine that with a leaky defence, it doesn’t exactly help to brighten up your Monday morning. Shot selection in the forwards seemed all over the place, with frees and attempts from play landing short as well as going wide. Mort is gas, though, isn’t he? He does bugger all for 50 minutes, then gets 1-1 inside the next minute. That’s why he’s still worth his place, I think.

    That’s good about Cunniffe – as Jamie Redknapp would say, he’s a top, top player. We need move like him in the backline.

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