A reflection to find direction – lessons must be learned quickly from defeat

I humbly returned to Dublin on the Sunday evening after the Roscommon game with my 8 year-old son. He has been dyed and donned in the Green and Red since birth despite our Dublin 15 postcode.

I felt it my duty to fight the good fight against the sky blue epidemic that has swept the capital this past decade. He had been quite the good luck charm for Mayo actually, with a championship win-to-loss ratio higher than the average Mayo fan.

The qualifier runs of 2016 and 2017 greatly helped that win percentage and he has so far escaped the ignominy of being in attendance at the subsequent All-Ireland final defeats. Dick Clerkin will be pleased with my parenting! An 8 year-old has no business at an All-Ireland final. Sorry Dick, to be honest I actually just couldn’t find him a ticket!

On my drive back east, my initial and predominant thought was simple – the Rossies. Not the bloody Rossies! That eejit in work will be insufferable tomorrow.

However, I began to analyse the game in a bit more depth and was able to take stock with a bit more clarity. My mood improved greatly as I listened to Radio 1 on Monday morning. Little did I know that the combination of self-righteousness, a deluded politician’s ego and live radio was the perfect recipe to cheer even the most downhearted Mayo fan. Thank you Maria Bailey – you truly are the gift that keeps on giving!

Unfortunately, good luck charm in tow or not, it wasn’t enough for us, and a ticket scramble in August and September for Mayo fans seems highly improbable to ensue at this stage. Mayo are currently fifth favourites with most bookmakers for the All-Ireland. It is hard to argue with our place in the betting as a long qualifier road and some potentially tricky opponents lie ahead.

Prior to the game, there was a sense of optimism surrounding Mayo football, predominantly arising from the return of James Horan. It was felt by many, myself included, that Mayo needed to go the direct route this year and Horan was in the business of delivering Connaught titles.

Such optimism was emboldened further by National League success less than two months ago. The general consensus was that we had finally found some squad depth to assist the old warriors with miles on the clock. Players like Carr, Coen, McDonagh, Ruane, Plunkett and Treacy proved to be revelations during the spring.

Photo: Irish Independent (Sportsfile)

In recent years, we had relied heavily on the same sixteen or seventeen players. Unlike Dublin, we lacked the luxury of being able to replace quality with quality in the final quarter which proved our downfall in the 2017 final in particular. Now there was real competition for places and even making the match day squad was no longer a formality.

Whilst not trying to diminish Roscommon’s victory, a win of which they were worthy, I would not necessarily infer from the result that they were the better team. Roscommon were organised, well-managed and efficient. Make no mistake about it though – it was a game Mayo could and should have won.

The concession of two early goals immediately turned the tie into a contest. The routine six or seven point win Mayo supporters had hoped for was no longer on the table. Roscommon held an early lead and they now held belief.

Photo: MichaelMaye.com

The first goal saw Keith Higgins roasted for pace by Cathal Cregg. Higgins is a wonderful footballer on the front foot and also plays the sweeper role when used to great effect. What he is not – and I would argue never has been – is a tight and tenacious man marker.  Once the Roscommon forward got a run on him, he was in trouble.

Mayo were far too open at the back. The whole full back line had half of MacHale Park to defend throughout the game. Plunkett or perhaps even Boyle should have been deployed in a deeper role to shield their colleagues a bit more, particularly in the early stages of the game.

Whilst the commitment to offensive football and constantly pushing up on the opposition is admirable, there needs to be a greater balance between attack and defence. In the League, our defensive vulnerability was highlighted against Dublin and Kerry in Croke Park with the concession of numerous goal chances being all too prevalent. Indeed the signs were there to a lesser extent against Galway and Monaghan in Castlebar. Scoring 0-17 may win most championship games. Conceding 2-12 most certainly will not.

The second goal conceded was a calamity. There is no point sugar coating it; Robbie Hennelly had a shocker of a game. His judgment in thinking the short kick-out was on was poor and his mistake unquestionably affected the rest of his performance. He was wayward with the long distance placed balls and every miss sapped the confidence from Mayo and buoyed Roscommon, both on and off the pitch.

However, notwithstanding that, I do agree with the selection of Hennelly over Clarke. In the modern game, a goalkeeper’s accuracy and ability on the restarts is the primary requisite. I concede that Clarke is better in the air and has a better focus but I would persist with Hennelly. However, he needs to eradicate these meltdown moments that can crop up once every too often. The rashness of youth is not an argument that can be made for him. Horan has a big decision to make on this front.

The most disappointing aspect of the Mayo performance in their Connaught semi-final was that our composure in front of the posts deserted us for large periods. Such profligacy ultimately cost us victory; fifteen wides are unforgivable at this level. These errant shots, coupled with dropping a couple of efforts short into Darren O’Malley’s hands, proved costly.

Photo: MichaelMaye.com

Of the seventeen points we did score, many were absolute peaches in difficult conditions. Coen, Regan, Boland, Durcan and Moran all kicked some beautiful scores, yet too many times our shot selection was poor. We lacked calmness when met with twelve or thirteen yellow and blue jerseys. This is not a new issue. Even against New York, Mayo kicked a plethora of wides and one would have hoped this had been worked on in the intervening weeks.

In the recent post-match podcast of this parish, the Mayo manager conceded that there were learnings to take from this game. However, I would argue that this team is on the road a number of years. This is a seasoned outfit with only two of last Saturday week’s starting fifteen embarking on their first championship campaign. It’s well past time these lessons were learned.

Horan will need to take a look at every facet of this loss, and he could well start with looking at his own performance on the line. Management were slow to make changes and in such an attritional game it is bizarre to think that we finished the game without using our full complement of substitutes.

Mayo were out-coached on the day with Roscommon having a clear and effective game plan with the resources they had at their disposal. The Mayo substitutes seemed almost pre-planned and O’Donoghue and Boyle must be scratching their heads as to why they weren’t utilised.

The debacle of the McLoughlin free at the death also calls into question the planning and decision-making on the sideline. At the top level, there should be a clear plan who is taking free kicks even if the regular free takers are substituted. It is clear from the farcical scenes involving McLoughlin, O’Connor and Loftus that no such strategy was in place. Again, these are lessons which must be learned from for the rest of the campaign.

In taking stock, we certainly haven’t become a bad team overnight. Mayo are still a Super-8-worthy side with talented footballers. We do, though, lack a killer instinct. In recent years, we have rarely put minnows to the sword in the way Dublin, Kerry or Tyrone do on a regular basis.

The ruthless drubbings of Connaught opposition of Horan’s first reign are but a distant memory now. Be it Fermanagh, Kildare, Derry, Cork, Clare, etc. we tend to allow almost every team an opportunity to beat us. We let the opposition into the game regardless of their quality, regardless of their place in the Gaelic football food chain.

This was elucidated all too starkly against Roscommon. We gave them an inch, followed quickly by a couple more feet; fair dues to them for taking their mile by the time David Gough’s final whistle pierced through MacHale Park.

That all said, Mayo also possess the capacity to put it up to any team as shown by our performances against the very top teams in the country on the biggest stage. One could argue we simply play to the level of the team we are playing.

Such an approach, however, means the qualifier route is fraught with danger. Our summer progression was curtailed last year by a Kildare team who had been relegated from Division 1 and knocked out of the Leinster Championship by Carlow. We can’t afford to take any opponent lightly.

As Willie Joe outlined in his post last week, the draw for Round 2 will be held next Monday morning and, unquestionably, Monaghan (should they overcome Fermanagh) are the team we most  want to avoid. Potentially tricky ties to Down, Westmeath or Derry are possibilities also but if we can’t beat Division 3 and 4 opposition, then frankly we don’t deserve to progress in the competition.  The Roscommon game was a defeat we did not want, nor need, but it is not one we can’t recover from. 

There are plenty of positives to draw from. Mayo are National League champions, having defeated fellow All-Ireland contenders, Kerry in a final in Croke Park. This should still give this group of players and management confidence if we are to reach the latter stages of the All-Ireland series.

Mayo have an exceptional group of young players and a kind draw in the qualifiers may help ease them into championship action. Allied with youth, Mayo have plenty of experience on the big stage and this should stand to them in the big games.

Also, the much maligned Aidan O’Shea is arguably having his best season since 2013. The Breaffy powerhouse is getting through a mountain of dirty work in games, winning primary possession and playing a simple but effective game.

Photo: MichaelMaye.com

O’Shea is proving the perfect foil for club mate Matthew Ruane who has the ability to roam into more adventurous positions and take a score. More of the experienced players need to reach O’Shea’s levels of performance if 2019 is to be a successful year for the green and red.

Finally, the impending (please God!) return of Cillian O’Connor should provide a much needed boost to the team and supporters alike. Mayo’s all-time record scorer will add leadership on the pitch and composure to the full-forward line. Even if shy of full fitness, his free taking prowess alone is enough to merit selection next day out. 

So all in all, there are reasons to be hopeful as we await word on our Round 2 qualifier opponents. I have every faith in Horan’s ability to instil confidence and belief in his players. With a few tweaks and a bit more defensive solidity, football in August is an achievable aim. We are bloodied but unbowed.

As the great American football coach, Vince Lombardi, once postured “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up”.  There’s no other band of brothers I would trust more than these Mayo warriors to follow this mantra to the death.

46 thoughts on “A reflection to find direction – lessons must be learned quickly from defeat

  1. Great thoughts, Tom. We are ready for road now, lets see what the Summer brings!

  2. In ‘The Irish Times ” this week, Kevin Mc Stay said that it’s by no means certain that Mayo will reach the Super 8, and it will very much depend on how lucky they are in the draw’s.

    After calling the upcoming Connacht Final, a 50/50 game, he then went for Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone and Roscommon as his Provincial Champions.

  3. I hope that Cillian is fit to start the next day out… But after such a long absence from the Green and Red, I wouldn’t be expecting him to set the world on fire, especially from play…If he could be his normal effective self from the dead Ball’s… I think I would be prepared to carry a very good free taker, If he wasn’t up to full speed from play, in his first game back!…A more difficult question is who would you drop from the forwards in order to accommodate Cillian?. Only Fergal Boland, Darren Coen and Evan Regan from the six forwards would be getting a pass grade the last time out..

  4. I would tend to agree with McStay in his provincial winners other than Roscommon as I’d say Galway will be too good for them. He is right too about Mayo being very dependent on getting a good draw. We have been relatively lucky with the draw in the past but there are a few potential obstacles in our way before we make it to Round 4 and the provincial losers. Last year after getting Limerick and Tipp we came a cropper v Kildare who would later lose all their Super 8 games. So fingers crossed and a bit of momentum. One thing is sure None of those teams will be too keen on being drawn against Mayo either.

  5. Was in a pub on the night Ros beat us. There was a Monaghan man and a Louth man there also. Got a good slagging being beat by the Rossies a division 2 team. Their smiles were quickly removed when I pointed out to them that they now could meet us in the qualifiers (round 2). No body wants to draw Mayo.

  6. Good piece there Tom.

    A few weeks on, there are some plusses in our situation. Not where we wanted to be, but:

    * Extra weeks give the walking wounded time to recover – a very important consideration
    * Didn’t like losing a semi to the Rossies; would prefer that, much prefer it, to losing a CF to Galway
    * Psychologically, it may be what we needed. League only tells so much, so expectations are now geared to a game at a time – the way it should be
    * We got away with crap free-taking during the league, and were inclined to think this problem could be ignored. The Rossie game has shown this must be addressed. Cillian will solve most of this problem, but a decision has to be made on Robbie’s free-taking. I don’t know if anyone has the stats on his success rate, but this is what should guide us. This issue is absolutely critical. One of the reasons we were so successful was Cillian’s accuracy; it can give a cushion even when a team isn’t playing well. Cox is now able to do that for Roscommon, Galway have had a number of accurate kickers, and Dublin have Rock of course, whose accuracy and consistency is phenomenal.
    * The defeat will (I hope but am not certain) prod James to review his subbing approach – very poor against Rossies I must say.

    It’s at this stage that I seriously wonder about the absence of a MacEntee or similar ‘objective’ external member of the selection committee. Cool, disinterested heads are needed from here on in.

  7. I enjoyed that Tom. Good summary of where we are at but I would agree with Leantimes that we can hardly expect Cillian to come back and be his usual scintillatingly accurate self. There’s going to be quite a few wayward shots before he starts hitting the target more regularly. I think we are all agreed that we are willing to give him game time

  8. Good piece Tom, in line with lots I have said and others. It was a total systems failure for Mayo the last day and you are spot on, a team of this experience should not have melted the way they did. That’s the most worrying thing and just that ridiculously naive, and invisible defensive structure – pathetic stuff. It still pisses me off thinking about it, particularly when we have some of the best defenders in the country and as such all the necessary ingredients to be able to create the most miserly of defences. Please mayo – play to your strengths!!!

    I am not concerned about who we draw and I think people who are, are identifying Mayo’s mindset more as an issue than our structure and set-up. Yes, they are linked but the issue for me and why Mayo lost the last day is primarily in the latter category. I am very concerned about how we set up. But I’ll say this, none of the teams in the next round will beat us if we set up correctly. It’s fairly simple really. And with the correct tactics we can and should beat most teams in the country. But if we set up in the hapless fashion as we did against roscommon then any half decent team has the scope to beat us.

  9. Catcol, according to McStay’s article this week/Gaelic Stats, Hennelly’s success rate is 17% in all competitions.

  10. What is James Carr’s injury update ? Is he fit to be selected the next day out at present ?

  11. The problem is this team has continuously been a slow student when it comes to learning lessons over recent years. The reality is that the teams chances of making the super 8’s are no more than 22% going off the clueless performance against Roscommon. We have an 87.5% probability of avoiding Monaghan in round 2, 50% probability of avoiding one of Monaghan, Tyrone/Donegal, Cavan, Kildare in round 3, and a 50% probability of avoiding Galway (assuming Ross win the CF) or Cork in round 3. We would struggle badly against any of these teams with the way we played the last night. Not great odds when you stack it all up.

  12. Am I right in thinking, should we make the super 8’s, its more than likely that 5 of our next 6 games will be away ?

  13. According to those stats Hennelly is less than 20% from long range frees. Not in the Beggan or Rossi’s goalie stats but we have struggled with long distance free taking for years. Even Cillian does not slot over too many 45s. Jason hit a great one v Kerry in semi in 2017 but in general anything over 40 yards seems on the edge of his range. I can’t wait for Cillian to return but as I said long distance free taking is not his speciality missing one in last minute of replay in 2016 and also missing a late one in 2017. For that reason if Robbie is playing I would still give him the frees from 50 yards out. Even the great Cluxton was struggling with the long range frees but now with Rock about that’s no longer an issue for Dublin.

  14. 45+ frees are an issue, always has been, why not pass and retain posession instead of taking low percentage shots. Possession is worth more than a wide and definitely a lot more than dropping it into the keepers hands. Set pieces and patterns of play can easily be worked on in training to pass from a 45 and work a higher percentage scoring opportunity.

  15. Goalkeepers number 1 job is to stop goals going in. Goals conceded are a hammer blow for your team and huge shot in the arm for the opposition. Unfathomable that people are still saying Hennelly should be selected.
    Couldn’t blame Clarke for walking if Hennelly gets picked ahead of him again.

  16. If the strike rate is that low from 45s the ball should be worked short

  17. So Hennelly scores just better then 1 in 6 long range frees. Wow I have to say I’m staggered by how low that is. So remind me why Clarke is on the bench ?

  18. Possibly because he scores less long range frees. Clarke is a super goalie and I presume that the reason why he has not been No 1 for various managers is the perception that his kicking game is not fantastic. Hennelly too is an excellent keeper but he has made unfortunate errors in big games. I watched the Mayo v Dublin 2013 final on Eir Sport lately. He made 3 outstanding saves yet is remembered for the first goal Brogan scored that day

  19. Unfathomable is too small a word.

    Wouldn’t in the slightest blame Clarke for walking if not picked. Sitting on the bench despite being by a distance the best keeper we have ever had.

    There is zero justification. Zero. How many more time do we need to have this demonstrated?

  20. I prefer my goalkeeper to make no fantastic saves, have an ugly but effective kickout but make no mistakes that change the momentum of a game or gift a big goal at the wrong time.
    Clarke is a better goalkeeper than Hennelly in my opinion as while Robbie has a more stylish looking kickout and a wider range of short kickouts, Clarke is a better shotstopper (maybe the best in the game and is never beaten high at his near post for a goal!), has a greater command of the square, is a real leader of the defence and 99.999% of the time has an excellent to solid performance with no fatal mistakes which turn the momentum of the game against us under real pressure when the stakes are the highest!!
    There is a reason Clarkie is a two time All Star and let’s face it Horan & Rochford haven’t gained anything when they chose Robbie’s wider range of kickouts over Clarkie’s better overall goalkeeping in the big pressure games. It is so tough being a top class goalkeeper where one fatal mistake wipes away any outstanding saves especially in the white hot heat of a championship game!! The more fatal mistakes the greater the mental pressure there is in the next big game and the greater the chance of calamity to strike at the worst time again!!

  21. One thing I would bank on is Clarkie will not walk away as long as he is fit enough to fight for his place!!
    While I don’t agree with Horan I can see his logic for picking Robbie but unless Clarkie’s play has fallen off a cliff I would expect he has every chance of regaining his place in the team.
    If he wasn’t in Horan’s plans or his standard of play had plummeted then he would likely have been released by Horan for the Stephenites a few weeks back when they asked for his release!!

  22. the clarke v Hennelly debate should be not be a runner anymore

    How many more big game errors does one have to have, ive said it for a lot of these guys its last chance saloon , why take that huge risk with Hennelly??

  23. Good post.
    I think we can go far by remedying 2 things:

    1) A free taking policy for players on the pitch.
    I.e. Right footers Cillian, Conor, Jason in that order. If none of above playing D Coen or Andy off the hands. Andy has grabbed the ball late in games several times for late frees and never to my knowledge missed one, albeit better percentage ones. Diarmaid has also been known to take long frees and may be an option for 45’s from middle or good side.

    Left footers Evan, Diskin and Kevin in that order. AOS is also left footed and took frees as a 19 year old championship rookie as far as I recall.

    2) A defensive system. Doesn’t have to be sweeper but all intercounty FB lines need good protection.

    3) Subs on. The most obvious omission was Boyle or Coen on for Plunkett early enough. Also most subs were after 60 min.

    Address those 3 and we should make the super 8’s hopefully fine tuning thereafter. Fail to address them and we’ll be in dogfights all the way.

  24. Meant McDonagh (left) not Diskin and only if he does so for club. Dropped one short in league but maybe allow for first time nerves and if he can do it in training put him on the list.

  25. Just looking ahead to the qualifier draw on Monday morning. The only way we can get a home draw is that we’re drawn first out against Monaghan or Tipperary. Now that’s assuming both teams win their respective first round ties this weekend. So it’s most likely we will be away on 22nd June. And like most other posters I think this mightn’t be a bad thing given our deplorable home record over the last number of years.

  26. Tommy – we heard you the first time! You don’t get extra brownie points for having a cut at a named player twice in one day so there’s no need, nor is there any point, in doing so. I’ve let you away with one kick but that’s the only one you’re getting. If you’ve any other masterful tactics you want to share with the world then fire ahead but you can take it that your views on this particular point have been received and are understood.

  27. Would be better if all Mayo games were played away from McHale park.
    Our record there is appalling. Pitch does not suit us at all
    Too easily shut down there..

  28. We just keep coming up with excuses. Now it’s McHale park to blame. This isn’t rocket science.

    You play your best players in their best positions. You use your subs early enough…ideally all of them in a tight game. You cut out the Hail Mary shots and focus on getting the ball to the guy who is in the best position to score. If you don’t have a long range free taker then you play it short and try to work a score. And finally you stay off Twitter and the media until you actually have something worth twittering about…..eg Sam maguire

  29. At this stage facetheball I would be thinking the same, as a narrow bumpy slow pitch doesn’t suit us or any team that wants to play fast attacking football.
    Hopefully some of the money raised from the New York trip might see the pitch dug out, resurfaced and widened in the the future!!

  30. Thanks Inside… for those stats on Robbie’s kicking. They are fairly damning I have to say, and yet I can’t and won’t say don’t. But keepers taking 45s are inflexible, whereas we need to be flexible at times and go short for a pop over.

  31. One in every six he gets a point , you’d nearly be as well off putting a couple of big men on the edge of the square , lob it in and you’d get a goal once in every six or seven .

    Anyway an Aul ejit like me has been saying this for a while , go short if you’re not capable of scoring at least half the time . ya hear the modern terminology “the percentage ” ,well fook me that’s not much of a percentage . I’ll ask a question, does any other county in top six or seven have such a damning stat ?

  32. McHale park is NOT a reason for Mayo losing games, no matter how much people suggest it. Mayo didn’t lose to Ros because of the pitch, they lost because of naive defending and atrocious shooting. The size of the pitch has always been the same and isn’t going to change. If it hinders a style of play then it’s up to the management to adapt, they train on it for feck sake. Blaming the pitch is a stupid excuse.

  33. Listening to some Galway lads at work. Giving out about €40 on the gate entrance fee for CF. €35 if purchased the day before.

    Less than 2 minutes football per euro. If there is 5 minutes good football in this final I will be suprised. That’s €8 a minute.

  34. Mayo67 you say we keep coming up with excuses and then you throw in media and twitter. Now whatever about a bumpy pitch being an excuse I cant fathom how some player having the temerity to write something on twitter or doing an interview with the media can cost a game. Maybe there are other reasons. Maybe we are not as good as we think. Losing to Galway 3 years in a row and losing to Kildare last year hardly suggest we are top dogs. Maybe Roscommon deserved to beat us. They are now in their fourth Connacht final in a row. We are not in it for the fourth year in a row. Maybe the law of averages kicked in. They hadnt beaten us since 2001 and since 1986 in Castlebar so they were due a win. Maybe our better players have simply too much mileage. Whatever the reason, the fact is we lost but hopefully we will get up and running on the 22 June

  35. The Mchale Park pitch, which incidentally was in excellent condition, had no bearing on our defeat to Roscommon…. Roscommon were far better managed on the day, far more efficient shot to score ratio on the day, and made fewer big mistake’s as well….Mayo were far better in midfield, especially on the Roscommon restarts, but overall Roscommon would still win the Match regardless of where it was played…We definitely got credited with a score that was obsiously wide… maybe if the Match was played in the Hyde, Roscommon might get a decision like that…. Last Year as our defeat to Galway had nothing to do with the Pitch!. Same as the 5 previous defeat’s by Galway in both Salthill and Castlebar, the Pitch, which is a little bit tighter and shorter than both the Hyde and Salthill might be a little easier to operate the Galway Shawl type defense, on the other hand it probably looked bigger than Croke Park to the Roscommon forwards last Saturday week.. . On another issue, I am inclined to agree with Revellino’s work mate’s, €40 is an outrageous price for a ticket for the Connacht Final!

  36. 40 euro is very expensive Wouldn’t expect a massive crowd at that price.

  37. More than anything else, James Horans management comes under the spotlight in forthcoming backdoor game(s). Are we going to see young players get a chance, will big name players be substituted if they are having an off day, and most importantly, how he manages the last quarter of games when we need to push on and put in our best work.
    The defeat to Roscommon has re opened old failings, most notably the fact that we fail to finish out our games and win convincingly against weaker opposition

  38. To win just once – the Twitter and the media thing is not an excuse but it’s something that annoys me. We are too willing to be in the media and it applies more pressure on us…I think so anyway

    Your comment that maybe our better players have too much mileage is quite telling. If they have too much mileage then they probably aren’t our better players but they are still deemed as such so they play. There are a few who could be the winning of games for us but that might be off the bench. The mindset has to change to get them to accept that role

  39. Some people saying big name players should be taken off. Will on of those 3 forwards Kevin Mc was making a difference on the ball and some good passes. Jason D twisted his ankle (looked) quite badly early on and no idea how he managed to stay on as long as he did. Was still trying hard throughout and didn’t seem to be hobbling but rekon it affected him somewhat. Definitely a day for subbing him off. Diarmaid had a quiet game by his standards. I’m not too sure if captaincy not playing on his mind. To me Cillian sacrificed his attacking game as captain with combatancy and the 2 brothers influence each other’s approach. First thing a captain should do is focus on playing well.

  40. Kevin McLoughlin could not run to stop Fintan Cregg for Roscommons winner. A fresh player would have been able to sprint back.

  41. Any update on the status of cillians injury and the rest of the injured lads

    As John Casey highlighted on the podcast, the lack of transparency regarding injured personal.

    Any suggestions of a team people would like to see for the next day?

  42. Id go with

    ODonoghue. Harrison..drake
    Keegan McCormack McLoughlin
    D Coen…..reape……Carr

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