The match in Ruislip is now a week behind us and it’s time for us to move on and start looking ahead to facing Galway three weeks from now. To help us do so, I’m delighted to welcome back into the guest slot FourGoal McGee who provides some insightful thoughts on what we need to focus on and where our true strengths as a footballing county could lie.
Like most of the commentators here, I wasn’t in Ruislip last Sunday. I did not experience a 2 flight/2 coach journey from Mayo to London. I don’t know how the team was prepared for the match or the instructions that they were given going out onto the field. I don’t know what was said at half time or in the break before extra time. I have no idea how many of them needed to be back for work on Monday morning or even when they actually got back.
As a result, I have not commented up to now on the Mayo vs London game. And even if I did, it would be more in the nature of asking questions than providing anything that might explain what transpired in Ruislip. So what is the point of commenting now, you ask?
Well, it’s to try to see what can be done from here. And to do that, it is worth looking around at a few things that are beginning to emerge in the footballing year to date.
For a start, there has been a view in the Mayo management set up that we need a “system”. After all, Tyrone has one. It is the system that all kids are taught to play in Tyrone from the age of eight up. It is based on everyone defending when the opposition has the ball and everyone attacking when Tyrone has the ball. It relies on men running into positions to receive short passes. A highly energetic system that is difficult to play against. A number of other counties copied them but none have bettered it.
Dublin has now developed a somewhat similar system but it relies on longer passes – usually with the foot. The stats on today’s game against Laois will show that Dublin had about three times as many completed foot passes as Laois and were about equal to Laois on hand passes – on 51% of the possession. And though Connolly scored a goal and 2 points, a more lethal forward given the amount of ball he got would have been on his way to an All-Star with a bagful of further scores.
Kerry has yet another system, relying on fast diagonal ball from centrefield being either caught and scored or broken to incoming fast running forwards. The trick with Kerry is that they can adapt it to who lines out on the day.
Cork’s system involves getting fast ball into the half forward line with the option of short passes into the full forward line or playing it back to the runners coming from centrefield. This allows them to play most of the game in the opposition half and can put up seriously big scores as a result.
Down doesn’t really have a system – they rely on a small number of very talented players, Kildare are all about strength and fitness, Donegal are trying to out-Tyrone Tyrone – coupled with an over-reliance on Michael Murphy and I’m not sure if Armagh are developing anything new – other than giving Billy Joe Padden a chance to finally shine.
So logic would suggest that, to get up there with the Corks, Dublins, Kerrys and Tyrones, we need a “system”. Or does it? I actually think we have one but we need to go back a bit to find it in our senior teams. Where it has emerged in the last 10 years, has been in our under-age teams. And if you look at these teams you will see the following:
- A goalkeeper that dominates the square
- A full back that dominates in front of the square
- Tight marking, yet attacking wing backs
- A centrefield partnership, where one minds the house when the other attacks/defends
- At least one small, mesmerisingly fast wing forward
- A reliable free taker
- At least two full forwards that can win all sorts of ball and take scores
To find this mix in the senior team, we have to go back to 1996 and most of the boxes are ticked there. What you get from this mix is fast open football which will unlock most “systems”.
I am privileged to be involved in coaching a number of under-age teams and we always emphasise that to win the game, you must play as much of it as possible in the opposition half. Come at them in waves and come at them in as many different ways as possible. If something isn’t working, we will see it from the sideline and sort it out. And if we lose, it will be because the opposition were just better than us on the day – not because we didn’t play to our ability. There are designated free takers for scoreable frees. All frees outside the scoreable range are taken by the player nearest to the ball – with everyone else getting into a position to accept a pass.
We emphasise that there are three movements in playing football – firstly, winning and receiving the ball; secondly, passing the ball and thirdly, providing an option to support the player on the ball when the pass has been made. When, we haven’t got the ball, we mark tightly but do NOT try to get everyone behind the ball – because if we are all behind the ball, we are in the wrong part of the field when we attack again.
In that “system”, there is no place for sweepers, third midfielders, roaming half forwards, etc. It’s just football and 90% of the time, it is a joy to watch. It’s football as I learned it as a young lad in Mayo in the 1970s. It’s Mayo football – an open, attacking, fast-moving game. It’s the game I loved then and it is the game I try to pass on now.
Mayo football, in its purest sense, is not a defensive game. It thrives on taking the play to the opposition. And over the years I have seem glimpses of it re-emerging in Mayo county teams. The 1983 U21 team had it. The senior team in 1996 in the semi final against Kerry had it. The 2006 comeback against the Dubs displayed elements of it. The Minors in 2008 had it. Even this year, when the shackles were taken off at 14 points down in the Croke Park league game against Dublin, it surfaced and brought us back to level pegging. The league game against Cork earlier this year also showed again that it is there – just below the surface.
We have to stop this irrational belief that we can adopt someone else’s system. We need to be playing Mayo football.
And no better place to start than against Galway, in Castlebar on 26th June.
Keep the Faith!