Down will relish direct challenge

It’s very difficult for those of us involved to be in any way objective about how tomorrow’s big match will go and so I’m delighted to welcome Emmet Ryan of Action81.com into the guest slot to provide a neutral’s informed perspective on the contest.

When the draw for the Quarter-Finals was made on Saturday night, fans in Mayo were likely happy enough with their lot. Kildare and Kerry avoided, the Connacht Champions would surely fancy their chances of progressing to the last four. Down however had equal cause for optimism, drawing the opponent most suited to taking on with their attacking strengths.

Having the fortune to be unable to draw Donegal, who dominated James McCartan’s men last month in Clones, Down faced two unenviable draws. In April Cork delivered the most comprehensive beating I have witnessed by any team not named Crossmaglen this season, and that includes Mayo’s win over Dublin in the League. The Rebels’ physical superiority may have only carried them to an eight point win over Down but the result was never in doubt. Avoiding the Munster Champions was a must.

Despite Down’s win over Dublin in the spring, they would not have fancied taking on the Leinster Champions in August. Deep defences can fluster an attack but only when they work. Down have clearly failed in this regard. A strategy must be built around the strengths of the personnel involved and the Mourne men’s are clearly further forward. An attack like Dublin’s can rip through lower quality deep defences with a mix of cross-field balls and direct running.

So, by default, Down’s preference was Mayo. Like the other contenders, James Horan’s charges have an impressive defensive system but not one in the swarm style of Dublin or Donegal. Mayo look to isolate the ball carrier and make it difficult to find an outlet. When it works they are a match for anyone. Down however will see this as the fairest fight of the three they could have drawn.

Down were forced to switch back to their strengths in the Ulster Semi-Final against Monaghan. Starting the second half in a deep hole, Down found their identity by taking a high-risk attacking game to Monaghan. It was, just about, enough to win the day and with it two shots at the Quarter-Finals. Midfield will also be an area where Down feel they can gain an edge. Impressive as Barry Moran was against Sligo, Down have ball-winners who could give their attack the platform to force the game into Mayo’s half. To beat Mayo, Down must take risks and accept the game could devolve into a shoot-out.

Attractive as the draw was, the challenge ahead remains daunting. In simple terms, Mayo are superior in every part of the field. The middle third isn’t just about the men in numbers 8 and 9. Mayo’s half-backs and half-forwards aid in developing that man-isolation game. This forces turnovers and should see plenty of opportunities for Mayo’s forwards to break forward. By winning the contest here, Mayo should be able to find holes in Down’s already questionable defence. Mayo’s aberrant display against Sligo should be seen as a wake-up call more than a cause for concern. More often than not this year Horan’s charges have performed their duties well.

Being drawn against Mayo was the best option available to Down but they should rightly be seen as underdogs. Barring a repeat of the Connacht Final display, Mayo should advance.

Emmet Ryan writes the Gaelic Football strategy column ‘Tactics not Passion’ at Action81.com and can be found on Twitter @action81.

23 thoughts on “Down will relish direct challenge

  1. Decent analysis, would agree that Downs strengths lie in their attack, they will have no fear of Mayo, but we have no reason to fear them either. We need to improve in a couple of key areas from the last day including decision making with the ball in hand-no need to be going for goals all the time, plus our freetaking was simply not good enough against Sligo. A repeat of this against the mournemen and it’s curtains for Mayo. I think Barry Moran is key with AOS apparently not starting. If we can win the midfield battle then we should be ok, an open game as described above would also really suit Kevin McLoughlin, remember his performance v cork last year. Really looking forward to it now, here’s hoping the boys do us proud, UP MAYO!!!!

  2. Great article by Liam Kelly in independent today under title “Fans are Mayo’s worst enemy”. Wishing James Horan and the team every good wish tomorrow.

  3. Delighted to see Emmet guesting here, he always does good stuff.

    Just thinking about match-ups here, I’m not sure Donie Vaughan would be suited to man-marking Mark Poland, who just flits around the place, picks up handpasses or low balls and can be very dangerous. Perhaps Lee Keegan or Colm Boyle to track him?

  4. Hmnn…I wonder. Nice piece of reminding Mayo of their frailties. Neutral …jury out on that one. This piece is symptomatic of the consensus that lurks out there about us but is thin on fact and reality.

    Mayo has a record against Dublin second to none.,league of 2003 confined them 3 first half points and walloped them. Beat them in championship semi final 2006, has broken more than even with them since then in league including a solid defeat of them league gone by. Mayo has defeated Tyrone, Laois, Dublin and Cork in championship and yet everbody wants to play us because we are seen in a particular light.

    Down best option was to be drawn against Mayo but they also want to be underdogs. You cannot have it two ways, if you want us then you must believe you can beat us otherwise why want us? Then to look for under dog status …well well now that’s jam on both sides.

    Apparently Banty has no such prevarication or compunction about us. Down by five/six points he reckons. This from a man who thought we played Galway in this years championship and relegated Meath. This from a man who comes from a county that has won nothing but a solitary league but has given us a few referees to remember.

    We in Mayo know our own sins.We in Mayo also know our own strengths. Ever present in division one since 1997. All Ireland senior finalists four times since 1996, U21 finalists 3 times since, minor finalists 5 times since, league finalists 4 times since, club finalists 5 times since. Of course Down want to meet us, everybody does..but as Micky Harte once said “They must be doing something right in Mayo…how come they get to all those finals”. Sadly failing on the big altar allows a clean shot at us from those whose counties never broke wind.

    Still puzzled by “Mayo are superior in every part of the field” squares with “Midfield will also be an area where Down feel they can gain an edge. Impressive as Barry Moran was against Sligo, Down have ball-winners who could give their attack the platform to force the game into Mayo’s half” If they are the former then the latter is an anomaly?

  5. JP keane had quite a pessimistic piece on the Times yesterday bemoaning our under age coaching
    and said we are 4 to 5 players short in the senior team.
    Are we really that bad ?
    What must the other 26 counites behind us in rankings be lacking, 10 or 11 players?

    We are not far off it.

  6. This is a crucial game for James Horan and this Mayo team. Win and we are on track – lose and the wheels start to come off for all involved. No doubt a loss would put JH under severe pressure and his shortcomings (real or perceived) as a manager will be to the fore. Mayo fans are very demanding – ( a bit like Paudie’s ‘f***ing animals).
    Make no mistake – Down are a real threat. I remember many of them at U21 level making us look silly in Longford at semi-final stage. They also have a lot of games under their belts and while not being dismissive of Leitrim or Sligo both those teams are playing in the lower divisions. Down are an entirely different prospect.
    I have a feeling there is something big in this Mayo team bursting to get out – I hope to see this on Saturday. I hope they play with imagination and creativity and use their undoubted skill and talent to show us what they are really capable of.

  7. Here are the links to the articles mentioned by Gerard (in today’s Independent) and facetheball (in yesterday’s Times). While we’re on the topic of links, RTE’s match preview (they go for us) is here and there’s an interview by Mike Finnerty with James Horan in today’s Examiner.

    John – I don’t know if you’re a regular reader of Emmet’s excellent analysis over on Action81.com but it’s obvious from that that he can’t be accused of any lack of impartiality in what he writes.

  8. Interesting points raised Emmet. Always good to have a fresh view on things. You mention how Mayo are defending by isolating the ball carrier for quick turnovers , I think this is more an attacking ploy than defensive. What I’m getting at is after the 2006 wipeout and the subsequent years failure, while there is still a place for traditional man to man defending it can’t be the only defensive option in modern football. During the early part of James’ tenure he tried to adapt a convetional sweeper system which he used to great effect in Ballintubber but it was just a little to rigid for the naturally fluid type players we seem to produce in Mayo. The main problem being the space conceeded with this system and the disconnect between the fulforward line and midfield/half forward lines which is punished a lot more at intercounty level than club.
    Having realised after London last year this wouldn’t work James married a traditional open Mayo game with a high pressure high defensive line game with stopping the runners from deep and putting massive pressure on the oppostion breaking ball for the rest of that championship. Against Cork we shocked them with our physicality and intensity but we were still quite open at the back when Cork won clean possesion or pierced our high defensive line around our half forward line. Then Kerry realised that using their wing backs as their main distributors was the fatal flaw in our system.
    If you think back to the goal Kevin Mcloughlin got last year I think Horan had a light bulb moment. Two or three Mayo defenders dispossed a Cork player that was isolated , quick turnover ball and a run from deep from Mcloughlin which resulted in a 4 point swing in a matter of seconds! Also with Andy Moran as a focal point at 14 rather than a traditional big man he keeps the full back line honest cause he can win ball in front and in the air , and can take on his man or take a point from wide out if shepperded by his man away from the small square. Also with this type of pressure defence the spine of the team no.2 no 3. no.6 and no.5 (Keith Higgins plays a sweeping role/counter-attack role) keep the defensive shape of our team with no’s 8/9 ,7 ,10 overloading the ball carrier and isolating him in any given situation. Add into this the work rate of the forwards to track /check runs from deep and this provides a formidable if slightly high risk strategy. This risk is rewarded by the speed of counter attack and the space created in front of our fullforward line or if a team persists in crowding their own 45 line to midfield , the speed of turnover allow the deep runners e.g. Vaughan/Boyle to punch through and break down the blanket defense. This mix of running game with a direct ball approach suits us down to the ground and creates more off the cuff situations which suit the Mayo football psyche. So in effect our attack plan is deeply rooted no in fact depends on our defnsive play. The one missing picec so far this year has been a hard running physical center forward which injury has mainly robbed us of trying the couple of options we have here. If Jason Doc does start here I can seen the merit in this as he likes to take in his man on which would keep the center back honest and creat space for our chief playmaker Dillion on the wing. Also if Conroy plays he loves to drop off into the space left by a wing back pushing up on Kevin Mcloughlin and also is very good working off the shoulder of Moran.
    So to finish I can see why Down would on the surface like the look of the draw against us but if they come into dominate midfield and look to play a traditional open game I think that will play into our hands as we’ll win 90% of the physical battles for possesion and their leaky defence would be vunerable to our attacking game. A major point of caution though is our attcking game is all about being clinical with goals being a proirity anyhting less than a 70% return on shots scored will leave us open to a sucker punch because Down’s forwards are natural poachers which could easily shoot an 85% return on the chances given which might sneek them home but I think our scoring target is achievable and unless we have a total calapse (like in the past) I think we will get over the line by 2 or 3 .

  9. Jp Kean is in a place to know. I like that comment about him not picking big men. I was one of the many big men he would never pick – he was right. We tend to overhype every chance we get without actually showing anything. Our defense has gotten better over the last couple of years(bar some poor marking by our two most established defenders) but our attack seems to be misfiring completely. we don’t have many ball winners in the forwards and most can be bullied out of match and every county know it hence why they want to play us.

  10. Thanks to everyone for the comments.

    John Cuffe, to answer your last point. Down will fancy their chances in midfield, as they did in the Ulster Final. Like in that game, they will likely come out on the wrong side of that battle. Hope that clears it up.

  11. I don’t like one bit at all the comments on the site arbitrarily dismissing Downs defence. They have lost just one game and that to probably the only team outside the top three that are on the cusp of making the breakthrough into it.

    Just because Down didn’t perform against Donegal does not mean they have had a bad year in Ulster does not make them a bad team overnight. Their comeback from the six-day jinx against a good Tipp team proves that.

    Down are traditionally very good in Croke Park and It just might happen that their defence could be well up for it.

    If we are to win we will have to earn it and our forwards will have to beat them man to man.

  12. I don’t agree with JP Kean, and I hold him responsible for many of the so called problems with Mayo teams. He managed Mayo Minors for years and to me his teams were disorganised and lost time and again to inferior oposition. As regards his points on burn out, he uses Alan Dillon as an example of all the games he had to plan as a U21/ Club/ College/ senior at the same time, but correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Dillon playing tomorrow and playing the best football of his life. He seens to have a chip on his shoulder to come out a few days before a big game and start critising Mayo for being short 5 or 6 players is unhelpful at best.
    Also his critism of underage coaching is way out. I see massive improvements in underage coaching in Mayo in the last 4 or 5 years. Much of this comes from information available on-line and from studying the Dublin and Ulster football models.
    I believe Mayo football is in a healthy place right now.
    A far bigger problem is the depopulation of rural Mayo and the decline of countless rural clubs, and on the flip side the growth of urban clubs such as Castlebar, Ballina and Wesport and their struggle to cope with this. I know this has little to do with tomorrows game, but Kean lays into Mayo in a big way and I just wanted to hightlight the reality as I see it.

  13. Thanks WJ for the dissapproving look (joke). The article is fine thats why I got my teeth into it as for analysis I take your word for it, personally I come from the school of statistics, statistics and damn lies although I have used the same to try and prove the odd argument. We are all analysts at the end of the day , if Joe Gom can make a decent living out of it in the Sunday game sure aren’t we all entitled to blab for free.

    Kellys article in the Independent or should it be McNultys article has me scratching my head. Since 1996 , 16 years we have reached six semi finals, winning four. Not a bad ratio I would think. Cork 99 was disappointing but not a whitewash and we took something like hope from last years semi v Kerry bearing in mind the joke the county was for the four years previous. I accept the finals argument but putting out Kerry, Offaly, Fermanagh, (Tyrone QFs), Dublin in semis is not the mark of a team suffering semi final nerves.

    Maybe its a northern trait but never have I seen men make such a great living out of a single All ireland win. McHugh from Donegal lords it, Brolly from Derry sneers at us who have won 3 to Derrys one, McNulty from Armagh now tells us how to chart a way froward.

    I would like to think that maybe we might hear from a Mayo man who garners such respect and awe. I for one would sit at the feet of JP Kean , Martin Carney or Liam Horan to hear what Mayo themselves should do. Tired listening to half baked theories from others. The sun will set in Mayo on Saturday night, the same damn elusive buck will try and break through the next morning. Only Mayo people can help Mayo people and on our road from the Gethsemene to Paradise we can only rely on ourselves for its us that must shave in the mirror on a Monday morning and we can never change who we are nor should we try.

  14. PS refreshing from Kean, spoken from a man with the medals and the coaching ability.Good man JP, will you be listened to….NO.

  15. yes john maybe Jp has a point but i don’t think its the time to be bringiing such topics up.. on the eve of important matches… it never seem to amaze me how people always want to pur a spanner in the works just we go ta battle.

  16. Some great responses there to Emmet’s article particularly by Crete Boom & Diehard.
    I think Diehard sums it up best in his first paragraph. Tomorrow really is D-Day for both management & team. Tomorrow is going to answer many of the questions. It is good that this is so because it is better for us all to get the answers soon. After this weekend I believe we will have a really good understanding of where we lie in the general scheme of things. Although I would be naturally cautious I do expect us to get our game going & win this one with perhaps a bit to spare. Here’s hoping !

  17. There’s not much in JP’s article to get excited about and nothing we have not heard before. McNulty (in Kelly’s article) has it right and makes a lot of sense when it comes to the psychological end of things.
    It is very simple! To win you need 15 fellas on the field who are generally better players than the opposition – faster, stronger, more skilful, more heart, more determined and meaner. You also need a couple of exceptional fellas who can give the opposition a fit of the wobblies everytime they get the ball! That has always been the case. Lets hope our lads have it this year!

  18. I find it difficult to see any merit in either article, to be honest. The Indo one is just a shop window for Enda McNulty and his psychology-speak and Liam Kelly is also very selective in his recall of when we’ve appeared at Croke Park in recent times. He references our semi-final loss to Kerry last August but then fails to mention our league final victory over the same opposition this April (though he also then forgets our league final loss to Cork this year which would, of course, be more grist to his mill). Every time we play in Croke Park, this so-called fear about playing there is thrown at us and I guess until we win a final it’ll continue to be the case, despite the fact that we’ve won plenty of matches – and against the top teams too – at HQ in recent years. And the headline to the article is, of course, utter bullshit.

    I can’t see why someone like JP Kean would want to come out and provide the Irish Times with this kind of stuff a few days before an All-Ireland quarter-final either – his timing in this regard is very, very poor. One thing I’ve noticed about the Kerrymen is that, regardless of who they are or what pulpit they’re on, coming up to a big match they’re all without exception completely on-message. I couldn’t ever imagine someone from Kerry going public with a moan such as this about structures within the county a few days before they play a major championship game. I can’t for the life of me see what benefit JP Kean thinks will come from his doing so, aside from possibly being able to say “told you so” if we lose, given his claim that “we’re short four or five players who could make the difference”.

  19. I dunno, I thought the articles were shite.
    McNulty talks about what you need to do to win and be the best – being faster, stronger, more skilful etc. but sure we all could have worked that out! I didn’t think you could win by being slower, weaker and less skilful than your opponent…

    The points about our record in semis and finals is complete and utter shite (as apposed to the just simple ‘shite’ that the first one was). No point going into the stats as John has laid them out very clearly above. Where exactly does this impression of us ‘choking’ (or whatever) in semis come from?? I wouldn’t mind but just look at the calibre of some of the teams we’ve beat in Croker over the past 15 or so years.
    Every year is the same, we get to Croke Park and the same old tired cliches come out about Mayo football.
    Fair enough about the finals, we don’t have much comeback when it comes to losing finals. But this whole ‘Mayo can’t perform in Croke Park’ line is just bollocks. Even the stats don’t back it up, so I’m at a loss to understand how this stuff actually gets printed. Doesn’t anybody in the mainstream media do any actual research?

    Personally I thought Andy Moran’s interview was the best piece I’ve read all week in the build up to the game. Here’s a man with no hang-up’s about our past, and from a man who’s been there through the low points since 2004.

    Anyway, let’s just put on a show for all these non-believers and lazy journalists on Saturday. Or failing that, just edge a scrappy game by a point. Either way, let’s just beat Down.

  20. Do you know what i have to admit to i have a serious chip on my shoulder over the way the media in general talk about Mayo,i’m frankly sick to the teeth with it not only is it lazy but over the last few years there is a downright disrespect there, maybe i take it to heart too much.

    Mayo for me bursted onto the scene in 88/89, we established ourselves as a top side in the modern era and have remained there since for the most part after what was a period of darkness the thirty years or so previous in terms of senior championship.

    We have had some mighty victories as pointed out by John Cuffe above but we have failed to deliver the big prize, we all know this stuff i realize but my point is as a Mayo man i don’t need to hear praise as such for this period but just recognition for some of the fine teams we have produced instead though all we get in the lazy aul rhetoric thats spouted out every year by the same people, other counties don’t get near this treatment.

    Anyway back to the game for tomorrow , i’m burstin with excitement like a child, can’t wait, tbh i don’t know what to expect, i hope they give it 100% from the word go and i believe we will win if they do. Ideally id like it if we got out of the traps early but this does not seem to be a trait of this team, would love to put 4/5 points up on the scoreboard quick to see if down start to doubt themselves, something tells me they’re not that confident in themselves also though their fitness levels i’m suspect of from talking to Donegal lads yesterday.

    Up Mayo

  21. This is a good read but to be honest, I love reading any article about Mayo. Granted some are condescending and dismissive of Mayo, while others are downright lazy “journalism”. Many of the national experts pen the same crap year in-year out, around this time regardless of how Mayo have performed or who their opposition was. The only way we can change that is to come away from HQ with Sam.
    It’s really impossible to know how good they are, for the opposition so far has been below par (Leitrim) and/or average (Sligo). I’m really hoping for a good solid performance, one that would be just enough to get us over the line.
    Regarding the team selection, who knows what JH is plotting. I would have thought O’Shea would have got the start. I believe the team that he named will be the one to start for I don’t think he’s into mind games with the opposition. The only change I see may be a switch in the forwards before throw in. I think the game will come down to how our forwards perform, particularly Varley, doc and Cillian. If they play well, we will win. Like I said, all we have to do is get over the line.
    A big shout out to all the folks who will be travelling to HQ to support the team. A safe journey and good times for all! Would love to be there but I will be watching from over here.

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