I wrote two articles earlier this year on how this year was progressing, one after the league (here) and one after the Sligo game (here). I’ve just re-read them and you can see the progression in the team between the two articles.
It amuses me that, in all of the analysis of the national level pundits, they have missed a number of fundamental differences in the Mayo forward play this year even though these differences have been hiding in plain sight since the Sligo game. Maybe the pundits cannot see that it is the transition of bringing these differences into our match strategy that caused us to walk a tightrope through the qualifiers.
We were essentially road-testing a new system while playing in a knock-out qualifier system. It’s bloody obvious that doing this would be a white knuckle ride.
So for the benefit of the national pundits, here is what I’m talking about.
Firstly, we have developed the 30m kick pass to a very high level. I was particularly impressed in the drawn game against Kerry, we dropped only two kick passes all day. The rest were straight into the chest. This is a newly developed aspect to Mayo’s game and it has transformed the way we move the ball into the full-forward line in particular.
Secondly, Kevin McLoughlin is now back at No. 10 and is operating at the level where he used to be called the heartbeat of the team. Allied to this Jason Doherty is having the season of his life patrolling the middle ground between the half and full forward lines.
This in turn means that an opposition sweeper is useless as Doherty and McLoughlin are effectively sweeping in the opposition half. This is a totally new development of the modern game.
Thirdly, the ball going into the forwards is much more often reaching the target man when he is faced towards goal and running. This is a nightmare to mark. Allied to this, Andy is playing much closer to goal than previously, meaning that a much higher percentage of his shots and layoffs are bang on the money.
Fourthly, we have abandoned the “start slow, finish stronger” strategy that gave us heart palpitations during the league, in the Connacht championship and the qualifier match against Derry. We are now employing a “start strong, finish as strong as possible” strategy.
And that’s just the forwards!
Further back the field, we have reverted to a six-man back line, only using a spare defender as a sweeper when an opposition attacker goes out the field foraging. That is why the national pundits say that we are not using a sweeper, only to state a few minutes later that one of the backs seems to have been given the sweeper role.
In addition, one of the spectacular elements of the Horan-era game – the attacking half-back line – has been reborn. An interesting aside on this is that our half-back line attacks better from deep. When Kerry defended high up the field in the first game, our half-backs couldn’t get a decent run at them. When they defended deeper the second day, we cut swathes through them.
We also have two of the best man markers in the game in Harrison and Barrett. Expect Andrews and O’Callaghan to get the up close and personal treatment from these lads on Sunday.
On Sunday, I expect Aidan to drop back to provide a three-man centrefield, thereby pulling McMahon out of position. Aidan, however will rotate into the full-forward line occasionally where our forward “sweepers” will ensure that he is not isolated.
On the basis of all of this, I now firmly believe that we are sending the best prepared team possible out to battle on Sunday. We are considerably better than last year. We are playing as a more cohesive unit and the guys coming off the bench fit much more seamlessly into the system.
Along with that we have supporters like no other county. Supporters who have been there for the hard yards over several seasons. Supporters who have found their voices and provide the 16th man in every game.
Last year our heroes were playing with a developing system and we nearly pulled it off. Last year we carried them out on their shields.
I firmly believe that this is our year. I am very confident that this Sunday, we will carry them out on our shoulders as champions!
Keep the Faith!