Like most Mayo supporters, I was really disappointed coming out of MacHale Park on Saturday. I was disappointed for the lads themselves because I would have thought that they really are better than they looked but I was particularly disappointed by the lack of any coherent strategy for winning the game. There might have been a strategy there, and from my own coaching I know that a plan can work one day and not be evident at all the next day, but there were things that disturbed me about how the team was set up.
Firstly, Eric Lee, the Galway no. 10 had our no. 5 Paul Lambert on the back foot from the off. Lee was playing as an extra centrefielder and Lambert was clearly out of position. In addition, the Galway no. 14, Michael Boyle, was playing as a link man between midfield and the half-forward line. As a result, our no. 3, Tommie Keane, (already conceding a considerable height advantage to Boyle) was also dragged out the field into unfamiliar territory.
When Barry Duffy got injured early on, he was treated on the sideline for several minutes leaving Jonathan Burke as our sole centrefielder (and he was a late replacement before the off for David Hanley). Barry subsequently came back on but had difficulty walking, let alone running, and was eventually replaced.
Effectively, we played with one replacement centrefielder against a Galway team that had four lads operating in that area for nearly 15 minutes during which time they hit us for six points without reply. There was no strategy employed to crowd centrefield while our man was being treated, there was no move to address the problems with the match-ups until over 20 mins in, when Paul Lambert was called ashore, by which time the gap had stretched by two further points. At that stage, the horse was well down the field and the door was still swinging open.
I spoke to a couple of knowledgeable Mayo GAA men afterwards, both of whom expressed the opinion that the training of the Mayo lads had been top drawer. I got the feeling, however, that while they might have been well trained, they were not well coached. This is an issue that the County Board must address when it decides on its underage strategy for next year.
There is currently no evidence of a link up across the minor, U21 and senior grades. And there hasn’t been one for a long time. Consequently, it is very hard to bring the much needed talent through to replace the senior lads that will eventually step down.
Contrast this with Kerry. I remember talking to a Kerryman about a minor team who were playing in an All-Ireland final some years ago. Before the game, the senior manager visited the dressing room with this message:
“Relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Give it everything for the pride of the jersey. And don’t worry about if that’s not enough to win. The important thing is to get the nerves out of the way today, so that when ye come back again as seniors, ye can then concentrate on winning Sam”.
Kerry appointed Jack O’Connor, one of its best coaches and a work colleague of Eamon Fitzmaurice, to its minor team last year. They won the All-Ireland. He stayed with them this year and already they have secured the 2015 Munster crown. In addition, Kerry have moved to put O’Connor in charge of the U21s next year while we are talking about giving Pat and Noel our U21s.
We are adopting the wrong strategy. The County Board should consider appointing one person with a coordination role for all the inter-county teams. Minor, U21 and senior squads should be looked as levels of progression, with development from one level to the next being a primary objective. There’s a saying that if you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you’re getting. We have to change what we’re doing or we are going to keep getting more Saturdays like last Saturday. Coaches should work to a single long-term plan, with success at the earlier ages being used to build confidence as senior winners in the future.
Keep the Faith!