In two recent articles, I raised a number of concerns that caused considerable debate. It is now worth revisiting these concerns to see if anything has changed.
In the first article, before the Galway game, I stated that it was statistically likely that we would have to beat both Kerry and Dublin to get to an All-Ireland final. It’s almost certain now. At the time of writing, I suggested that we were not in a position to beat either of them and gave four reasons for this opinion.
The first reason was that we were less settled as a team than either Dublin or Kerry. I would contend that we are now in a better place, with the same 1 to 9 starting in the last two games and I would contend that this 1 to 9 will continue to hold these jerseys for Kerry.
(I can nearly hear some readers scream PADRAIG O’HORA – I’ll come back to that).
The forwards are still a more movable feast, with question marks over the availability of Ryan O’Donoghue and the need for others to hit top form, so we are still behind overall on this one.
The second reason was that we break too slowly. There has been a slight improvement on that, particularly in the latter parts of the Galway and Kildare games. I would contend that these improvements were achieved through tactical switches, and again, I ‘ll come back to that.
The third reason was that our handling is poor. This has improved, but the number of times we give the ball away is still too high.
The fourth reason was the way we play the ball to forwards with their backs to goal. There has been a considerable improvement in this. Oisín Mullin’s goal the last day is the best case in point, where he got the pass from O’Hora when he was at full speed and bearing down on goal.
So the report card on this one is that we have improved in all four areas. Whether or not the improvement has been significant enough has yet to be seen,
In the second article, I looked at the way we use strategy and tactics. I was struggling to see a match winning strategy.
In the last two matches, there has been more clarity on this.
We no longer leave the backs exposed. We use at least one and sometimes two sweepers. We now work much harder (and smarter) to shut down the channels through which quick ball can come into our D.
This strategy is built on using Aidan O’Shea as a defensive midfielder and keeping at least two extra backs inside our 65 metre line whenever we attack. The role of Stephen Coen as a holding centre-back has also been central to the success of this strategy, which has resulted in clean sheets in both matches.
Coen taking this role has also released McLaughlin to bomb forward. With a bit of finishing practice, this will result in Eoghan getting goals. If Tommy Conroy is a still central part of the squad (albeit injured for now), Eoghan and himself need to be getting more closely acquainted. Eoghan has Tommy’s power in breaking forward. With a bit of Tommy’s coolness in shooting, Eoghan could be the man we are all talking about after the match on June 26th.
There is also a strategy that has been deployed when the other team gets a black card. One of the sweepers becomes an extra attacker and this has delivered significantly more scores in those periods in the Galway and Monaghan matches.
The overall attacking strategy is less clear. In fact, for long periods of the last three games, we failed to trouble the umpires at all. There is more work needed on this.
In relation to tactics, I previously mentioned how Aidan O’Shea was used to create panic by moving closer to the opposing goal late in the Galway match. Something similar was implemented in the Kildare match where Padraig O’Hora was sent on with instructions to follow his man when HE went back to defend.
The result of this Mayo tactic was that the Kildare forward falling back invited O’Hora into the Mayo attack and when Glenn Ryan looks back at this, he will be kicking himself. Once Kildare went on the back foot, there was no need for the two sweepers and the Mayo attack finally clicked into gear.
So the report card here is also positive. Specific strategies are being implemented and are getting results. Tactics are also being deployed to good effect.
So overall where are we?
I would contend that we are in a better place and continuing to improve. Can we go further? We are not expected to, but we often play above expectations when written off. I am still travelling more in hope than in confidence, but the hope is back and it’s building.