Saddle up – the fun is about to begin

I have been meaning to write this since the end of the league, but various other priorities intervened. Now with the run up to Sunday week cranking up, it is worthwhile looking at what we have learned so far this year and looking forward into the summer.

Stephen Rochford did a number of things in a similar way to last year, experimented more in other ways and left us scratching our heads in even more ways.

Let’s look at the similarities first.

In 2016, Lee Keegan spent most of the league as a man marker in the full-back line. He had a cracker of a season thereafter. I suspect that Paddy Durcan (who spent a similar stint in the 2017 league in the full-back line) is being groomed to follow a similar track, possibly releasing Lee to push forward a bit more or to take up the centre-back position.

Like Brendan Harrison last year, Fergal Boland started in the first fifteen in every match. This is clearly designed to give him familiarity with all of the defensive systems of the top teams and to show him where he has to work to hold a regular championship slot. It worked brilliantly for Brendan last year, particularly the way he put former Footballer of the Year Bernard Brogan in his pocket in the drawn All-Ireland last September. Will it work for Fergal this year? I certainly hope so but I suspect that it might be a year too soon. What I love about his play is his foot-passing. It is top notch.

On the experiments, Clarke has worked hard on his kickouts but we have made little or no use of the Mark. We have used a sweeper in some matches but not in others, making us adaptable but unpredictable. (A good thing in my view – keep them guessing!)

We have used several different midfield combinations and all of them have given us options going into the summer but there is a stronger argument than ever for Aidan O’Shea to revert to centrefield. We control the sector when he is there and partnered with Tom Parsons we will be hard to beat in that zone. We have experimented with the concept of finishing stronger and I think that this allowed us to close out matches that were drifting from us. I expect that to become a feature of the way we approach the summer battles.

In general, the foot-passing throughout the team is better and clearly a lot of work has been done on this.

There has been good reason for head scratching.

Firstly, we really have not used the sweeper correctly. We play the sweeper between the two back lines, which is totally ineffective in dealing with the long ball. That is why Clarke is constantly called upon to make the save that keeps us in the game. A sweeper should play 15 metres behind the forward closest to goal, in line with the goal and the outfield position of the ball. If the ball comes in long, the sweeper can then immediately shut down the space and prevent the shot on goal.

Secondly, many of us cannot work out the role of some players. Why is Keith Higgins playing full-back? What is the role of Conor O’Shea?

Thirdly, why is our build-up so slow when we transition from defence to attack? What is causing the problem concerning the rotation of the inside forwards? Sometimes it works but sometimes there is just one in there with three defenders for company. That simply doesn’t work.

Fourthly, an issue that is not changed is the way the ball is received from a pass. In most cases a Mayo forward receives the ball with his back to goal. Every back knows that a forward has to do three things to score, namely: position yourself facing goal, make space, shoot. Prevent any one of these things and you generally stop the score. Consequently, giving a ball to a forward facing goal, with a bit of space, gives the back only one chance, often resulting in a foul. Look at the videos on YouTube of good forwards. It should be essential watching for coaches.

So what’s the prognosis?

I don’t think that there will be any complacency this year in the Connacht campaign. Galway have their tails up and will be planning a warm reception for whoever tries to take their title away. The Rossies are stinging after a very poor league campaign. However, as always (with a large dose of 2016 egg still on my face) I expect to a strong performance from us in Connacht. After that, we need a bit less of the issues that cause the head scratching and evidence of progress to assess how long the season will last. But with everyone saying that we are a top three team the money in Paddy Power is suggesting that we might get as far as meeting Kerry.

Will we? Could we go further? Could this be the year?

Saddle up folks and enjoy the ride.

Keep the Faith!

37 thoughts on “Saddle up – the fun is about to begin

  1. Nice piece with plenty depth and a few nuggets to push around in me head.
    Why do we transition slow?
    1. Lateral handpasses
    2. A lack of top levrl driving force at half forward
    3. Not mastering the running away from goal layoff. In simple terms I receive running out from goal and give straight away to a strong driving runner.
    4. Lack of a dominant midfielder who can also kickpass. Danny Kirby has a great pass on him but is not a dominant midfielder.
    5. Playing the ball into and then back out of the corner forward position a lot. Allowed the full defense get set.

  2. Portugal, who have never won Eurovision in their or our lifetime, struck gold tonight under the famous green and red colours. Dublin and Kerry wet yourselves, the green and red clad cyclone from the west is headed your way

  3. Great analysis and thanks for such a detailed post. I am with Baconfactoryend – never count us out, we are on our way! Croker on September 17!

  4. Yes, Willie Joe, some very interesting and impressive mussing there., I think you your pretty close to the mark .. I think Stephen Rochford and Co are engaging their collective grey matter in the evolution of Mayo,. If we reach the the business end of the championship, the big team’s who we have played many times before, with mixed results, will not have encountered us playing to a different script, that’s the hope anyway. With the relative strength of the top teams, Mayo cannot afford to be predictable! A very good friend of mine who played underage for Mayo with Stephen Rochford, he really really rates Stephen in the intelligence stakes,. After so many years on the road, being so close, so many times, Mayo need to score close their best on a number of counts, Hunger, (should be OK their). Intelligence, Athleticism, Skill, Unpredictability, Physicality, and maybe a bit of luck wouldn’t go astray either !… Let the game’s begin!

  5. The excitement is building in my house. Reading and listening to lot of pieces over the last few days it would appear to me that everyone is writing Mayo off. Galway are going to win Connacht and it’s going to be a Dublin v Kerry final is what most of them predicted. They aren’t expecting anything new from us and that we haven’t unearthed more forwards that we so badly need. I sincerely hope we can prove them wrong and take hope from Leantimes and what he says about Stephen Rochford. Let the games begin. Up Mayo

  6. Good man 4 goals. I agree with a lot of that. Slow movement of the ball is killing us. Receiving possession with your back to the goal is percentage stuff at best. JP your item 3 falls into this category. Just look at all the times that Gouch and O’Donoghue receive possession when they are facing goal and at full tilt.

  7. Tomas made sure to slyly paint Aidan in a bad light which I didn’t like. I agree fully it’s becoming click bait, especially given the way the rest of the article read. The heave coupled with our epic losses over the last few years are the perfect material for media to have a go. They’ll keep writing about it, and will do so more if our lads engage with them. High profile players like Aidan will get the brunt of it.
    If our players insist on continuing to talk with media they need to be more selective and smarter about who it’s to and what is said.

  8. Put Keith Higgins into the half forward line,he has the speed and the intelligence to open up this sector, and give him a licence to roam. There is plenty of cover for the fullback line.
    I agree that Aiden O Shea should play in midfield and Seamus O Shea at no.6.
    This is a good time to try out something new. I am.not been cocky but we have the beating of Sligo, and I am not going to indulge in the bullshit that the Dublin Manager spews when they are up against lesser teams, talking them up when he knows that they haven’t a chance, but all teams should be respected.


  9. Good article but disagree on one point, Aidan simply does not have the pace for the middle of the field in the modern game. His last big game there was 2013 and even since the game has evolved so much. He has to develop his game as a target man and improve his scoring rate.
    O’se and co will always have a pop at Aidan, they know what a threat he is and like the rest of us have half an eye on that possible semi final meeting. (One game at a time blah blah)!

  10. Totally agree with Higgins in half forward line, not a tight enough marker for full back line.

  11. Keith has the remarkable ability to always beat the first tackler. He jogs out and assesses his options. Then sets up some kind of a hop skip and a move and he’s gone.
    Diarmuid Aidan Keith is a very balanced half forward line in my view. Diarmuid might be more suited to 10 allowing him shoot those outside of the boots from the right wing.
    You instruct Aidan and others like Vaughan to run right at the centre back and put him on a yellow.
    Then Keith is given total freedom.
    In this model you give Kevin Mcloughlin a free role in the middle also from corner forward.
    I also like this idea of Seamus at 6 as a pure stopper as long as four of our backs and usually five are sticking. Seamus job would be to stop big runners running centrally at our 45.
    Your other midfielder can drop between the lines at times and back your defenders one on one.
    A freed up Kevin Mc and Keith high up the pitch would be an exciting prospect.

  12. I have long been an advocate of converting one of our very talented half backs into a half forward as a sweeper. My pick of the 4 obvious candidates Higgins, Durcan, Keegan and Nally would be Higgins not because he’s the best point taker but because he moves the ball quicker than any other Mayo player be it kick passes, hand pass or running. He also possesses the best long diagonal kick in the team. Kevin Mc is very good in most of these skills too but prior to 2016 he was the best player at mopping up breaking ball in midfield so without him in that role we lose something. Jason Doc is 2nd best at mopping but he’s not guaranteed a start.

  13. Mayo have historically dominated midfield but not since 2014 coinciding with the evolution of super mobile midfielders like D Moran and Fenton and us moving AOS into forwards as a reaction to what Cluxton did to us on a hot AI final day. That year AOS gave his best ever performance in a Mayo shirt vs Donegal. We see what Murphy gives to Donegal as a midfielder. We have extremely hard working half forwards K Mc and the 2 DOCs who can counter any mobility issues. I’m not saying AOS should spend the full 70 in midfield but around 45 or 50 and then push him into forward line or sub him if the GPS says so. AOS also took the Ausies apart in midfield when used there. We haven’t used the mark in the league but him and Barry are the 2 who will get a lot of marks.

  14. SOS could be tried centre back but that’s pushing Coen and Vaughan back the pecking order which I’m not mad about. My preference is use him as a sub on 45 or 50 mins at least until management knows he’s championship fit as he had a long lay off. We saw in 2014 how lay offs affected big Barry and SOS come heat of late season championship. Midfielders seem to take a bit longer to fit back in because so much is expected off them.
    We have a big panel, why not use it. Use SOS as midfield sub. He would give great momentum coming on. Dublin have used MacCauley in that role and he’s a POTY not very long ago. He usually gives Dubs a momentum shift whereas he runs into blind alleys a bit when used for 70. SOS has huge work rate and physicality but his decision making bar replay last year isn’t that good, too slow to release giving opposition chance to regroup. Dublin have coached MDMA to release quicker too so they’re unwilling to tolerate anything which reduces % chance of score, robotic I know but it’s about results. MDMA still does the blind alley thing a bit but definitely not as often.

  15. Could not disagree more about moving Higgins to the half forwards, this was tried a few years ago when keith was in his prime and it simply did not work. The game passed him by too much when he played there and he doesnt offer much in terms of a scoring threat. Keith is still our best left corner back, at least until someone else has gained some experience in the position. Keith excells by breaking at pace from deep, it suits his game, leave him there. If its deemed that Keith cant hack it in picking up his man anymore then the bench is the place for him, not another position on the field.

    Everyone knows Mayo lack scoring forwards as our record of scores from play shows, putting defenders in the forwards is only going to make that record worse. The only players introduced to the forwards should be actual forward players. We have Boland, COS, Gallagher, Reape, Dorerty,KMc, DOC, Loftus who can play hf and offer something in terms of scores these are the players who need to be considered in forward positions.

  16. I do like the idea of finishing strong.
    We haven’t seen Aidan with the mark. Let’s assume worst case scenario. Warm day against a Kerry or Dublin game duration of 80 mins.
    In that scenario do you start Aidan at midfield for the entire first half. Then with half time plus the first 15 mins of the second half he rests. He comes on again at midfield for the final 25 mins.
    In this way no one witnesses him being subbed.
    From sports science point of view a power athlete like Aidan needs 30 mins to get his heartrate, lactic acid and oxygen deficit back down closer to normal. 15 mins is fine for natural stamina guys like Donal Vaughan or Brendan Harrison.

  17. Was anyone at the castlebar Mitchell’s v claremorris game laStnight ? Claremorris seem to be improving all the time

  18. I think aido back to midfield is a no brainier. That’s where he’s been most impressive the last few years. If he begins to tire either take him off or stick him in full forward where he will not have to run as much.

    I agree that Keith shouldn’t be in the full back line. He wants/needs to attack too much for the full back line. He’d be better suited to half back or sweeper. Converting backs into forwards does not work im afraid and is not going to solve our problems up front. I really hope we can get Ger caff back on form. It will free up so much to have a specialist full back at no.3.

    I’d like to see Doherty started in the full forward line and given a scoring role. He’s a big strong man that carries the ball well and before he was given a workhorse role had a nose for goals. Possibly rotate himself and Andy.

  19. Mayomad I disagree about Keith Higgins- he is no longer our best corner back, Brendan Harrison is. I love Keith but he is now too loose a man-marker, paddy Andrews skinned him in the semi replay 2 years ago! I agree with what you say about his ability to break at speed but that is not the role of a corner back in the modern game, it is the role of a half back. You want your corner backs keeping the corner forwards in their pockets ala Brendan Harrison on Bernard brogan in the drawn final last year. He still very much has a role to play due to his pace, talent, skill and distribution ability but it will not be at corner back in my opinion. Possibly a sweeper role if we go that route would suit his ability.

    Good article four goal Magee and for the most part I agree with your points. However I think your point on the sweeper is a little one dimensional. If he is 15 metres behind the forward closest to goal, he will not be able to sweep and cut out any diagonal ball into the corners or the option of a ball into the full forwards chest. He will simply be there to cut out the high ball option for the opposing team. I believe your sweeper should be deployed 5 metres in front of the full back line with your full back goal side of the full forward to cut out the goal threat and break any high balls for the sweeper then to collect etc.

    Here we go again, it has been a long and lonely winter but we start and go again. That’s what we do, we may fall down but in Mayo we always get back up!

  20. Our time has come, I said Keith is our best left corner back, Harry plays on the right. Keith is still the best available to play on the left. We have the best half back line in the country with Leroy, Paddy, Colm and Stephen, no room there for Keith. IMO A half forward position is out of the question. Keith had no reliable scoring threat. If Keith isnt up to marking his man at corner back then he needs to drop to the bench, there is no other viable option available anywhere else onthe pitch.

    Regarding the sweeper, I dont think Mayo can afford to play with one. Our deficiency in the forwards means we have to play with six players in forward positions. If we had a McManus/Murphy type of player then we can play with a sweeper. Management I think have realised this as they didnt play a sweeper throughout the league. Id like to see Coen play a deep sitting centre back role with midfield protection when without the ball. This leaves us with plenty of defensive protection with six forwards available on the counter, along the lines of

    Harry, Caff, Higgins
    Keegan. Durcan
    KMc, DOC, Boland
    Loftus/COS, Kirby, COC

  21. Slightly off the topic. Our two 16 teams played two Kerry u16 teams in challange games yesterday. I am living here in Kerry and a relation of mine playing with one of the Kerry teams said Kerry won one game 12 pts to no score and a second game 4-12 to 5 pts. These will be our minor (u17 team) next year. In light of the poor minor performances of the last 2 years the alarm bells should be ringing. If it’s not addressed quickly – we will be back in the pack again and might be there for a long time.

  22. Westport were 8-3 up. Then Brian Reape showed his leadership. Swap him and one of our established forwards and Moy Davitts would have lost their last two games likely.
    The proof from matches is so far down the rating of players in Mayo it seems.
    Alan Dillon has been very quiet on the scoreboard and yet no effect on his panel place.
    Jack Reilly another lad always filling his boots.

  23. Jack Reilly is consistently racking up big scores for Charlestown. An injury leading up to the U21 game with Galway ruled him out unfortunately. He’s as comfortable with his left as he is with his right and has loads of pace. He went to the states last summer so was missing from the scene. He’s supposedly staying around this year so watch the match reports, I think he’ll be featuring heavily.

  24. Arguments about SOS at center back, or Keith in the half forward line, are relevant, but not as relevant as in years gone by.. Eg Donie Vaughan played with No 3, on his back, in the All Ireland final and replay, he played well for a game and a half until he got injured just before half time in the Replay, but I can’t recall him playing in the full back position at any stage, I can recall him scoring two points, not typical for a full back. Dublin played with a No14 but not a traditional full forward. If Dublin were to have played a traditional full forward eg Eoghan O Gara, I sure Stephen Rochford had a plan for that scenario as well. The opposition are unlikely to tell us what their plans and formation before a match. But if there is a criticism of the James Horan era, it had to be that Mayo were very predictable, the most overworked attacking half backs in the history of the GAA. The current situation with Mayo will in my opinion be much more fluid. I remember Tyrone back in 2005, Owen Mulligan was playing out of his skin in the half forward line, easily the best half forward in the game for 2005, Except for in the All Ireland final, Mickey Harte pulled a rabbit out of the hat and Owen Mulligan played out of his skin in the half back line, except for the one vital lay off to Peter Cavanan. where he fielded the ball in the full forward position, in a very rare but very effective foray into the forwards. for a superb goal,. I think we very well could see SOS with a No 6 jersey, but he could be really playing midfield. Ditto with Keith… Dublin are pretty fluid, with their positions,. Their 6 starting forwards tend to stay forwards but the role of the forwards changes from match to match, keeping opposition guessing,. Where Dublin have a serious advantage is in the role of their Subs, especially their foward subs, where they almost always make an impact when required, these subs are adaptable and do not play the same role two times in a row.. Kerry are the most traditional team, but capable of change as well… I think best team’s have figured out how to beat the blanket by now, but the game will continue to evolve.

  25. Stating that Higgins has been tried and not worked is untrue. One example is he was causing Dublin lots of problems in 2013 final until Tom C’s injury brought him back to CB. True hasn’t been consistent scoring threat but we’ve also seen him hit a few really long ones and score goals over the years.
    Most of us here aren’t suggesting he spend much time in forwards anyway, what people are saying is sweeper. For that role a forward has to be sacrificed and last year that was Kevin Mc. The sacrificed forward won’t score much because they have to work so hard. Indeed the 1st final last year we had young DOC doing a lot of sweeping job too especially in 1st half. Boland has promise but would we risk him from QF on… doubt it, he’s very light. COS putting a good case and Nally is an intelligent footballer and trying to find a role for J Doc will be trick. Loftus not showing yet in Club scene, sounds lime Reape has maybe overtaken him so would be reluctant there. There ‘s competition but for me out of that lot Keith still the best option but only if management are happy with backup plans in FB line. Wouldn’t be chancing the Castlebar lads in FB line yet bar P Durcan as the emergency measure.

  26. AOS hasn’t the gas for midfield yet….he missed the majority of the league sure. Could be an option later in the year though.

  27. SOS is a fine midfielder but I dont see the purpose of him at center Half Back .

    He ‘s not mobile enough, not a great passer , Not going to add much on the overlap.
    Thats no disrespect to Seamie, he has a role in this team and for me its as a sub/starting holding midfielder .

    Coen/Kevin Mc are our best options at 6 I think and thats even ahead of Boyle.
    No.6 will restrict Keegan too much .

    I agree Higgins is too loose and we would get more out of him further up the field .
    If fit Barrett and Harrison are our best cornerbacks. I would even see a tole for Boyle as a corner back .

    In my opinion
    Higgins__Kevin Mc__Durkan

  28. Yes OOB and others, I think half back line gives Higgins scope to take out opposing players, set up others, or score himself if he gets directly on goal. He’s not a classic forward who will take a pot shot under pressure and score, which he would be forced to do at half forward. The thing is now for Rochy and co to maximise the talent that is there.

  29. Shuffly Deck, Keith has only ever scored one goal for Mayo (against Tyrone in the league I believe) and only gets a point or two each year, so little scoring threat overall. Sweeper is an option for him but KMc did very well in that role last year and should Mayo use a sweeper he would be the obvious choice, not training in a new one. I really dont think Mayo will use a sweeper this year, didnt use on in the league even v dublin so suggests Rochford is going a different direction this year.

    Keegan, Boyle, Durcan are the best half back line in the country and Mayos strongest area where much is built around, it would be madness to break that up. Leeroy is the best half back around, won player of the year from there, his whole game is built on hard running from deep, thats what gives him the space to attack and score. Leeroy would not be anywhere near as effective in the half forwards where room is limited and playing back to goal more. Mayos defence was very good last year and will be this year if we keep it in place, not have a party reshuffle and basically start from scratch. Championship is not the place to be testing new defensive formations.

    Mayo needs to keep whats working, and alter whats not, mainly the forwards. Faster ball into the full forward line with more movement and pace around the goal, then we will be very competitive.

  30. Colm Boyle was tried at corner back before and it really didn’t work. Against Kildare in the league he ran in headless making a 2 on 1 a 3 on 1 and the forward skipped the ball out the side to his unmarked man for a goal. Corner back is one of those positions needs to start when you are playing underage. It needs total paranoia in terms of marking and being aware of threat to your goal.
    Stephen Coen finished the league really strong. I thought he was having a lot of impact on the game. A lot more fluency in his soloing when he breaks forward. In his early game he was almost over soloing on every step with a lack of confidence. Now he really stretches out his stride and puts the shoulders back.

  31. It’s nice to keep club stuff going on a separate thread from the main thread. Well done Swinford on beating Louisburgh yesterday in Division 1C. I thought that was the result of the weekend. It would be a healthy thing for East Mayo to see a stronger Swinford. The traditional Foxford/Swinford/Charlestown/Kiltimagh rivalries were what used to drive on East Mayo football at all levels. It would suprise you the pick/population that is in the full hinterland of all those four clubs combined.

  32. Just wondering JP if you’d like to throw Ballaghaderreen into the mix there for driving East Mayo forward considering they have won two championships in the last ten years. Ironically more then every other club in East Mayo combined.

  33. Yes Ballaghadereen are in the mix of course. But was more I was referencing that those four had fallen back at underage in particular. They used to be consistently Division one or two clubs at underage. Ballaghadereen were more rivals with Charlestown. The other four were derby matches even with Moy Davitts not bordering Charlestown.
    Charlestown are holding the line well at senior.
    It is to the benefit of East Mayo if the other three can improve.

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