In May or June each year, the GAA pundits and writers set out a few things that are accepted as unassailable truths for the entire season. Generally there is some evidence that is proffered to support these views, although some of the evidence can be fairly well out of date. Inevitably, one of these “truths” is attached to Mayo.
In the past, it was that we had no marquee forward, that we were shaky under the high ball, that we were slow in midfield – you know the sort of thing I mean. This year, it is our propensity to cough up goals at key times.
There is some evidence to support this. We gave one away at the death against Cork in the league. We had Donegal on the run and gave them one to let them back into it in April. Galway got a couple as well. However, we conceded seven goals in the league this year compared to 16 in 2014. Kerry conceded nine in this year’s league and there is no word about a problem there. Even the three majors by Cork last Sunday doesn’t send the scribes back to their pens.
Strangely it is the one in the second half that we conceded in the final against Dublin two years ago that shows the way that some more lazy commentators first accept the theory and then cherry pick evidence to support it. The fact remains, though, that everyone is now convinced that Mayo cough up goals and, consequently, all opposition for the rest of the year will try to prove this theory.
Photo: Irish Times
In a way, that gives us a slight advantage in that we now know what is coming. So, how do we plan to stop it?
Well, Joe (Rainman) Brolly is actually quite helpful on how to do it. When we lose possession, everyone gets back into position and clogs up the defence to prevent a major, followed by counter-attacking when a turnover is achieved. Jim McGuinness has a similar suggestion, but restricts it to the “middle third” players to get back. It can work – sounds a bit too much like Tyrone’s style for me though.
We have the personnel to employ our own style to this problem, but I think we need to be a bit more innovative in how we set ourselves up. The place to start is the keeper/full-back partnership. People have at various times pointed their fingers at Caff and Robbie when goals went in, but I always thought that individually these two lads were fine. However, as a partnership, they just never exuded confidence. Whoever occupies these positions must have full confidence in each other and know what exactly the other one is going to do.
The next place to go is the man markers. We need two men who will sacrifice their game for the team, in order to negate the dangermen in the opposition. Next you need the guy that tidies up the loose ball and starts the next attack (often this is a tracking-back forward). Then you need the trackers, these are the guys that cover the men breaking through thereby preventing completion of passes. Next you need breakers. These are lads that break the line and can get the ball quickly up the field. Finally, you need the blocker – this is the guy that hits the big shoulder that unceremoniously puts an opposition attacker back on his arse.
What numbers are on their backs is irrelevant but the following are options to fit the roles:
Keeper/Full-Back combination: Hennelly/Keane, Clarke/Keane, Clarke/Caff;
Man-Markers: Caff, Turbo Tom, Barrett, Higgins;
Tidy-up men: McLoughlin, Higgins, Barrett, Coen;
Trackers: Keegan, Donie, Boyler, Keane, Higgins, Coen;
Breakers: Higgins, Barrett, Keegan, Donie;
Blockers: Turbo Tom, Boyler, Donie, Keane.
So we have the men. And we know that everyone will come looking for goals. Knowing the battle plan of the opposition is an advantage. We just need to deploy our forces correctly.
Keep the Faith!