What cost us and what lies ahead?

He’s been previewing matches right through the championship season but I’m now delighted to welcome JPM back into the guest slot to provide his considered analysis on the All-Ireland final and where we go from here.

When Donegal took to the field the first impression I got was how big they physically were. I mean they looked gigantic. It wasn’t the tight jerseys or anything else to make them intentionally appear bigger than they were. It was a simple fact. To me they appeared bigger than Cork.

Paddy McBrearty and his frame came into view. I then glanced at the programme and according to his dimensions Paddy was around 12 or 13 stone. I thought – fuck that! No way can that be accurate.  Then the rest of the team began jogging up and down in front of me.  And apart from Mark McHugh they all looked enormous. The conclusion I came to was that the program was bollox. These guys may have been those heights and weights at one stage, but they were now different beasts.

Then they began their warm-ups. Racing up and down the field at 100 miles an hour, hand-passing from left to right – again and again. I glanced at our lads and we were comfortably kicking balls around and over the bar and trying to stay relaxed before the match.

Were we too relaxed before this All-Ireland? If we analyse the tactics for the game it must be said that Jim McGuinness got his calls right from the start. Putting Michael Murphy into the FF line and pulling out McBrearty left a two-on-two with loads of space for the big men to exploit. We all acknowledge in hindsight that we should have had a cover man back there. But it was too late putting him in after 15 minutes or so. The damage was already done.

Liam McHale expressed in an article that the team were lacking proper preparation for the game. This was highlighted and castigated by some. However the fact is that Liam was only expressing his opinion. I think he was right to come out and say it at the outset. James did get it wrong in not having an extra defender on the full-back line. I also think a lot of the article can be put down to just pure frustration and initial disappointment. Let’s be honest about it. Every Mayo fan reading this was frustrated and disappointed after that All-Ireland.

The second question is were we physically able for this Donegal team? Personally I implied in my match preview that I thought we were not given enough credit for beating Dublin and that their second-half comeback was as much down to our lads going off injured as anything else.

However now in hindsight I did not give enough credit to the pace, ferocity and intensity of the Dublin second half display. We simply couldn’t (and really didn’t) live with it. This is the same intensity that Donegal brought to the final – except it was there from the outset of the match.  And like it or not, again we couldn’t live with it. We did have strategies in place to deal with the Donegal counter attack in holding back our half-back line to stop their obvious numerical counter-attacking breakthroughs.

However Donegal were still able to get up and down the pitch at ease. And they didn’t seem to run out of steam at all. Even when we broke them down in our defence and tried our own quick counter-attacks, they were there time and again to dismantle us. Donegal have a fabulous rearguard system where they seem to have spare men always available to tackle anyone.

People on the site have claimed that Andy Moran would have been the difference inside however I disagree. Fantastic and all as Andy is he cannot do it on his own. And the simple fact was that Mark McHugh was always there to mop up any low ball going through the middle alongside Neil McGee ably taking care of everything else that came in over the top.

Also we were all told about how fit our team are but there is no way are we the fittest team in the country. Dublin based on their second half are above us and Donegal are simply three or four rungs further up the ladder again. I remarked to several people after the match that this Donegal team would probably beat any of the provincial rugby teams. They are just that fit and physical.   I don’t know what Donegal are doing or taking to reach this level of physical strength and fitness. (Frankly to me it’s actually suspicious).

What do we have to do to catch up to them? I’m not sure but matching Donegal’s physicality and fitness is key to competing at the same level. And all the top counties are definitely thinking the same. Because realistically if you are punching above your weight you can probably live for 40 (maybe 50) minutes. Eventually however you will become exhausted and collapse.

The problem for Mayo (even more so now that we have lost Cian O’Neill) is to first of all regroup and then re-focus and strive to continue up the ladder. The bigger problem is there is a chance after this defeat that we will either remain at the plateau we’re currently at, or worse – slip off it back to where we were two or even three years ago.

So what else beat us? Well if you have reviewed the match once more you must have noticed how difficult it was for our lads to get scores from play. Kevin McLoughlin had to beat nearly 3 men before he got our opener and that was a hurried kick with three more Donegal guys bearing down on him. It’s a testament to the guy that he has the ability under that level of pressure to kick from the outside of the boot over the bar. It was the same with both Michael Conroy’s and Enda Varley’s points from play in the first half. Both were phenomenal kicks from very difficult angles and under astonishing pressure. The same can be said of our scores from play in the second half. Richie Feeney for example was again under incredible pressure in getting off that shot.

However you can’t hope to keep depending on inspirational scores like these throughout 70 minutes. Any easier opportunities must also be converted. And we missed several kickable frees. In the first half Enda and Cillian both chose to kick from the hand and missed one free apiece. Michael Murphy elected to kick his frees off the ground in the second half from the same distance and scored them. And in the process he kept Donegal ticking along.

Enda missed a vital free early in the second half as well. Make no mistake now; I’m not singling him out for personal criticism. In my opinion none of our big name guys played or were allowed to play their best games. Donal, Keith and Alan were all largely anonymous in the match or were simply not allowed get on the ball enough to have a serious impact on the game. And to win an All-Ireland you simply have to have your top players performing at their best and displaying this on the field.

Donegal also did get the luck in this All-Ireland. The second goal was a real dagger in the gut for us. Some people chose to blame the referee for that goal but that’s simply not accurate. Sure, it was a free for Cillian at the other end however the ball passed through at least 6 Donegal players before it came back off the post to be knocked fortuitously into McFadden’s hands for that shot. No way can you blame the ref for that. It was bad defending and bad luck that surrounded that goal.

Finally there have been a lot of the comments in the past week or so regarding feelings going forward after losing this All-Ireland.  Certainly people are probably justified to reflect on their position especially considering what has befallen us in the last 25-odd years.  So, yes, I can see where many are coming from on being downcast. But, folks, no way can we let it rule us. Jesus we’re fragile enough but for a GAA person to become indifferent towards his/her county in an All-Ireland final is probably the worst scenario imaginable.

So finally let’s examine a couple of questions regards ourselves.

Q. Who are we in GAA terms?

A. We’re a county somewhat stranded out on the West coast who can compete at the top but are usually beaten in All-Ireland finals.

But Fuck Me we’re one resilient bunch of bastards!!  Lord knows we have been in this position before and have always come back from it. And this is one thing that they can never take off us.

Q. Can the team get up and do it once more? This is the bigger question.

A.  Certainly this team is young enough and there is undoubtedly enough other talent in the county if we can only harness it and find the right balance.

Personally I would issue a call to arms to fellas who have been there in recent years and have fallen by the wayside a little. They need to consider coming back to re-enforce this team. We need to get back up there and compete. It’s who we are and frankly, it’s where we should be.  We have proved in the past two years of James Horan’s tenure that we can take down and beat any other team in the country.

So our county has to move on from this setback, and refuse to back down. As Mayo GAA people we all know what we desire most. It’s perpetuated in our blood and you can’t get rid of it no matter how much draining you do. The draw for the 2013 championship takes place this Thursday evening folks and that’s when we should be starting to look forward once more! After all it’s only one of the things our magnificent county deserves.

20 thoughts on “What cost us and what lies ahead?

  1. thats a good piece.
    what players from the last few years are you talking about?
    i watched the game a few times since and think Mayo were well able for donegal, really i do.they were bouncing off aiden o se like bowling pins and mayo were football wise as good if not better though the passing to the ff line let us down badly.
    Mayo have some class players and realistically will be very competitive for the next few years, whether that will be enough to win Sam who knows.
    Having seen Murphy and donaghy reduce our chances in the last 2 finals purely because of their size should open our eyes, to the danger and to the oportunity a bigger player at ff would have if isolated on a fb.

  2. If anyone is interested, I will put any money down that Donegal won’t win the All Ireland next year.

  3. I’d agree with you on the size issue JPM – these guys looked huge and were huge however for me there was only one place that this seemed to matter – at FF – We lost every high ball that went into McGee that Day. I’d agree with David above as I think we were more than a match for them in open play once the match settled down – There had been a lot of talk that the match would be very cagey to begin with and how we all wish we had played it that way – If we get back there again soon we just have to play defensive for the 1st 15min and simply give ourselves a chance to win a final. I think when JH sees the video one thing he will surely pick up on was how quickly JMcG made changes – Bradley lasted no time at all in the 2nd period after losing 1 ball I think.
    Finally lets take our cue from Aiden O ‘Shea when he said before the final that he felt this would be the first final he would contest and there would be more to come !

  4. JPM………That’s a very very good reflection and analysis which I have fully digested, and I must thank you for your great honesty there in that assessment…….

    Yes, it looks like teams must now seriously beef up and develop even further heights of fitness to be competitive, but to our team’s credit, I saw a lot of great qualities on the field on AIF day that for me weren’t there in 2004/06…….Regardless of the loss, the obvious errors in hindsight etc., our team was very well prepared, were well up for it, and noticeably much freer of the crippling nerves that choked their predecessors…..To me that’s a huge development, a belief that you’re good enough to win it…….That’s critical…..Now I’d be a fool to believe that we’d banished all of the inferiority complexes that haunted us for years, and which I believe were the key contributors to previous near misses…..and some not so near………..No, with Mayo there will always be a degree of that until we land the big one..We must learn to deal with that for once and for all……..

    But your point re Mayo resilience is so accurate………We’ve long since been to the bottom in terms of post-AIF morale and utter dejection and the only way now is up…..Sure morale was on the floor, say in 96/97…….and certainly again in 04/06, but not so this time, in my opinion, and why ??….because the Mayo faithful realise that there’s the core of a very good team there……a work in progress that should be fully developed now, whatever it takes.Let’s take it match by match over the Winter and in Championship 2013 and get back up there among the big fish for another shot at the title asap.

    As Diehard said on a previous thread, you need a couple of ‘killer forwards’…..Let’s find them…..

  5. An interesting analysis there but there are a few things you need to consider
    This Donegal team have put in a phenomenal effort to get where they are.The suggestion that there might be something sinister in their development is IMO very wide of the mark and totally misses some very fundamental points about the system they use .
    There is a very professional company behind the training and every scientific process is employed to develop maximum performance .
    For instance the players have been given food at specific times in order to maximise the release of energy when it is most required.
    This is the level of detail into which the Donegal system goes.
    It’s obvious that Jim had his homework done on Mayo and nothing was left to chance.
    The luck ran with Donegal but you make your own luck by hard graft.
    There is every chance that Mayo can pretty much replicate what Donegal have done this year and I think 2013 could well be the time to do it.
    Speaking to somebody very closely related to the Donegal team on the night before the AIF He told me that the effort put in this year was taking a massive toll on the players that he hoped they would win as he did not believe they could do the same again next year.
    I believe that Sam will be up for grabs next year and Mayo will be well placed to go for it if they continue to take a professional approach .
    James Horan needs to look at anything and any body that can give us an edge . from sports science to diet fitness conditioning tactics mental preparation visualisation and just plain good old hard graft. Hopefully the boys are up for it and the hurt this year drives them on . It’s going to be an interesting journey come what may.

  6. I think there’s one point missing from the above, the donegal ‘demigods’ could never make their system work without a very good lead against our lads and the evidence of this is how rattled they got when we ate into their lead late into the first half.
    The lesson that ( and I think all the other big counties) ourselves will harbour for next year will be ,to get a good lead and then they will have to come out to play. I think this attack minded method is what JH had in mind but we kicked off too early, agree as above ‘contain them for the first 15 mins, settle and above all chances must be taken. ….

  7. Good analysis JPM – well done. Pure hyperbole on your part I presume to suggest that ‘this Donegal team would probably beat any of the provincial rugby teams’ – different sport, different physical demands, completely different conditioning required.

    Donegal were very well conditioned and their fitness levels were impressive even in the last quarter of the match. Their conditioning is 100% tailored to their gameplan. The good news is that physical conditioning can be matched – it requires enormous commitment from the panel but the rewards are massive. It also breeds confidence in players – and can work to intimidate the opposition. Mayo are a year behind Donegal, Cork, & Dublin in this regard and JH & co know this. We all read JH’s post match quotes – a number of players approached him about conditioning programmes for next season. This will be addressed. It won’t be an issue.

    We need 2 scoring forwards – this is an issue. We need to find an out and out Full Forward (no converted midfielders please!) and a dependable centre half forward. Preferably both 6 footers with pace.

    In my view we lost the AIF due to two major factors. 1) the loss of Andy Moran. I disagree w/ JPM. His leadership, vision for a pass, and creativity was missed in the FF line. He brings players into the game and is very composed on the ball. – a great decision maker 2) we blew our chance to swing the game in our momentum in the 3rd quarter when we missed 3 point scoring opportunities – if all of these were scored it would have asked serious questions of Donegal. These opportunities didn’t present themselves again.

    This Mayo will be back though. They will finish the job next year. Think Dublin in ’93 (lost semi to Derry), 94 (lost final to Down), 95 (won it, beat Tyrone).

  8. Good article JPM. I agree with almost all your points, especially about honesty assessing the final.

    While I admire the work JH has done, we have to admit that JMcG won the tactical battle ‘hands-down’. I am not trying to be smart here, but I think McG is probably the first really ‘professional’ manager in GAA. Unlike Gilroy, Harte or O’Connor, coachng is his primary focus and the level of planning, video analysis and preparation etc is at a different level to Mayo and I think any other county. I really admire what he has achieved.

    Another point is that we were never going to score goals against Donegal, with our without Andy. To break down that Donegal defence either requires ‘out-muscling’ them, a task for which we (or anyone else, even Cork) dont have the players) or out-pacing them with very fast players and very fast ball movement. (we dont have these players in our forwards either, with the exception of M Conroy and KMcL)

    For me the forwards/ need an overhaul before we can win an AI
    Mcloughlin, Dillon and Andy are certs. After that?
    For me – Michael Conroy should be kept as he added something new this year.
    + 1 / 2 new forwards, bringing either serious pace or serious size/strenght to the table.
    Cillian – Good player, great free-taker: Scores the 45s we have missed for so many years. What his best position or role from play though?

  9. size and strenght are what murphy and mcfadden have, neither are great footballers like cooper or mattie ford are. if i was horan i would be looking today for a fella six foot 3 or more with muscle that can be parked near the goal and left isolated for short periods of the game.
    this crack about mayo being a year behind donegal barely stacks up. what if mayo had used an extra man in the fullback line and stopped murphy and if keane had not dropped the ball for mcfaddens goal?
    there was little to pick between Mayo and donegal, the goals won it, without the goals mayo had the measure of them. review the game and its clear. tactically we were caught out for one goal, luck made the other goal.
    Horan is lucky to have players asking him for workout schedules, its shows they mean business.

  10. Well, as regards playing a big man up front, we tried it last Sunday week with Aiden, we tried it again last spring v Kerry in the league semi final with Barry neither could be deemed a success. Conroy done a reasonably good job against Donegal’s virtully impregnable system. If we had a fully fit Andy Moran sharing the load who knows what would have happened? We are not too far off with what we have! Some players especially in the forwards have to improve or be replaced. Against Donegal we did not have the strength on the bench that we needed. True Conor Mortimor had left the panel and Andy was injured, but was Conor the awnser? well it would have been good have him, he might well have nailed 2 missed frees out on the left, now we will never know. In the All Ireland final at that intense level I dont think Jason Doherty got on enough ball to make a contribution to our cause, anyhow he’s certainly not a CHF, James Horan’s selection;s were hampered by injury, by Conor’s absence and by the lack of form of Freeman, none of which he can be blamed for. But still he should have made changes sooner in that area, with Feeny only getting 17 minutes, we did not get enough from him in terms of time on the pitch.He has to be fair one of our best performers. Had he been played regurarly I think we would be talking of a All Star nomination at least. We also need to get a little more from Cillian in terms of general play, he is only 20 years old, but what a free taker, what nerve he has! I think its a matter for the players, if they put in the same commitment, tweek a few things here and there, this team has now played at the most intense level there is, they and the managment will learn from the experience. Barry Moran is surly Mayo’s most improved player this last 12 months, others can take a leaf out of his book and bring their own game up several notch’s too. They will need to, allot of talent in Mayo right now and Horan’s not shy about giving some one else a chance. Its the way it has to be, James Horan’s team will not be known as sentimantal, no sacred cows or protected species. It was’nt always the case, the glass is still more than half full. We are one of the teams cabale of winning Sam in 2013, you cant ask for more in october.

  11. JPM, well written peice but I cant agree with you. The difference between the teams was effectively one goal, that one goal was either the first one which was an excellent tactical move from mcGuiness and great play from Murphy or pure good luck with the bounce off the post.
    I know we lost by 4 points, but take one of those goals out of the equation and you are taking a whole different ball game. For example we would have been level at half time and right down to the wire it would have been neck and neck. We could have nicked it quiet easily as bar the Tyrone game, Donegal hadnt been in that situation. We had.
    Now I know by saying “if they didnt score those goals” we’re getting into the relam of fantasy, but your contention seems to be that we couldnt live with them and I think we more than lived with them and had them quiet worried for long periods of time. We could have ratatched up the pressure big time if the scores had only been closer. Many times in both halves they came away with the ball but couldnt get past the 45, many times they were dispossed and the Donegal people around me were getting quiet pissed off with their team over that. We won midfield handy based on the stats of the game.
    Problem is, everyone views every game through the lens of the result. And thats only right, winner takes it all. However I dont agree at all with your assesment that we were that far off the pace. Whats most annoying is that we could quiet easily have won that game only for making a tactical mistake in the first few minutes and suffering from two peices of misfortune along the way, Andy’s injury and a poxy bounce off a post and bounce out of a players hands. I dont believe Kevin Keane could have colleded that ball by the way, he knew feck all about it.
    I’m not saying the misfortune is the annoying peice, the tactical peice is.
    ANd what really annoys me, is that we’ve been 62 years trying to win this fecken thing, and Donegal just wake up one morning 2 years ago and come up with a plan to do it. WTF is that all about? Fair play to them, but it sickens my hole 🙂
    And the “players need to be bigger” chat is the same owl shite that McHale was talking about after 2006 about looking at the Kerry’s players calf muscles and looking at ours and knowing we were f*cked because of that. Big and all as they might be, thats not what beat us.

  12. Sorry, I’m just after realising that I said above exaclty what David said except he said it alot more succiently and clearly!

  13. There is no point in playing a target man against a packed defence. You take your points from out on the wings. If in desperate need of a goal, desperation stuff, you need to get someone with the capability to bulldoze through and shoot from the 13.

    How often in a packed midfield do you see someone cleanly fetch a ball, turn on a six pence and play a lovely kickpass into the corner? Remarkably rarely, considering it is rare to cleanly fetch the ball anyhow, and if you do, you get swallowed up, fouled, or handpass it off backwards or sideways.

    The target man has it’s place, in an open game of football where there less than 2 extra defenders back inside their 30. Other than that, your stacking the odds against yourself.

  14. I won’t deny for one minute that it could have been so different if we had taken those frees and not conceded that lucky goal. But I don’t think anyone can deny either that Donegal were the fitter team and that they brought more intensity to the game than us.
    Look at Cillian for example early on where he could have got a red card. But the question must be asked, why did he lash out? It’s not in his nature to do this as he is a real cool customer.
    In my mind it’s because he was clearly intimidated by the ferociousnesses of that Donegal tackling. But he wasn’t singled out for particular attention. Donegal continued with this approach towards every single one of our forwards for the entire game with that same ferocity.
    See WJs pic. above for a prime example. That photo was not taken inside the 14 yard line. That was nearer the 45. See the amount of Donegal players on top of our man. All our scores from play well were taken under incredible pressure with 4 or 5 backs always bearing down on the player in possession.
    Also take Barry Moran’s attempt in the second half. All year he has been nailing those but in this game it was different. He was running like the hammers of hell to find a yard of space and in the end he had to take on the shot at full speed off his weaker left foot because otherwise he would have been simply dispossessed.
    Our management needs to have the players and find a plan to handle and defeat that level of ferocity.

  15. I cannot fully agree JPM. Most of our lads were well able for them physically. One or two lacked mobility and stamina
    What really cost us?
    1.The difference between the two teams was Murphy and McFadden scoring two goals (and they could have scored 2 more) and our inability to deal with them. The flip side was we didnt have a Murphy or McFadden. We did score more points than them 13 as opposed to 11.
    2. Our midfielders were not mobile enough or agile enough on the day to cover their runners and make the tackles

    The future:
    1. Put AOS at FF and coach him how to play there – he certainly has the ability
    2. Put AM, KOC and KMcL up front as well (only 4 forwards)
    3 Put SOS BM JG and RF at midfield (yes 4 midfielders with a good mix of skills! Build a stone wall across the 65M line)
    4 Bring KH to centre half back
    5 Train our FB and HB line to cope with the high ball into big men
    6 Win six championship matches and start the celebrations

    Jazuz lads it couldnt be simpler!

  16. Must agree with east cork exile. We were much closer to Doneagl than JPM is giving us credit for. Lets not get too hung up on having all these 6 foot plus guys and doing weights twenty times a week, etc. Physicaly we pretty much matched them. They way the deployed their players made a difference alright. I believe we would have beaten them if we had not conceded the 2nd goal and the subs were brought on in time. I don’t but into this “Donegal are an amazing team and lets all copy them”. I think we are as good as them now, if the right tactics and team was playing.
    I would be amazed if that Donegal team wins the All Ireland in 2013.
    We are close, KH to centre back. McHale in the corner.
    Andy back at 14. Not sure about 11 or who to parent AOS at midfield.

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