OpinionPat Spillane

Sam old sad tale for Mayo

Pat SpillaneBy Pat Spillane
Sam old sad tale for Mayo

MAYO REMAIN on course for their fifth Connacht title in a row, but the key question is whether Gaelic football’s perennial bridesmaids can finally reach the promised land in 2015.

Based on what we witnessed in Salthill I remain sceptical.

At best it was a workmanlike performance. They owed their victory to their superior physicality and experience, the scoring burst of 1-3 just after half-time and, most importantly, the wonderful contribution of Aidan O’Shea when he was on the edge of the square.

O’Shea’s personal statistics made for impressive reading: He had 19 possessions – only his brother Seamus had more – and he was first in the tackle count with eight and first with assists (7). Quite simply, he was at the heart of everything that Mayo did well.

Otherwise, though, it was a case of same old, same old... The same personnel, pretty much the same tactics, bar O’Shea on the edge of the square, and the half-backs staying more in situ.

The concession of two soft goals highlighted weaknesses in Mayo’s defensive strategy. The inability to stop Donegal and Dublin from scoring goals cost them the 2012 and 2013 All-Ireland finals. While a new management team has taken over, nothing has really changed.

The full-back position remains problematic. It doesn’t really matter who fills the No.3 shirt, the real problem is that he’s left isolated.

There was little evidence of forwards tracking back into defensive positions when they lost the ball and not enough pressure on the Galway kickers, who were afforded loads of space.

Mayo’s new forward plan has its limitations as well. There is a danger of them becoming one-dimensional by hitting O’Shea all the time and potential All-Ireland champions need to be kicking more than seven points from play.

Between them, Diarmuid O’Connor, Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin got one point, while in the first-half only two Mayo forwards, O’Connor and Andy Moran, had a shot on goal.

Galway can take a lot of positives: They showed a great attitude, worked hard and were competitive to the end. Gary Sice’s goal will be a contender for Goal of the Year.

However, they played most of the game on the back foot and they fouled far too much, handing eight soft frees to Cillian O’Connor (below).

They wanted to get physical with Mayo to prove that they’re no longer a soft touch, but this was a battle they were simply never going to win.

They’re going to have to score more, as they managed only three scores in the second-half and no point from play.

Ultimately it was a moral victory for Kevin Walsh’s side – they never looked like winning the game.

Meanwhile, in Leinster, I fear for whoever wins the semi between Meath and Westmeath. They face a hammering from Dublin which could set football back in either county for years.

We learned nothing new about the Munster big guns, Kerry and Cork. The winning margin in their respective matches was bigger than I expected, though.

Cork will take heart from the fact that they won comfortably without Brian Hurley or Colm O’Neill shooting the lights out, but they will worry how their defence coughed up five goal chances.

As for Kerry, Eamonn Fitzmaurice summed it up best when he said that they got the result but not the performance. Much improvement is needed before the Munster final.