'Groundhog Day' | 

Mayo need a fresh approach and better forwards to win an All-Ireland

“Actor Bill Murray, the star of Groundhog Day was in Thurles for the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals. He should have been in Croke Park because Mayo’s performance had a Groundhog Day feeling to it”
Mayo boss James Horan and Kerry manager Jack O’Connor

Mayo boss James Horan and Kerry manager Jack O’Connor© SPORTSFILE

Donal Vaughan had a rush of blood to the head in 2017

Donal Vaughan had a rush of blood to the head in 2017© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

I could patronise Mayo.

I could write about their great supporters, the players’ warrior-like spirit; the fact they were missing two of their best forwards in Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy. About their leaders in all sectors and how the team is in transition and why Sunday’s defeat was just another bad day at the Croke Park office for this group of players.

All that would be avoiding the elephant in the room.

There is one single reason why Mayo has not won an All-Ireland title in 63 years. They have never had a sufficient number of top quality forwards in any one team.

Even before last Sunday’s loss to Kerry, there were tell-tale signs that this Mayo team under James Horan had run its race.

The vibes from the training pitch were poor; morale was reported to be low and there was a significant drop off in the number of Mayo fans in Croke Park last Sunday compared to previous years.

Regular readers know I have used the following quote many times to describe Mayo.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”

I make no apologies for repeating it today, because it sums up Mayo to a tee.

Actor Bill Murray, the star of Groundhog Day was in Thurles for the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals.

He should have been in Croke Park because Mayo’s performance had a Groundhog Day feeling to it.

All the issues which have prevented them winning an All-Ireland in the last decade cropped up again.

In the early stages against Kerry, Mayo did deploy a kicking game, using Jack Carney as their target man – and they enjoyed some success with it.

But as soon as the Kerry pressure came on, they reverted to type – and became over-reliant on their running game.

Their poor game-management, bad decision-making and lack of composure coming down the home stretch came back to haunt them.

What’s frustrating is that all these issues have been highlighted before.

We can go back to the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry in 2014 – when corner-back Tom Cunniffe had a Hail Mary shot for a point that dropped short and gave the ball back to the Green and Gold to secure the levelling point.

Had Cunniffe passed the ball to one of Mayo’s recognised scorers, or at least held on to possession, Mayo would have been in the All-Ireland final that year.

And there I’m convinced they would have beaten a Donegal team that was still high in the clouds after their famous semi-final over Dublin.

Certainly, Kerry played much better in the drawn and replayed semi-finals against Mayo than they did in the final against Donegal. And they still won the All-Ireland!

Or what about the 2017 final against Dublin, when Donal Vaughan’s rush of blood to the head resulted in him getting a totally unnecessary red card.

Donal Vaughan had a rush of blood to the head in 2017

Donal Vaughan had a rush of blood to the head in 2017© SPORTSFILE

Their second-half performance last Sunday can be added to that list of self-inflicted wounds.

Yet all of these issues might still fade into the background if Mayo had enough quality attackers.

Here’s a fool’s guide for the slow learners in Gaelic football.

The primary job of the defenders is to defend. The forwards’ role is to score.

In the modern game the roles can be reversed. But, shock horror, the forwards still get the bulk of the scores.

It is not rocket science – the team with the most scoring forwards nearly always win the major titles.

Here are some damning statistics about the injury-hit Mayo forward division this year.

In three key matches – the Allianz League final, the Connacht Championship game against Galway and the qualifier against Monaghan – the starting forwards scored fewer than four points.

They managed six against Kildare and scored seven last Sunday.

But statistics compiled by RTE underline why Kerry won so comfortably.

Mayo had 49 attacks, eight more than Kerry. They got off 32 shots, compared to 28 for Kerry.

However, Mayo got only 13 scores, a conversion rate of 41 per cent whereas Kerry had 19 scores (1-18) – 68 per cent.

So, what’s Mayo’s problem? Deficiency in skill execution, lack of composure, and taking too many low-percentage shots.

And then there is a game-management issue – they don’t wait for a colleague to get into a better position and pass the ball to him.

I have been repeatedly ridiculed by Mayo fans for suggesting they will not win an All-Ireland because they don’t have enough scoring forwards.

The bottom line is that I have been consistently proved right. I rest my case.

I’m not surprised that Horan stepped down. He can hold his head high. Under his guidance Mayo became a consistent top three team.

But sport is cruel and only the winners get to write the history.

In the 1960s and 70s the great Leeds United, skippered by Billy Bremner, came up short of big wins on so many occasions, just like Mayo.

The title of Bremner’s autobiography ‘You get Nowt for being Second’ is an apt commentary on Horan’s career.

The key issue is how many senior players will follow suit.

Cillian O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty have given great service to Mayo.

But they have lost that yard of pace. When that happens, Croke Park is a very unforgiving place.

Mayo need a fresh voice, a new approach and more forwards.

Don’t write them off. There are a lot of talented footballers in this group, and more coming through from a number of good under-age teams.

I’d never say they will never win an All-Ireland, but if the great day is ever to come, they do need a different approach and more classy forwards.

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