Mayo reliant on traditional strengths: Billy Joe Padden
MAYO have reached the All-Ireland semi-final in each of the last five seasons but, over the last 18 months, all has not been well.
They took Dublin to a replay last year, but quickly dispatched Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes after a single year in charge. Former Mayo defender Stephen Rochford came in with the glow of his All-Ireland club success with Galway club side Corofin still lingering.
But he has been unable to carry that straight into the inter-county game. The most notable thing about Mayo’s performances this season has been how restricted they’ve been in their attacking play. At their pomp, you had Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan and Keith Higgins running at the opposition, terrorising them.
That spark has been absent from their performances this summer. For former Mayo forward Billy Joe Padden, that comes down to a refined tactical approach that has, he believes, taken away so much of the good work James Horan did as manager.
“If Mayo decide to play with the same tactics as they have in the last three Qualifiers, I think they’ll get beaten by eight or nine points," Padden said.
“I think they’ve gone away from some of the things they did well, particularly under James Horan, particularly in terms of being dominant around the middle of the field and moving the ball really quickly with off-the-shoulder running.
“They’ve been too ponderous in possession, too worried about trying to be a good team in possession and not give it away all the time. It’s a lot to do with the way Mayo are tactically set-up. If you go short on every kickout, which they did against Westmeath, it’s impossible to create that momentum.
“It’s impossible to get that quick, off-the-shoulder runner. The defensive team sees you coming from 60 yards. In order to create that, you have to have a physical presence at midfield and win that exchange. Then, you’re popping the ball to a guy coming out of the half-back line at pace.
“I think Mayo’s success is reliant on - to take a rugby term - go-forward ball. They’re reliant on a traditional midfield winning long kickouts and putting pressure on the opposition kickouts. When you’re asking them to play this tactical, possession-based game that Tyrone, Donegal, even Dublin, are playing now, they’re just not those kind of players.
“They just haven’t put enough pressure on the opposing team’s kickouts when they’ve decided to do that. When they’ve dropped back and tried to be a defensive shell, to try and mirror what Tyrone have done, they’ve just defended too passively and haven’t created the turnovers that you need to create the counter-attacks.”
In particular, Aidan O’Shea’s recent form has fallen beneath the microscope, with Tomás Ó Sé suggesting on The Sunday Game that “he looks a tired, tired player”. The problem is probably underlined by Padden’s theory.
He believes the Breaffy man is at his best in midfield - but that his team needs him in the full-forward line, if even as a decoy: “I think he’s not having as big an impact on games," Padden added.
“I hoped Aidan O’Shea would go back and refocus himself as a ball-winning midfielder and use that physicality that he has. But he hasn’t really done that. I think when we’ve seen him at his best in the last few games is around the middle, where he’s caught a few kickouts and his tackling is excellent.
“He’s so big and strong that he’s hard to get away from and he’s created a few turnovers in the middle of the field. If Mayo are to be successful, I think Aidan O’Shea has to spend time at full-forward and time at midfield as well.
“The big thing is that they’re lucky they can bring in Barry Moran and Tom Parsons in the middle of the field as well, as well as Seamus O’Shea. You’d hope that there’d be enough there so there isn’t such responsibility on him around the middle of the field. It’s how he will cope with the extra attention he’s going to get in those periods in the full-forward line.”
Mayo were cruising in the first-half against Westmeath and perhaps complacency contributed to their second-half display. A seven-point win probably flattered them in the end though, having spent much of the second period under pressure.
The newly-crowned Ulster champions will represent a significant step up in opposition though and Padden believes Rochford must send his side out to go at Tyrone: “I’m an optimist. I expect Mayo to do something. I think they can win the game. They have to push up on the Tyrone kickout, play Barry Moran. If he has 50 minutes in him, bring Tom Parsons in then," he said.
“Go long with their own kickouts, take the chance. Put Aidan O’Shea to full-forward for a while, even if only as a decoy. To me, that’s the only hope Mayo have of winning the game. The hope that Mayo supporters have is that they walked into the Galway ambush and, with the greatest respect to the three teams they played after that, they probably felt they could beat them at 50 per cent.
“Maybe there’s an element there that, against Tyrone, a coming team, we’ll see the real, motivated Mayo team on Saturday evening. That’s what I’m hoping.”