Mayo must decide whether to throw caution to the wind this time
James Horan has to opt between again adopting a cautious strategy or this time going for the Kerry jugular
Mayo’s Tom Cunniffe battling with Kerry’s Michael Geaney last week. Cunniffe could be assigned a different role today. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
In considering his county’s prospects days prior to that thrilling draw against Kerry, Liam McHale hit upon an aspect of Mayo’s play that has been given scant analysis.
“What I am talking about is when you are 0-7 up with 10 to go that you should make adjustments to make sure you’re not going to be . . . you have to adjust your game plan a little bit to make sure that you are defensively sound,” he told a Newstalk gathering in Westport. “All we had to do against Cork was not give away goals and we would have won that game easily.”
The observation was prescient. In the afterglow of Sunday’s draw, there were so many aspects to the game that one of the most basic was half forgotten. There was a huge element of heroism to the performances of both teams.
Kerry’s refusal to quit when faced with an avalanche of Mayo will and scoring power can’t be underplayed. And Mayo’s great response when their 14-man side somehow turned logic and a 0-11 to 0-6 deficit on its head catapulted them into the ranks of special teams regardless of whether they complete their quest for an All-Ireland title or not.
But, for the second game running, they managed to allow a situation of which they appeared to have firm control to almost run away from them. Two late goals from Cork turned that quarter-final into a nerve-wracking affair.
All dissolveAgainst Kerry, the dust seemed to have settled on one of the most remarkable comebacks in championship history when Kieran Donaghy plucked David Moran’s pass out of the air and supplied James O’Donoghue with the goal opportunity which again winded Mayo.
If the Killarney man had directed his late shot-to-win-it opportunity just a few inches to the left, Mayo would have discovered that losing All-Ireland semi-finals can hurt ferociously too. To have produced that comeback with such a steady, mounting display of integrity, strength, skill and teamwork only to have it all dissolve in the last three minutes would have been incredibly sickening.
When Cillian O’Connor clipped a point to place Mayo 1-14 to 0-13 ahead, they seemed set to power home. Instead, they were faced with the grim prospect of watching Bryan Sheehan, one of the most lethal place kickers in the game, line up with the last kick of the game knowing that a score would have extinguished their All-Ireland hopes for yet another year.
The extreme contrast between Mayo’s first- and second -half approach leaves them with a fascinating choice. How should they approach the replay? Faced with the starkest terms at half time, trailing by 0-9 to 0-5 and without Lee Keegan, the most explosive attacking talent of their defensive unit, they had no choice but to go at Kerry with abandon.
The result was so compelling that for a while it looked as if they had inadvertently stumbled on the key to winning the championship.