Mayo put their faith in tried and trusted as great crusade continues
The danger is lack of change in team selectation can easily cross the line from experience into stagnation
Mayo retain 13 players who started the semi-final between the counties three years ago. Just four Kerry players remain from that day. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Iinpho
Over the past 10 years Mayo have become formidable at winning All-Ireland semi-finals: just one defeat in five outings. The big prize continues to elude them but the team has become – and especially under current manager James Horan – a model of consistency.
The problem, as the clock ticks on the greatest crusade in GAA history, is that the team itself has become too consistent in terms of its selection and is badly in need of reinvigoration.
Mayo arrive at Croke Park tomorrow sufficiently well regarded to be favourites to beat Kerry but one statistic haunts the fixture. When the counties met three years ago, at the same stage, 13 of the Mayo team named for Sunday played whereas just four survive from the Kerry side that beat them.
It’s fair to say that Kerry were nearing the end of a cycle whereas Mayo were just beginning but lack of change can easily cross the line from worthwhile experience into stagnation.
RTÉ pundit Kevin McStay was an All Star during his Mayo career and has managed the county under-21s. He concedes the situation is a concern.
“It’s a worry but at the same time there’s no great sense that’s there a load of other players out there. We’ve 11 or 12 of the same team that played in the 2011 semi-final whereas Kerry have four.
“The outcome is a sense of one team on the rise – I think there’s agreement their graph is going up – whereas with the Mayo graph you’re not sure whether it’s gone as far as it’s going simply because there’s been so little change that there’s a danger of becoming tired.
“That’s the worry and it’s in the nature of these things that everyone denies it until it happens and then everyone saw it coming.”
Mayo manager James Horan was evidently conscious of the need to refresh the panel during the league when a number of younger players saw game time.
Definite improvements“There were a few in the league and a couple started against Roscommon,” according to Horan’s predecessor and All-Ireland winning Galway manager John O’Mahony: “Diarmuid O’Connor and Cathal O’Shea as well as Adam Gallagher, Stephen Coen and Darren Coen. Whether they didn’t press their case or that the established guys are so much farther down the line I don’t know.
“There have been definite improvements though. Seamie O’Shea has become a central player after being a continual sub for about three years going back to my time. He’s really become a first-choice player on the team-sheet now.
“Jason Gibbons has been unlucky with injury and he’s going to get his chance this weekend. And Jason Doherty has improved as the championship has gone on. But there’s no sense of any players about to make a major breakthrough or any major surprise off the bench. Even when you win an All-Ireland you need some variation. You can see that with Jim Gavin’s Dublin, who are playing better and with greater options this year. You do need to change it around.”
In Mayo’s fourth campaign under Horan – the last two of which have ended on the last day in All-Ireland final defeat – there is a sense of time running out and also of flagging momentum. This pessimistic interpretation of the season is based on the wobble at the end of the Cork quarter-final and the fact that Connacht wasn’t steam-rolled to the same extent as last year. Yet part of that depends for evidence on how the Roscommon match proved a far harder obstacle in Hyde Park this year compared with 12 months previously.