Galway massacre shows that Mayo have come on by 15 to 20 per cent from last year
It’s more than just turning over ball in the opposition half, it’s being ruthless when you do
Galway’s Gary Sweeney is put under pressure from Mayo’s Enda Varley, Alan Freeman, Cathal Carolan and Cillian O’Connor during last Sunday’s match at Pearse Stadium, Galway. ‘Mayo forwards will dog any defender coming out with the ball.’ Photograph: Inpho
The easiest thing to say about the Mayo-Galway match last Sunday is Galway were terrible, but there’s far more to it than that. If you look too much at Galway, you lose sight of what Mayo have become. I think they’ve come on by 15 to 20 per cent from last year.
It didn’t matter a damn to them who they were playing on Sunday, they weren’t going to mess about or give it anything less than full throttle.
You saw it in the three goals in that first half. You can say Galway got themselves in a mess but you must ask yourself why it happened. It’s here I think you can see the influence of Mayo’s new trainer, Donie Buckley.
Buckley is a guy who lives for coaching. He’s taken himself away to America to study and make himself better. He’s forever trying to come up with new ways of finding and fixing problems on the pitch.
If you watch Sunday’s game again, what really strikes you is how often they turned over possession in the Galway half and how much breaking ball they picked up.
When Mayo’s forwards tackled, they tackled with a purpose – it wasn’t just leaving the stray arm in and then heading back to their position, like a lot of forwards do.
Armagh’s Jamie Clarke is a superb footballer, a brave and classy forward any team would be lucky to have. But he has no tackle in him. You only have to watch how he goes about it to see his heart isn’t in it at all.
But the Mayo forwards will dog any defender coming out with the ball. They surround him and cut off his sightline and hurry him into a mistake. That’s all basic enough stuff – it’s what every forward unit should be doing.
What is interesting though is what they do once they’ve turned the ball over. The speed at which they clicked into gear on Sunday was very impressive. Some teams when they turn the ball over will take a few seconds to assess where they are, maybe lay the ball back to a midfielder or something like that. Not Mayo. Not this Mayo anyway.
You could see the plan they had. Mayo needed to find a way to score goals. They didn’t score any in the All Ireland semi-final or final last year so they’ve obviously worked on that. Turnovers high up the pitch are goal opportunities for the very best teams.
One of the big trends in the game now is players breaking from defence – Tyrone do it, Kerry do it, Mayo do it. Donegal are the masters of it because when they break en bloc there’s always at least one, and often two, men over. But some teams just won’t be able to do it as well or be as polished, so if you can cut them off and turn the ball over, they’re going to be all over the shop in terms of shape.
Mayo nailed Galway time after time in that first half and could have had more than three goals to show for it. Further down the line, they obviously won’t get four or five chances in one half against a Donegal or a Tyrone. But they might get one chance.
If they work as hard as they did on Sunday, one turnover in the right area could be all they need.
It’s a mindset thing. When you turn over the ball, you can’t stand back and admire your work. If you watch the Mayo performance from Sunday, each turnover set off a sort of chain reaction.
The man picking up the break never turned back or looked for a handy pass off to the side. It was always forward momentum – look up and find a runner. The inside forwards were off the mark like a shot, spreading out to give the man on the ball options.
For Enda Varley’s goal, Tomás Flynn gave away that loose handpass and the ball was in the net eight seconds later. Mayo had one thing on their mind as soon as they got possession – head straight for goal. And the space was there because Galway had lost their shape, with men breaking forward.
Donal Vaughan’s goal only took six seconds. Granted, Galway were all at sea by then, with the goalkeeper marking the full forward but even so, Mayo were able to exploit it without giving it a thought.
They’re a serious operation. I thought Galway would give them a game but they’re on a different level now.
Mayo came to Salthill with a ruthless attitude and blew Galway to bits. They have the look of men who won’t settle for making it to All-Ireland finals any more.
There’s a long way to go, obviously, and you won’t want to be over-reacting to one result. But we can safely say they’ve improved from last year.
As for Galway, I wouldn’t be too down-hearted if I was them. Okay, it was a massacre but they’re two or three years behind Mayo. They will get there, though. They can’t have that many quality underage footballers and not bring them through eventually. Those boys will learn as they grow.
They will lose some of the naivety they showed, in their defending and in the silly red cards they picked up. You might get away with them at club level or even at under-21. But in the middle of championship with cameras everywhere and the best referees around, you’ll be caught.
Get you in trouble
Throw out a punch like Flynn did to Alan Dillon and they will go down and they will get you in trouble. Dillon could easily have stayed standing – it was hardly the deadliest punch in the world – but why would he? Especially with Marty Duffy standing four feet away.
Galway’s young players have plenty to learn on every front but they’ll get there in time.
We have Tyrone and Donegal coming up this Sunday, one of those games where you can nearly sit back and forget about the ramifications for the rest of the summer and just enjoy the day for what it is.
Never mind who is going to win the All-Ireland, just savour this for the grudge match it is. This is like old-style championship matches before the back door came in – it isn’t quite winner takes all but that’s how it is going to feel on Sunday.
Joe McQuillan is going to be a busy man. There will be great play and fine scores but it will also be tough, it will be dirty at times, it will be cynical at times too. There’s no point pretending otherwise.
You have no business being a player in a game like this if you’re not prepared to do what’s necessary. That will mean a certain amount of tactical fouling, it will mean putting guys off their game, it might mean trying to get a fella sent off ( the one thing I can’t abide). You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, like it or not.
That’s how it is in grudge matches. I was usually able to leave whatever happened on the pitch behind me afterwards and if an opponent was about for a drink I was mostly happy enough to have one with him.
But if we met again on the pitch, all that stuff went out the window. That has to be how it is. You can’t forget what made you the player you are. You can’t ignore the things that give you the edge. Shake hands and be friends afterwards but do what has to be done on the pitch.
Most weekends in the summer I’d have a bet on one or other of the games but I would still be keeping my hand in my pocket. If I had to call it, I’d lean very marginally towards Tyrone. When you’ve been beaten twice in a row by a team, you owe it to yourself to stand up and call a halt.
If this Tyrone team are going to be anything this year, Sunday is the time to show what they’re made of.