Darragh Ó Sé: Reaction to Mayo's defeat by Roscommon has been way over the top
Donegal and Roscommon are improving but they’re not real contenders
Kevin McLaughlin misses the late free to draw the game against Roscommon. But I’d be surprised if Mayo weren’t still standing after Donegal and Roscommon have fallen away. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It was a good weekend for the teams at the level just below the top of the football championship.
I’d say it’s fairly clear at this stage that Dublin are out on their own, with Tyrone, Kerry and Mayo (yes, still!) next in line. After that, you’re looking at the teams who’ll make it to the Super 8s but probably not a lot further – Donegal and Roscommon are in this group and they both had really impressive wins away from home.
There was a moment in Donegal’s win over Fermanagh in Enniskillen that I found interesting. It was shortly after half-time and the game was still tight – I think there was only a point in it. Michael Murphy took a shot at goal for Donegal but he skied it under pressure and as the ball was in the air, you’d imagine Rory Gallagher was happy enough with life.
This is what you want from your team when you set up a blanket defence. You want to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the other team’s best player so he has to resort to taking on a bad shot out of desperation. Fermanagh had everybody back and had forced this mistake.
The problem for them came as the ball fell to earth. For all the bodies Fermanagh had in the area, nobody made it their business to get under the dropping ball. There were three defenders and the goalkeeper all in the vicinity and they stood looking at it like ducks in thunder. When the ball landed, all four of them were inside the big square, with no Donegal player in alongside them and still they stood and stared.
No Fermanagh player was taking it upon himself to go and deal with it, none of them looked like they had a sense of what to do. It was as if they were stuck to the ground, as if all notions of defending had left them.
Defenders are supposed to sniff danger, to anticipate, to expect the worst and react accordingly. None of the Fermanagh players did this and they allowed Patrick McBrearty – who wasn’t even in the square when the ball bounced – to nip in and punch a point.
To me, it showed the difference between a team that has got so regimented in its system and one that has moved on to the next level for a good few years at this stage.
The blanket defence will always be associated with Donegal but they don’t stick to it rigidly the way Fermanagh do because they have bigger ambitions than just keeping things tight. Plus, they have players like McBrearty who can sense an opportunity.
It showed too there’s still a place in the game for the high ball into the square. Now obviously, this wasn’t a planned move but the principle still stands.
When you launch one in there, the defence has to deal with it. You’re asking them the question and if you can get fellas in there competing for it with honesty and ferocity, the answer isn’t straightforward. Fermanagh had all the sweepers and all the bodies in the world back there but once they had to actually do more than just cover off space and watch for runners, they were in trouble.
Donegal are a slick outfit and they’ll give Tyrone plenty of it on Saturday week. I’d still like to see Michael Murphy spend less of his time so far out the field but Declan Bonner obviously likes having him there just for his sheer presence. I can see where he’s coming from – that’s where the majority of the game is fought out so having your main man out where he can influence the game is understandable. But he’s so good in front of goal too.
The Rossies have good players, fit and strong and hardy and they’re in their fourth Connacht final in a row
The thing that struck me about Donegal and Roscommon – and about Mayo too, for all the giving out about them since Saturday – was that the basic skills of catching and kicking and punch passing were mostly on the money. That’s what puts them a cut above the likes of Fermanagh, just those nitty-gritty things that keep the ball alive and on the move. Very few passes behind a fella’s back, very few overhit balls dribbling out over the endline. What they make look simple is not so simple for the teams below them.
Roscommon put themselves in the right position to take advantage of Mayo’s shooting troubles on Saturday night. It was no massive shock they were able to do so – you can tell watching them this is a team who had been in and out of Division One football for a number of years.
I don’t care if you’re constantly being relegated and yo-yoing between Division One and Two, the fact they’ve spent plenty of time playing against the top teams and players means they know what it takes to live with them.
Cavan didn’t beat Monaghan by accident either – those players have experience of looking the big teams between the eyes. Fair enough, they’ve taken a few beatings and got relegated again. But that’s all experience. No point going through it if you don’t use it down the line.
The Rossies have good players, fit and strong and hardy and they’re in their fourth Connacht final in a row. They have that bit of craft and they have that bit of resilience. They always seem to take to a wet day as well, which isn’t something you can say about all teams. I would fully expect to see them in the Super 8s, along with Donegal.
And despite all the doom and gloom, I would have no real doubt Mayo will be there as well. As ever, people tend to get carried away when Mayo are concerned. To me, the reaction to them getting beaten on Saturday night has been way over the top.
They lost by a point to a top-eight team in a game where they kicked 17 wides and gave away a silly goal from a kick-out. It’s a bad result but it’s no disaster either. Look at who they’ll have back by the time they get to the qualifiers – Donie Vaughan, Cillian O’Connor, Seamie O’Shea and Fionn McDonagh. Does anyone really think they can’t fix their shooting and start building momentum through the qualifiers? Of course they can.
That wasn’t a difficult free but the Mayo players made it harder than it seemed because there was no obvious leadership around the ball
The couple of things that would worry me from a Mayo point of view are (a) the fact Andy Moran is starting to look his age, and (b) the dithering over the free at the end. Moran still has that knack of being able to get possession in tight spots and to make a good ball out of a bad one.
But unless Mayo are able to get runners around him straight away now, he looks like getting bottled up. Defenders know his game a long time at this stage and they can tell where he wants to go. So if he doesn’t have a quick option, the Mayo attack slows down. That’s no use to them and they need to decide what his role is going to be.
You can tell it’s frustrating for him. His black card was his own fault, caught in possession just that little bit slower than he’d like to be and grabbing out to trip the Roscommon player. I always think it’s a tell-tale sign when a player who has never been known for indiscipline throughout his career starts getting on the wrong side of the referee. He knows the story.
That black card had consequences, as it meant he wasn’t on the field to take control of the situation at the end. That wasn’t a difficult free but the Mayo players made it harder than it seemed because there was no obvious leadership around the ball. Diarmuid O’Connor would have thought he was doing the right thing by telling Kevin McLoughlin it was his free but he misjudged the situation. He thought he needed a left-footed kicker when really what he needed was a leader.
Put it this way. I was watching Kieran Donaghy doing the TV broadcast of the game. Now, nobody – Donaghy included – would be making big claims about his kicking abilities and in his whole Kerry career I’d be surprised if he ever kicked a single free. But I’d have had no hesitation handing him that free on Saturday night. And he’d have been over in a flash looking for it.
Just at that moment on Saturday night, Mayo froze on the pitch when they couldn’t afford to. But that’s out of character for them so you can be fairly sure it won’t happen again. And any team can have a bad day shooting so you’d imagine they’ll patch that up as well.
All in all, it was a good weekend of Donegal and Roscommon but I’d be surprised if Mayo weren’t still standing after those two have fallen away.