Darragh Ó Sé: Mayo's win simply followed quarter-final script

Barring the top three or four counties, there’s no prospect of glory in this game

I was away on holiday for the first game between Mayo and Roscommon so I made sure to come up to Croke Park for the replay, thinking there'd be a great game in the offing. How wrong could I have been? After the first 10 minutes, I was half-thinking of hitting the road. The Kerry management are more diligent-minded fellas than me but I'd say even they gave it serious thought around half-time.

Like the other three quarter-finals that went before it, Monday was a dead duck. The only benefit Mayo will take out of it is the confidence they got from blowing some team away in Croke Park. If Mayo were any bit watery or unsure about whether they still had it or not, that’s gone now.

But really and truly, what else could they have taken from that game?

Roscommon handed them a place in the semi-final but it was just about the only favour they did them. When they were there on the pitch, the Mayo players would have been delighted for the luxury of a game being done and dusted after 10-15 minutes.


Roscommon looked like they didn't want to be there

That's about it, though. As they face into a meeting with Kerry, I can't see them wearing out the video of the game. Or Eamonn Fitzmaurice doing so either. In fact, being realistic about it, the video of the league game between Kerry and Mayo in Tralee back in February will be far more relevant in the coming fortnight.

Mayo just didn’t get the challenge from Roscommon that they expected. Every team gets a hammering occasionally and sometimes all you can do is get off the field as quickly as possible. Roscommon looked like they didn’t want to be there. They definitely had no idea what to do to stop the rot.

I’ve been there.

When Meath gave us the mother and father of trimmings in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2001, we were just annihilated all over the pitch. I thought about that game for years afterwards, trying to come with an idea or a reason as to why it all went so badly wrong and why we weren’t able to stop it when it was happening. After a while, I realised there was no point.

On a day like that – and especially on a stage like that – a total no-show is something out of the ordinary.

You could torment yourself all the way through the winter replaying the video over and over again but the reality is that it was one bad game in a season where you have mostly played some decent football. You weren’t the best team in the country, fine. But you weren’t the worst either and you definitely weren’t as bad as you looked.

Freak occurrence

Roscommon have had a decent summer. They’re Connacht champions, which nobody saw coming. They’ve played in an All-Ireland quarter-final, which I suppose was their target at the start of the year. And they took Mayo to a replay, which only Kerry and Dublin have done in recent years. They got beaten by 22 points but that’s a freak occurrence really.

It’s not normal for you to be sitting at a match and every time one team gets onto a breaking ball and starts carrying it, you turn to the person beside you and go: “There’s a goal on here”. But that’s what was happening on Monday.

Roscommon lost all their shape and all their positional discipline and they were made to pay for it by a team that was motoring into top gear. You’d drive yourself demented if you spent the next few months trying to work out why it happened.

I was watching Kevin McStay on the sideline during the game and even though his team was getting eviscerated, I had to admire him. The Sunday Game studio is a grand, comfortable place to spend the summer and once you get settled in there, they’re never in any big hurry to kick you back out into the big, bad world. You can talk the talk away there for as many years as you like.

But you have to hand it to McStay. He could very easily have been sitting beside Marty Morrissey in the press box on Monday doing co-commentary but instead, he was down on the lonely sideline watching his team get murdered.

That’s a vulnerable spot to put yourself in. You lay yourself bare, you put yourself out in front of the world and open yourself to all the abuse that goes with it. Instead of being the smart guy making comments after the event, you are the one who is getting judged. Roscommon didn’t turn up and obviously McStay has to take responsibility for that. But fair play to him for putting himself in that position.

Because if these quarter-finals told us anything, it’s that there’s no prospect of glory in this game outside three or four counties.

You always aim for the stars but lets’ call a spade a spade – the managerial jobs that are likely to end with your players walking up the steps of the Hogan Stand are very few and far between. We’ve always known that but it was really driven home with these quarter-finals. If you take over one of these smaller counties, there’s automatically a glass ceiling above you.

The remaining four teams won’t care about that now. Mayo at least got their warning in the first Roscommon game. The other three are going into the semi-final knowing that what they’ve come up against so far is going to be of very little used to them the next day.

Best player

They’re like Formula One teams going from circuit to circuit. What worked in the Monaco Grand Prix won’t do the job in Silverstone. So you break up the car into a load of little pieces and build it back up again for the next stop along the road. You’re facing into a totally different challenge so you create a totally different car. To everyone on the outside, it looks exactly the same. But inside the camp, you know how important those various little changes are.

Take Keith Higgins for Mayo, who was probably the best player on the pitch on Monday. Going into the Kerry game, what are Mayo going to do with him? Maybe he will mark James O'Donoghue and the pair of them can resume their incredible battle from 2014. Maybe he'll be the Mayo sweeper, covering off the runs through the middle from the likes of Donnchadh Walsh and Mikey Geaney.

I'll tell you what he won't be doing, though. Well, I'm fairly confident he won't, anyway. He won't be taking a mark from a kick-out in the middle of the field, like he did against Roscommon. Mayo pushed up on the kick-outs with huge intensity but even in their wildest dreams they wouldn't have imagined that Roscommon would crumble so badly. Or that in desperation, their goalkeeper Colm Lavin would find all 5ft 7in of Keith Higgins taking a catch in midfield.

If Kerry take one thing out of the game, that’s it. They have their warning about Mayo pressing away high up the pitch on kick-outs and so they’ll plan accordingly. Mayo hadn’t done that to that extent all year so it’s obviously a good thing for Kerry to learn that they still have it in them now rather than five minutes into the semi-final.

Against a team with brilliant tacklers like Mayo, you’d always be on your guard anyway. But the speed with which they pushed up on the poor Roscommon goalie was really noticeable the other day. He wasn’t exactly racing out to get the ball away anyway but the Mayo forwards were sprinting to make sure they weren’t giving him any sort of angle. Kerry will have to make sure they don’t hang around.

Decent form

All in all, Mayo are coming into decent form at the right time. We said here a couple of weeks ago that some teams are a Croke Park team, plain and simple. Mayo know the place as well as anybody by this stage. And even if they still have flaws in them that might just mean they fall short of an All-Ireland, they’re still improving.

One thing that was impressive about them in the short period of the game when Roscommon were still in it was the fact that Mayo hardly took a single stupid shot. They rotated possession and dragged Roscommon out of position, usually by kicking it into Andy Moran and letting him work it back out. In that spell where they went 0-6 to 0-0 ahead in the first 15 minutes, they didn't kick a wide.

That’s pure experience, nothing else. They’ve had plenty of days when their shot selection has been off in the past but if you watched some of the scores they kicked in that spell, there was hardly a half-chance among them. Every point either came from a free or from Mayo being patient and waiting to find the right man in the right spot.

Diarmuid O'Connor, Jason Doherty and Donal Vaughan all got scores this way. That's pure experience coming to the fore. They got a bit sloppier later on when the game turned into a training session but that's no big crime.

At least they got something out of the weekend. Which is more than you can say for the rest of us.