Rampant Mayo haven't gone away, you know
Roscommon have no answer to Mayo's huge physicality in the middle third
GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final replay, Croke Park. Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie
So now there’s a big four, apparently. Or maybe it’s still a big three, only Mayo were in it all along and people were claiming bigger things than Tyrone has earned yet. Or maybe there’s really and truly only a big one and we’re talking ourselves into the championship being a more open affair than it is in reality.
One way or the other, Mayo splashed water on their face here yesterday and drowned Roscommon with the excess. For all the keening about championship structures, we’ve arrived in August to pretty definitively say that the best four teams in the country will contest the All-Ireland. You can’t ask for a whole pile more out of any tournament than that.
After four one-sided quarter-finals, the general lust for over-reaction in life will, as sure as eggs is eggs, cause a certain amount of writing off next year’s Super Eights before a ball has been kicked. But as former Tipperary hurling manager Eamon O’Shea once said in a post-match press conference, you should be very careful about making forecasts with very little data.
The four big teams have had themselves a hooley in 2017. This predicts precisely nothing for 2018. The four provincial champions all lost in the 2010 quarter-finals. It meant nothing when 2011 came around. The world turns and teams rise and fall as they go. Only a churl would insist on hanging out the black flags for football on this evidence.
For what it’s worth, Roscommon look like exactly the sort of side who will benefit from the Super Eights. They got minced here, it’s true. But if experience is the name we call our mistakes, then you’d imagine a winter of vowing not to let it happen again will only stand to them when they get back here.
You can be sure that whatever else happens, they’ll come back with a better plan for what to do when their kick-outs are getting ransacked as they were here. Kevin McStay, honest as ever afterwards, said he thought Mayo’s days of overwhelming teams with an all-out, high-energy pressing game were done.
Not so much.
“It was very well put together,” McStay said of the way Mayo brutalised their kick-outs. “A mix of our lads did not make the runs they were making last week to help Colm Lavin – so there’s no sense of a blame game in our dressingroom. This is a very steep learning curve here today for us.
“Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins in particular made huge impacts from the sweeper position or the six position. They were just taking a gamble that they’d win a ball and they’d come off the shoulder, and they were opening up big lanes. And we just couldn’t track them. They showed huge energy today. I mean, that’s probably the most energetic I’ve seen Mayo for a long time, and certainly gives them reason to look forward to two weeks’ time.
“Mayo just looked enthusiastic to play football, they went back to their hard running game off the shoulder, they’ve big, powerful, athletic men. When they get their confidence up and their touch up, they must have checked us out for eight or nine goal opportunities in the match.”
That they only took four of them was mostly down to the game having turned into little more than a light training session by the second half. Mayo scored more in a six-minute period in the first half than the Rossies managed all day. They savaged the Connacht champions, hunted them for sport. Mayo have now played as many games in this championship as Dublin and Kerry combined. If they’re tired, this was a funny way of showing it.
“These guys, inter-county footballers in general, they’re trained from a conditioning point of view within an inch of their life,” said Stephen Rochford afterwards. “There is nothing left to chance. We trained once this week because we knew from a fitness level point of view, on a physical basis, we were fine.
“The challenge might be, as much as people might want to write and talk about it, was what was the mental fatigue element? But when we sat down and reviewed the tape, the amount of frustration among all of us, in how poorly we executed. Things we wouldn’t be happy with. That sort of led to an energy of saying, ‘look, we’re going to be somewhat different when we get back to Croke Park.’
“We hadn’t earned the right to be talked about as a potential All-Ireland finalists, or whatever. And by and large we still haven’t. We have to show up and deliver a performance in 13 days’ time. One that is going to be another monumental ask of us. The guys will be eager to get out there and make that performance the consistent one that we have beside our names in 2017.”