Mayo still have plenty or room for improvement with Kerry looming
James Horan will be happy his side survived a good test but he still has problems to address at both ends of the pitch
Mayo manager James Horan shakes hands with Cork’s Colm O’Neill at the end of the All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
It always amazes me when a team gets annoyed at the end of close games like this, over whether or not more time should have been played. The only person you can trust in that situation is yourself, and no matter what the referee did or didn’t say, Cork should have known this.
Ironically it was Mayo who had a similar experience in last year’s All-Ireland, but when it comes to the last passage of play like that, with injury time already up, Colm O’Neill should have tried to conjure up some sort of go at goal, instead of taking the chance on winning another kick-out.
Still, the best way to make an All-Ireland semi-final is to come through an honest, backs-to-the-wall contest, and Mayo certainly got that here. There’s no doubt they still have the hunger and resolve to chase that elusive prize, and there’s also a togetherness about them now which will definitely stand to them against Kerry the next day.
Having said that, Mayo will be equally annoyed for allowing Cork to come so close. They showed some tremendous work-rate, especially in the third quarter, to push ahead of Cork, with their forwards playing an equally strong defensive role. Then they invited Cork to run at them, conceding too many kick-outs, too.
At that stage Aidan O’Shea also underlined his importance to this Mayo team. The quality of his play, his vision and decision making was excellent. At vital stages he made some perfect deliveries and of course scored that wonderful goal too. It came a crucial time, as did the calm free from Cillian O’Connor, just after Cork brought themselves right back in it with Donncha O’Connor’s goal.
It showed Mayo have the know-how to deal with those situations, after all their recent experiences in Croke Park.
Their sweeper system was a little redundant, or at least bypassed, because of the quality of ball coming in from the Cork midfield. The likes of Keith Higgins really needed to play closer to the full back line.
Because I certainly feel that Mayo full back line is going to struggle against Kerry, in terms of pace, or being that yard or two short when it comes to winning ball. Lee Keegan was more restricted too, taking a man-marking role on Paul Kerrigan, and his attacking runs were definitely missed, one aspect of Mayo’s game they’ll want to get back for Kerry.
Tactically, Cork were a completely different team to the one that showed up against Kerry for the Munster final and they certainly caused Mayo problems. In ways they’re only finding their tactics and, even though it’s too late for this year, I still think Cork are on the rise again.
James Horan will certainly be happy to have got a good test like this, because Cork ran them very close. That was always likely to happen with Cork’s quality forwards such as Colm O’Neill and Brian Hurley – and Cork didn’t lack confidence either.
They’ve restored a lot of pride after their Munster final debacle, and again Brian Cuthbert deserves credit for shaking things up, giving youth more of a chance. Against most other teams their performance here might have been enough, but Mayo just had that extra resolve.
Kerry definitely weren’t tested to the same extent and although Galway did give them a good run, I don’t think they ever believed they were actually going to beat Kerry.
They looked nervous, unsure of themselves and that was obvious from the start as they ran up a succession of wides. However that was partly down to some excellent Kerry defending which pushed the Galway players out so wide.
With the obvious exception of the great goal from Thomas Flynn, they didn’t run at Kerry enough and even when they did they lacked the support player. They’re just not at this level yet, didn’t have the experience or know-how to follow through, although they’re certainly learning fast and all this will stand to them next year.
Mayo will definitely want to improve their full-back line against Kerry and maybe think about double-marking O’Donoghue.
Kerry have an excellent record against Mayo in Croke Park, but the crucial difference this time is that they’re meeting in the semi-final, not the final. It’s worth recalling Mayo hammered Donegal in last year’s quarter-final. They’re not motoring like that yet but it’s all about trying to peak in September and they’re certainly going about that.
At this stage I would make Kerry slight favourites, especially given the threat they will present to Mayo’s full back line. But Kerry will know too how difficult Mayo are to play against, especially with an All-Ireland final place at stake.
Monaghan showed great guts to get past Kildare on Saturday night and while it’s a huge ask to come out again this Saturday against Dublin, they won’t roll over. I think we’ll see more fight from Monaghan.
Armagh are improving with every game and were very impressive in the way they dismantled Meath. They will relish a go at Donegal now. It’s down to the last six, they’re all there on merit, and while Dublin might still be favourites, there’s a lot of football to be played yet.