The changes Mayo need to make for Croke Park success

By Peter McNamara

A subtle positional switch in the Mayo team could yield a rich harvest for Stephen Rochford at Croke Park on Saturday.

All this week, people will debate the site of Aidan O’Shea at headquarters as the westerners attempt to dismiss Kerry at the second time of asking.

However, the placings of two of their other leaders could give Mayo an extra edge. Or, to be more specific, the reverse placings of two of their other operators.

Last Sunday, Lee Keegan roamed the central channel, shadowed by Paul Murphy while, outside of him, Tom Parsons covered the middle sector.

Taking into account Keegan’s pace, and Parsons’ brute strength and selflessness, swapping the two players might bring even greater balance to Rochford’s starting selection.

Paul Murphy of Kerry tries to block a shot from Mayo's Lee Keegan last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile.

Parsons, in particular, is on the verge of producing a season-defining individual performance, but it could be that it would occur in the No. 11 slot rather than at midfield.

With this tweak, Parsons, like Aidan O’Shea, can contest the throw-ins if so required, however, then move into the centre-forward area where he could wreak havoc on a brittle Kerry defence courtesy of his power and capacity to link play effectively.

In effect, Parsons could become Mayo’s Kieran Donaghy, shifting through the lines of the middle-third on their opponent’s side of those blades of grass and develop attacks with runners off his shoulders.

Of course, this would not be dissimilar to the duties he already carries out, but he would be doing so in much more advantageous areas of the field.

Additionally, it would give Parsons licence to break the gain-line frequently and arrive in spots like the one he picked up immediately prior to fisting over Andy Moran’s through-ball from a free.

Tom Parsons of Mayo in action against Kerry's David Moran last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile.

At that moment, Parsons should really have taken another step forward and drilled the ball low and to the corner of the net which might have dissolved the Kingdom’s resolve.

Yet, allowing for the porous nature of Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s rearguard, similar opportunities are likely to present themselves again in the replay.

And if Parsons is aware of the centre-forward berth being his on this occasion from as early as tomorrow or Friday, psychologically, the Charlestown Sarsfields man will be armed with the mindset so essential for a player to be ruthless in such situations.

They may possess operators with a greater nationwide profile than Parsons, yet, there is no question he is as valuable to Mayo as the likes of Aidan O’Shea, Keegan, Moran and Cillian O’Connor are when he is totally injury-free and firing.

A bold statement, I know, but there is a confidence many Mayo supporters would agree with that sentiment.

Parsons has all the attributes to be a game-breaker for Rochford if the manager thinks a little outside of the box and throws this curveball in Fitzmaurice’s direction.

It would give his Kerry counterpart the sort of headache he will have himself this week in trying to devise a plan of true substance to curb Donaghy.

Both Parsons and Donaghy, obviously, are powerful in stature. However, they also share the ability to utilise quick wrists to release support runners to critical repercussions for their respective opponents.

Furthermore, if Rochford was to really bite the bullet and send Parsons to the edge of Brian Kelly’s square, who, in the Kingdom full-back line, would have the tools to render his positioning redundant?

You can rest assured Mark Griffin would not relish the opportunity. Ditto Killian Young.

Mayo's Jason Doherty runs past Kerry's Mark Griffin last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile.

There would be a sound counter-argument, though, to placing Parsons at full-forward as it might clog up an area Cillian O’Connor and Moran thrived within during the drawn match.

Hence, the reasoning behind proposing Parsons’ stationing one position further back where he could also supplement the efforts of players contesting primary and secondary possessions, on occasion.

Keegan’s repositioning will obviously need less explaining.

In modern-day football, he is the archetypal midfielder without ever really teasing out the role directly.

Keegan, at No 8 or No 9, would be an even more complete version of Dublin’s Brian Fenton.

Rochford’s reasoning for playing Keegan at centre-forward last Sunday was understandable.

However, when you have a Footballer of the Year on your hands with the engine of a Ford Shelby Mustang blessed with defensive nous, why not utilise all those qualities in the one sector they could benefit the team the most?

Aside from the GAA’s accountants, two others that would have displayed a wry smile when Maurice Deegan blew the full-time whistle to confirm the fixture would go to a replay would have been Jim Gavin and Mickey Harte.

Kerry-Mayo Part II means Dublin-Tyrone Episode I will have far less heat on it nationally, in terms of the build-up. Less microscopes, means less pressure, after all.

Yes, there will be extensive coverage in the media of the latter equation, but less than there would have been if an outcome was reached in the first semi-final at headquarters.

The two groups will be oblivious to much of the bluster, or so they tell us, but there is no harm in the nation having a distraction before Sunday, either as Gavin and Harte prepare their teams.

There is a growing chorus of voices suggesting the northerners will have Dublin’s measure.

I disagree. Vehemently.

Tyrone will absolutely lay down the gauntlet to the Metropolitans, but, ultimately, may come up three or four points shy of the necessary total to progress.

While a team like Mayo cannot be trusted to get over the line until they go and get over the line, the total opposite is true of Dublin.

Until they are felled by an adversary, Gavin’s outfit will be trusted to retain their status as the best team in the land.

Dublin have earned that level of respect.


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