Two-time All-Star Alan Dillon has called on Mayo’s big players to ‘step up and show leadership’ in next Saturday night’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier against Down in Newry.
The former Mayo captain has also warned the Westerners to be ready for ‘a hostile atmosphere’ at Páirc Esler, and believes that silencing the home crowd will be crucial.
“Mayo will have to set the rules of engagement very early,” warned Dillon, who won eight Connacht championship medals and played in six All-Ireland senior finals during a career that spanned 15 seasons.
“They’ll need to bring a good attitude with lots of energy and intensity, dominate the middle third from the start, and make sure the attack gets enough ball. After that, it’s about being clinical. When the chances present themselves, you have to take them.
“Decision-making is going to be crucial. Making sure that the right players get on the ball in the right areas. When do you play the pass? When you do you run from deep?
“You can be sure there’s going to be a hostile atmosphere in Newry,” added Dillon, who still lines out with the Mayo club champions Ballintubber.
“There could be 20,000 people there. The pitch is very close to the stand, it’s tight, and there’s going to be a lot of tension.
“Down have beaten Tipperary already in the qualifiers, they were unlucky to lose to Armagh, so really they’re a step further along the line than Mayo.
“They’re a very proud football county too, with a great tradition, and Paddy Tally will have a lot of analysis done on Mayo from his time with Galway last year.
“So it’s a game that Mayo just can’t afford to take for granted. Down are a team with a huge amount of potential and some very good players.”
Mayo struggled to beat both Fermanagh (2016) and Derry (2017) at MacHale Park in their first All-Ireland Qualifier matches after crashing out of the Connacht championship to Galway in those seasons.
But the former Mayo playmaker feels that leaving the home comforts of Castlebar behind, added to the experience they’ve gained from answering so many qualifier questions in recent years, will be vital.
“When you go on the road, you’re just that little bit tighter as a unit,” said Dillon.
“There’s a mentality of ‘going to battle’ or ‘going on a mission’.
“Everyone in that squad has to be prepared for the ebb and flow of the match; there are going to be setbacks. It could be a goal against the run of play, a big refereeing decision, or an injury. You have to keep playing.
“And the big players have to step up and make the big plays. That’s what’s needed in games like this. The big players have to show leadership and the unit takes energy from them.
“Nobody can hide now.”