Stephen Rochford and his team got everything right yesterday. It was my first time witnessing Mayo get all their tactics and tactical battles correct, writes John Divilly.
Their match-ups were spot on and they reinforced that and, while they didn’t win the Connacht championship last month, they are still unquestionably the best football team west of the Shannon, for another year at least.
Mayo came with a simple plan. Stop Roscommon at source and nullify their talisman, Enda Smith. They executed their plan like James Bond, coolly and stylishly, and ordered their martini after 15 minutes. The Roscommon players and management were well shaken and the Roscommon supporters were stirring nervously in their seats.
How did Mayo stop the Rossies at source? They attacked every Colm Lavin kickout. They pushed up relentlessly. The nearest Mayo player took the nearest primrose and blue jersey. They didn’t just stand beside their Roscommon counterpart, they marked them tightly. Colm Lavin had two choices; Go long and hope the O’Rourke/Smith/Fitzmaurice trio could outjump the Parson/O’Shea brothers trio? Or hit short 50-50 kickouts, where if the Roscommon player did win his kick-out he had an awful lot of hard work to do to even get the ball out past his half-back line.
How did Colm Lavin fare? Poorly, but only because Mayo stuck rigidly to their plan. Short kickout after short kickout, the Mayo players and in particular their forward unit, hassled, harried, and overturned the Roscommon backs. One second of hesitation by the Rossies meant a Mayo turnover. Mayo tackled in waves and opted to run at Roscommon at almost every opportunity. Aidan O’Shea ran hard at Sean Mullooly and engineered easy frees for Cillian O’Connor. Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea constantly rammed into yellow jerseys, knowing they were wearing their opponents down physically and psychologically. Diarmuid O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin weren’t concerned about playing 70 minutes. They wanted to empty their tanks in the first half and ensure, for the first time in this year’s championship, that the Mayo fans could enjoy the second half and plan revenge on Kerry.
It was noticeable that when Mayo had scored their third goal, Tony McEntee sprinted into every Mayo forward and whispered quietly in their ear. Unfortunately, the wind didn’t carry the message to me, but I can only surmise that the message was to keep squeezing Roscommon, don’t give them or their supporters any oxygen. They have no answer to our relentless pressure. If you’re tired, foul them cutely. Slow their attack at every opportunity. They have no Plan B.
When Colm Lavin did kick the occasional long kickout, they were either floaters and too near the side-line or kicked between one Roscommon player versus two Mayo men. That was the difference yesterday. Mayo men around the middle third against the youthful Roscommon lads. Caoileann Fitzmaurice was started yesterday to try and replicate what Brian Stack did so effectively against Galway, that is to win primary possession. It didn’t work and one wonders why Kevin McStay and Co deviated so much away from what worked up to now. Every time a Roscommon player jumped for aerial possession he had several Mayo men to contend with. Easy pickings for experienced Green and Red footballers. No Roscommon players were scavenging for the ball that’s needed in championship fare. They fell into the trap of waiting for it to happen, for Enda Smith to make it happen. It didn’t happen for him due to a superb decision of assigning a man-marker to nullify the young Boyle playmaker. The man-marker? Donal Vaughan.
He was my man of the match. From the throw-in he picked up Smith and frustrated him. It’s not the nicest job for any defender and it takes complete concentration, discipline, and skill to stop the opposition’s spiritual leader. Vaughan was an example to any young player yesterday on how to quietly and quickly stamp your authority. He wasn’t nasty, and showed you can man-mark a player without disgusting verbals or consistently testing the material of your opponent’s jersey. He won clean ball off Smith, broke away any ball Smith was about to catch. Every position Smith wandered into, Vaughan followed. No zonal marking, no passing the can, it was Vaughan’s one job and he was not going to fail. To rub salt into Roscommon wounds, Vaughan wasn’t just content with his man-marking duties. He joined the attack as often as he could. He has an unmistakable stride and gains huge yardage quickly. And he can start and finish moves. The debate on whether he can handle “The Star” can wait for another week. Yesterday, he repaid his manager’s faith in handing him a start. He was ably assisted by the usual suspects.
Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle, and Brendan Harrison were back to their best. Harrison is a real leech and didn’t mind there was loads of space in front of him. He backs himself to win his own duel. Higgins and Boyle rotated the sweeping duties and looked like they were really enjoying their football again. Their swagger and swashbuckling style was back on full display yesterday and their day was made easier by retreating Roscommon forwards. Aidan O’Shea was Aidan O’Shea: Won all the throw-ups, drove forward, and drew the occasional sly dig from the dispirited opposition.
Andy Moran drew no boos from the crowd, only new admiration for his brilliant off-the-ball runs, constant support play, and his now bankable few scores.
Rochford will be delighted his side had it so easy yesterday. Finally, a game won comfortably before half-time, the tactics worked, bench emptied, no suspensions looming and the underdogs’ tag still intact for the battle with the Kingdom.
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