Ray Silke: Improved Mayo building case for glory

My first permanent teaching post was in St Gerald’s College, Castlebar, 20 years ago this September.

Ray Silke: Improved Mayo building case for glory

And having taught in the county for eight years, I know the ravenous and deep rooted hunger that exists there for a senior All-Ireland success.

The school principal, asked me to bring the Sam Maguire Cup down in 1998 and the reaction of the older members of staff was revealing.

They would take the canister. Look at it, and then hand it over quickly with a certain amount of disdain, muttering something like: “I don’t want it, or touch it, unless we have won it ourselves.”

Now, having reached their fifth consecutive semi-final after Saturday’s easy win over Donegal and with a new management team in place, the belief that this can be their year is rising.

And with Aidan O’Shea currently unstoppable at full-forward and the likes of Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins in flying form, some of that belief is justified.

What impressed me in their victory on Saturday evening was the performance of midfield duo Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea, who both won massive amounts of ball and had huge work-rates.

Their possession count of 29 and 28 was only bettered by Lee Keegan’s with 30. Barry Moran also added an aerial threat and produced one massive fetch at midfield.

Seamus O’Shea is continually improving and it was good to see him constantly looking up in possession to try and pick out the best attacking option in the full-forward line.

The best example of that was his pass into Aidan for the crucial goal just before half-time, when he changed direction, to lob the ball perfectly into the danger area.

Having a genuine target man at full-forward has really improved Mayo’s overall game management.

Dublin and Jim Gavin will have their work cut out to stop Mayo winning that sector. Mayo had their homework done on Paul Durcan’s kick-outs and Neil Gallagher was never the influence he can be.

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly will also forensically dissect Stephen Cluxton’s restarts over the next three weeks too and don’t expect them to be the launch-pad for Dublin attacks as they have been heretofore.

The work-rate of all the Mayo forward line is excellent and the likes of McLoughlin, Doherty and the O’Connors (Cillian and Diarmuid) will not be found wanting in chasing, tackling and harrying the Dublin rearguard.

It will be a big step up in intensity for Dublin on what they have faced in getting to the last four.

Mayo will have to improve on is their ruthlessness in front of goal. They only scored 15 out of 29 scoring chances and Andy Moran’s last effort which he kicked wide when he had a free man inside typified their lack of efficiency in the last 20 minutes.

Admittedly, the game was over as a contest at that stage, but All-Ireland winning teams don’t kick the ball into the opposition goalkeeper’s hands on seven or eight occasions when points are on offer. And to do so against Dublin would be madness.

Mayo have other concerns too, and while Barry Moran’s role as a sweeper worked reasonably well against what was a very tired looking Donegal forward line, it is highly questionable whether it would be in any way effective against the fast and fluid Dublin forward division.

I would have doubts on that one, plus it would free up an extra Dublin defender to double team O’Shea at the other end of the field. The loss of Tom Cunniffe (injury) and Kevin Keane with a harsh red card are not positive developments either.

It is impossible not to believe that this is the end of the road at this level for many of Donegal’s older soldiers. Guys like Colm McFadden, Karl Lacey, Rory Kavanagh, Christy Toye, Frank McGlynn, Neil Gallagher and the McGees have been majestic servants for Tír Chonnail for the last decade and they have given their all for the cause.

The hours invested by those men over the past five years since Jim McGuinness, and now Rory Gallagher, took over is massive.

And at a certain stage, players can look in the mirror and decide, or are told by their wife or partner, that the ship has sailed and it is time to refocus on other aspects of life.

Unless Donegal can find four or five fresh faces to augment the likes of Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh, it isn’t likely they will be reaching the last four of the championship for a while.

For the Mayo players the crusade for All-Ireland glory continues for another three weeks at the very least.

And some of my old teaching colleagues in Castlebar will now be dreaming of past pupils like Seamus and Aidan O’Shea, Tom Cunniffe and Robert Hennelly walking into the school gym hall with the Sam Maguire in late September.

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