Colm Boyle has been the county’s best defender in this year’s championship hence the fixation with why he was benched before the 55th minute against both Cork and Roscommon.
That predictability extends to a full-forward, be in Andy Moran, Conor Loftus or Evan Regan, as the second player to be replaced in five of Mayo’s seven SFC matches so far.
Aged 31 and 33 respectively, Boyle and Moran have mileage behind them but it’s another measure that has been subscribed to their replacements – GPS. The term “GPS subs” has even found currency, the mention of which breaks Stephen Rochford’s mouth in a wry smile.
“Look, it would amuse you – I think that’s as good a word as you get. We see things that we expect. We would feel that we have a bench to come on to make an impact. A lot of guys in those games – take the Cork game, the first four guys (in off the bench), three of them had started the All-Ireland final and the All-Ireland final replay so you’re not on about giving young fellas a run-out. You’re tactically trying to push the game on.
“At no stage were we bothered or getting distracted by what was the commentary outside of the group. And at no stage was there anything within the group that was sort of wondering why a fella was in, or why a fella was coming in off the bench. Nobody was being distracted by it. It wasn’t something that was inside our control and I suppose if you weren’t talking about how poorly we were playing, you had to be talking about something else.”
As apparent as their substitution policy may be from the outside looking in, Rochford suggests it’s determined by information that only those in the camp are privy to. And there’s plenty that observers of Mayo don’t see. That coasting win over Roscommon the last day didn’t surprise the manager when he had seen weeks earlier in training.
“I remember going into the Clare game, we were sort of saying ‘There’s a big performance’ … you could see stuff in training, like what we delivered last week, we could see that in training. We had a night above in the midlands, we were training, and God, I think every second chance they were going for goal. Not out of silliness or errors … there was a real cut to us. And you’re sort of saying, ‘Yeah, it’s coming this weekend’. And you didn’t get that; we got it in maybe the second half or the last ten minutes of the first half against Clare, and you were waiting for it to push on.
“I would feel that we did play pretty well for the first 50-55 minutes against Cork, but in about a four or five-minute period we just dropped our concentration and we ended up turning a game that we should have been just driving on home – and especially for a group as experienced as us. But we coughed up goal chances and I suppose what Cork didn’t do against Kerry, they took them against us.”
After Tyrone and Dublin had confirmed their All-Ireland credentials in their quarter-final routs the week after Kerry underlined theirs, Mayo went into their replay against Roscommon with claims they had lost their elite status. It didn’t bother Rochford.
“In some ways, people were asking us was it frustrating, the talk of a top three or whatever, and you’re not being considered in that? You know, maybe we hadn’t earned it as much as the other three.”
Speaking of gears, if Kerry haven’t shifted their stick above third Mayo, after a suspected dead battery, haven’t either. “Em, no, we haven’t. And, you know, we know that we’re going to need to. It’s August, lads, and you’ve got to push on. Mayo as a football community, we haven’t beaten Kerry in 20 years. This group has been close, but that doesn’t mean anything going into 2017. We need to be in fifth gear on Sunday, there’s absolutely no doubt in that.
“But in that what I see in this group, they do really stand up to that challenge. And whilst we’ll go in as the underdogs, we’re not going to go up there in any sense of fear. We’ve got a healthy group, don’t have anybody as such on the physio table. So we’ll go with a certain level of confidence, but totally understanding that we’re coming up against the form team in the championship.”