Patience will be a virtue for Mayo against Donegal in their Super 8 encounter at MacHale Park on Saturday evening, according to Alan Dillon.
The former Mayo attacker feels the westerners will need to improve their game-management if they are to turn Donegal over and progress to the semi-finals of the All-Ireland series.
“I think it will be really tight (on Saturday), there won't be much space given and Donegal will make it compact and counterattack aggressively,” Dillon suggested, speaking ahead of the AIB GAA Roadshow in the Breaffy House Resort.
“Mayo need to be patient and dictate the pace of the game. They didn’t manage the game in Killarney very effectively and Kerry got that momentum and scores on the board early in the first half — it was over at half time really at 15-6.
“Mayo’s game management will need to be very strong, the kick-out retention will be a huge aspect. They will have to nullify Ryan McHugh, Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty and if they can curb their influence, it will go a long way towards Mayo getting the result they need.”
Dillon believes McHugh, in particular, will require close attention from Mayo, after all, the Kilcar dynamo was the man of the match in the drawn clash with Kerry and dictates the tempo at which Donegal play.
“(Michael) Murphy plays a roving role and you just got to track him. He’s their go-to man, he was putting quality ball into the forwards against Kerry and the forwards knew that it was going to come early and fast when Murphy was on it.
“I’m not sure who James is thinking but the likes of Lee Keegan comes to mind, and the likes of Ryan McHugh is so dynamic on breaking ball… he’s like their point guard when Donegal are coming out of defence, he’s so cool and composed and very clever on the ball, waits for the openings. He touches the ball probably more than any Donegal player and he needs to be watched for the 70 minutes.
“Mayo probably need to look at themselves and see where they can utilise their strengths. It will be a huge battle in around the middle eight and whoever comes out with the most primary possessions will have more opportunities. It’s a mouth-watering challenge for both sets of players and managements,” explained Dillon.
Mayo’s performances were far from spectacular in Castlebar this summer. James Horan’s outfit lost, of course, to Roscommon in the Connacht SFC and, more recently, saw off Armagh in an All-Ireland qualifier, but were fortunate to do so.
Therefore, the northerners will hardly fear playing Mayo in their own backyard.
“Yeah, I suppose there’s a different nature when you're on the road and playing in different grounds — whether that’s Croke Park or around the country, where you have that siege mentality or bit of unity on tour. Castlebar has not been the most pleasant hunting ground for Mayo and, during the national league, they found it very difficult to get some wins there. I know in the Championship there is probably a different feeling.
“Against Galway last year, it was a game that Mayo let slip and the Roscommon experience this year — they’re hoping to get back to winning ways and make it a very hostile ground for the travelling Donegal team. This is a once-off game and the lads see a prize of getting back to Croke Park for an All-Ireland semi-final. So, I’m sure they’ll make every inch of Elverys MacHale Park and try to get off to a great start,” Dillon said.
On the plus side for Mayo, however, Horan may well have a stronger hand to choose from in terms of personnel as there are key men possibly due to return, as Dillon illustrates.
“In the last couple of games, they've had to use their squad and they’ve used 12 players who had no championship exposure over the past 12 months. When those changes are forced upon you, you have got to give younger players a chance.
“Some of them have performed, for some it’s a learning curve. It will be an added bonus if Paddy Durcan can get back on the pitch, Keith Higgins, even the likes of Diarmuid O’Connor and Matthew Ruane, especially coming into the real business end to the season.
“That strengthens James Horan’s hand and it’s something we probably didn’t have in previous years: that strength in depth. It will be very interesting to see what starting line-up he goes with. There will be big calls in terms of match-ups with some of the Donegal key players and that’s what makes it really intriguing.
“On the other hand, you have Stephen Rochford, and that depth of familiarity and knowledge of the Mayo squad and how players like to conduct themselves in these games — it will be intriguing,” Dillon added.