John O’Mahony and Conor Mortimer have taken issue with the blame apportioned to goalkeeper David Clarke for Mayo’s restart difficulties, the former Mayo manager and forward insisting the team’s middle eight are as much accountable for their restart malfunctions as the man between the sticks.
Securing clean possession from their own kick-out has been Mayo’s “Achilles heel” during the Super 8s, with Kerry devouring the Mayo restart during their 10-point win over James Horan’s side.
Mayo lost nine of their 17 first-half kick-outs that afternoon in Killarney, resulting in five Kerry points, and there wasn’t a whole pile of improvement last time out against Meath as Clarke again struggled to find a teammate from the kicking tee.
In their last six championship outings, Mayo have conceded 2-15 directly stemming from lost kick-outs.
But former Mayo manager O’Mahony and All-Star forward Mortimer are adamant that when Clarke is forced to kick long, the middle eight are not giving him many options to aim at.
“The focus seems to be coming on David Clarke. What I’d have to say is that Mayo wouldn’t be at this stage of the championship only for David Clarke. He needs help from his teammates. Kick-outs involve eight or nine people, not just the goalkeeper,” said O’Mahony.
“The short restarts have been okay, it is the longer ones where they have been running into difficulty. Clarke is accountable for some of those but not all.
The reality in Killarney was that David Moran ruled the air. You could argue why wasn’t the ball kept away from him by David Clarke but then, what were the options given? I’m not sure that there were other options available to him.
Mortimer agrees with the point made by O’Mahony, questioning if the Mayo players are making the necessary runs for Clarke to ping restarts at.
He would be surprised if Rob Hennelly, in goal for the county's league final victory earlier this year, is handed the number one shirt for tomorrow’s must-win fixture at home to Donegal. Hennelly has been on the bench since the Connacht semi-final defeat to Roscommon
“The half-back line, midfield, and half-forward line all have a part to play in relation to the kick-outs. You look at Dublin’s kick-outs and it is the boys out the field who are making the hard runs to get free for Cluxton to kick the ball to.
"Are the Mayo boys making those runs as much as they can? They probably haven’t been the last couple of games," said Mortimer.
"It is impacting on Mayo’s ability to win their own kick-out if they are not short. They have had two weeks to rectify that issue. I imagine you’ll see an improvement this weekend.
“We have previous in changing the 'keeper and it didn’t work for us. I don’t think there is going to be a drastic change like that. I’d be disappointed if David Clarke wasn’t starting.”
Mortimer added: “If Michael Murphy gets a foothold in the middle, you are in trouble straight away.
"They obviously have a very good keeper with a very good kick-out. It would be more beneficial to press hard on their kick-out, the same way they’ll press us.
It’ll end up being an old school battle out around the middle where you’ll have two or three boys going up to contest each restart.
Two-time All-Ireland winning manager O’Mahony accepts that all available evidence points to a Donegal win and that to tip his native county would be allowing the heart rule the head.
“I have no doubt that if Mayo don’t win on Saturday, there are some of these guys you won’t see in a Mayo jersey again. That is not a criticism.
"They have performed above and beyond the line of duty. Watching Mayo all year, the only day you could say these guys are going to be contenders was the league final against Kerry.
"The newcomers performed really well that day, but against Meath, when the pressure came on, it was [Colm] Boyle, [Andy] Moran and company who stepped forward. If Murphy has a bigger influence than O’Shea, then Donegal are certainly in the driving seat.”
Mortimer is going for a home victory.
“We have a couple of guys back from injury, such as Patrick Durcan, which will obviously strengthen their hand. There is enough quality in that dressing-room to perform and win the game.
"They’ve done too much in the past to not have that confidence in them. And if it isn’t, and they can’t get the performance out, then it is the end of the road. But I don’t think we are there yet.”