Stephen Rochford: We know there is more within us

Somehow, some way, they’re still standing.

Nine weeks since Galway brought an end to their five years of hegemony in Connacht – and after a summer spent providing more questions than answers - Mayo still find themselves contemplating a third All-Ireland final in five seasons.

Somehow.

This last step taken into the month of September resembled pretty much all the others since that defeat in Castlebar on June 20. Superb for one ten-minute spell, they stumbled through the remainder, unable to replicate the alchemy of that fleeting glory.

Some good, some bad, some worse.

It’s a pattern that has papered their entire championship and one that, despite their willingness to graft and eke out a victory again against Tipperary, suggests there is far too much work still to be done before Dublin or Kerry embark on a major house inspection.

It was no wonder that manager Stephen Rochford reached no higher in the list of superlatives than ‘content’ when describing his emotions afterwards. He may have oversold it: it was suggested to Keith Higgins that this latest semi-final win was positively underwhelming.

“You could call it underwhelming, but at the same time semi-finals are there for winning,” said Higgins. “At this stage, we don’t care if we win the greatest game we’ve ever played or if we win the worst one we’ve ever played. We just have to win them, simple as that like.

“It’s different, but the result is all that matters. It’s clichéd but it’s true.”

Higgins never doubted that Mayo could reach another final. Or so he says. Not when they lost in such controversial circumstances to Kerry in Limerick in 2014. Not even when Dublin finally had their number after 140 minutes 12months ago.

The hunger, he insisted, is the same. What has changed, he believes, is the maturity of this group though it was hard to argue with Liam Kearns when he suggested yesterday evening that this is a Mayo side maybe two years past its peak.

All in all, it’s probably fitting for a county whose All-Ireland hopes are dashed in much the same manner year after year that there is an element of Groundhog Day to Rochford’s post-match press conferences. He suggested as much himself.

In a nutshell? Must do better.

“We just have to be more consistent, better in front of goal with some of the opportunities that we created,” said Rochford when asked about how and where they need to improve. “We put the ball in the goalie’s hand three times in the first half and twice in the second half.

“With all due respect to Tipperary, I don’t think it was down to the pressure. It was poor execution. We still got 15 scores there and our own levels of standards would dictate that we want more and we know that there is more within us to get that.”

Dublin or Kerry will bring out the best in them, he suggested. It will have to come to that and, if they are to go where no Mayo team has gone since 1951, then it will be their ability to shore up the space in front of David Clarke’s goal that goes a long way towards it.

Mayo have now conceded just three goals in their seven championship games, and just one of those in their last four. The 1-14 Westmeath managed against them in the last round of the qualifiers was the highest score managed by anyone against them all campaign.

It’s a solid base from which to work and one built on tactical flexibility that saw Barry Moran replace Kevin McLoughlin as the designated sweeper against a Tipperary side that fell five points short of what had been their lowest tally of the summer yesterday.

“You have to look at what you are playing against and the two boys inside posed that aerial threat,” said Rochford. “We had to do something to try and cut out that. So it comes down to maturity and management. You just have to cut out that threat.

“I’m sure we’ll come up with something else for whoever we play in the final.”

Again, they’ll have to.


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