Tom Parsons has defended the rearranging of players in the Mayo team that has seen Kevin O’Loughlin moved into a sweeper role and Aidan O’Shea toggling between defence, midfield, and attack.
Manager Stephen Rochford hasn’t been afraid to try new things this year. During the league, Lee Keegan operated in the full-back line with mixed results.
However, he has persisted with McLoughlin operating in front of the full-back line despite it being a prime case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Midfielder Parsons, though, is sold on the idea. “Every team in the country, they are looking at the option of the sweeper system, let that be one man or a group sweeping system, and I think every team in the country utilises their resources to the best of their abilities.
“The Mayo management team, as a group, have recognised that Kevin McLoughlin is a very good tackler. Going up through the ranks at U21 grade, Kevin was naturally a defender. It is a new role for Kevin but I don’t think we were doing anything different to what other counties are doing at the moment.
“Kevin has been in that role for three games and I think he is playing really well. If we keep learning on those aspects of the game that has failed against the Fermanaghs, the Kildares of this world and try and keep improving this system, hopefully it is something which will stand to us well.”
At the same time, Parsons accepts Mayo haven’t yet perfected the new structure.
“If you look at the top teams in the country, there are flaws in any team. Certainly, we haven’t as a group nailed a 100% polished sweeper system. On top of that, the main aspects of how Mayo play football are based upon aggression, work rate, running ability, tackling... all of these key factors.
“If those key aspects of your game are not in place, then no system will make up for that shortfall.”
Whatever about O’Loughlin, Peter Canavan insists that Mayo are not optimising Aidan O’Shea’s talents. And the Tyrone legend supports the idea of retaining O’Shea in one position, rather than moving him around the pitch to fight fires.
But Parsons believes exceptional circumstances in the Fermanagh tie meant O’Shea’s relocation made sense.
“I don’t think Aidan’s position has been messed around. It was quite clear against Kildare that our full-back went off injured. Ger Cafferkey, our other full-back, has sustained a long-term injury and won’t be playing this year and Kildare moved (Kevin) Feely and (Tommy) Moolick intermittently into the full-forward line so it was an obvious decision and choice to move a big guy like Aidan O’Shea to full-back.
“We don’t know what Westmeath brings the next day and decisions will need to be made on the day. If you look at Keith Higgins, he’s an All-Star corner-back playing in the half-forward line, equally the next day he could be in the full-forward line, half-forward line, half-back line or full-back line.
“With the modern game now, players need to be adaptable to what happens on gameday and Aidan is one of these players who is very adaptable, and that’s a strength.”
Having missed the Fermanagh and Kildare games with a hamstring problem, Parsons hopes to be considered for panel inclusion on Saturday. It’s clear not being part of the recovery from the Galway game gnaws at him a little.
“I haven’t played with that team and I haven’t participated on the pitch to rectify losing to Galway and the guys in midfield have come in and done really well.”
And he’s wary Westmeath will seize on any Mayo weakness if they don’t dictate the pitch of the game. “Your Division 1 status does not guarantee you a win over any team. We’ve seen that with Galway who finished mid-table in Division 2 and beat us convincingly and equally went on to beat another Division 1 team in Roscommon.
“So, we say time and time again that as a group, if we drop our performance levels, any team in the country is capable of beating us.”
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