Before we compliment the wizardry of Stephen Rochford, some words of praise for one of his predecessors, Pat Holmes, who successfully pulled off a trick or two in his spell at the Mayo helm.
It was he and Noel Connelly who first stationed Barry Moran as a sweeper against Donegal last year and Holmes also showed much creativity in his gameplans when in charge of Castlebar Mitchels.
That should not be forgotten but there are short memories too when it comes to Rochford’s tactical dexterity. Darragh Ó Sé’s assertion yesterday that Rochford was an unknown quantity before Mayo beat Tyrone was unusual considering his work in leading Corofin to an All-Ireland senior club title last year.
The deployment of Lee Keegan as a full-back earlier in the season was certainly left-field but the Mayo camp is split between Mayo and Dublin bases and just like James Horan experienced, early in the year you may know your best players but not your best team.
Imitating Holmes and Connelly, Rochford has shown the most necessary attribute of a master tactician — the ability to beg, borrow and steal. But he has original pieces of work to his name too, such as employing Alan Dillon to exploit the chink in Tyrone’s armour — Justin McMahon’s double jobbing. Together with another proven game manager in Tony McEntee, Rochford has formed a brains trust that has considering the beguiling question: What will Stephen do next?
Worth a punt
Reference: 2015 drawn All-Ireland semi-final
Long before The Sunday Game panel picked their Mayo team last weekend, there had been a groundswell of support for Parsons to return to the team. If Mayo are going horses for courses, as most of us expect, then Parsons is an ideal candidate to line up against Brian Fenton. David Moran beat Fenton on points the last day having lost the two previous jousts. Parsons asks different questions with his athleticism and influence in running attacks. Much of Mayo’s recovery in the drawn game 13 months ago came courtesy of his industry.
Reference: 2012 All-Ireland club semi-final
Seven points down at half-time and facing hailstones and a gale, McEntee and Gareth O’Neill’s Crossmaglen completed a most stunning comeback against Dr Crokes in Portlaoise. They got a foothold by hammering the hammer – James Morgan quietening Colm Cooper – and winning primary possession in the middle of the field through substitute David McKenna. But it was their football which won them the game. The Killarney men were said to be the better players but Crossmaglen showed they could kick better. Dublin are a different breed of animal but Mayo have enough footballers to trust putting leather to leather. Their running game not only suits them but that style has shown to be one damaging to Jim Gavin’s side.
References: 2006 and 2015 All-Ireland semi-finals
“Are you mad, man?” Hear us out. Moran has been one of Mayo’s true form players and the way he uses his strength and contorts his body to shrug off defenders is heartening for a player who made his Mayo debut a year before the smoking ban was introduced. But in Jonny Cooper he faces a genuine candidate for footballer of the year who showed impeccable reading of the game to intercept ball against Kerry. The 33-year-old has scored 1-3 on three SFC occasions coming off the bench against Dublin.
Reference: U21 All-Ireland final 2016
Who can forget the best game of football this year in Ennis when Mayo’s goals stumped Cork, whose determination to stick with a high-fielding three-man full-forward line was endearing and looked like it was going to pay off. Now, we’ve seen this Dublin full-back line succeed in negotiating aerial bombardment but they’ve never faced two or three big men. What if Aidan O’Shea is joined by Barry Moran? Were Andy Moran or Evan Regan picking up the breaks in front of them, Cian O’Sullivan may find himself in a pickle and Cillian O’Connor at centre-forward would be just the type of guy to profit most from a distracted marker.
References: All-Ireland finals 2004, ’06, ’12, ’13, All-Ireland quarter-final 2016
Dillon readily acknowledges he has had a string of poor All-Ireland finals – four of them. He is hardly a Jonah – next to Bernard Brogan he has been the best player when these counties have met in championship since 2004 – and his playmaking role will be of worth on Sunday but not from the outset. He can’t expect James McCarthy or John Small to leave him alone as McMahon did in the quarter-final.
Reference: All-Ireland semi-final 2016
It often felt against Tipperary, particularly in the early stages when the underdogs ran at Mayo, that giving Moran the sweeping brief was paying too much respect to the Premier County. But it was a deterrent that worked a treat. Brogan and Dean Rock are able men in the air but Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney were such a hot ticket that Mayo needed to show that respect. The inside Dublin line thrive on low ball too and Moran wouldn’t appear the ideal candidate to snuff out that delivery.
Reference: All-Ireland quarter-final 2016
Too drastic? It was the tactic Mayo exposed against Tyrone but given the accuracy of Dublin’s kick-passing and speed in getting the ball into their forward line it would seem a futile exercise. Kevin McLoughlin would seem likely to return to the sweeping position he looked so comfortable in against Tyrone but providing him with an accomplice would be an acknowledgement Mayo aren’t playing Dublin on equal terms.
References: 2014, ‘16 All-Ireland series
Again, Rochford hasn’t been afraid to nick an idea from the past and commissioning Higgins in a more advanced role was a Horan tactic in 2014 only to be jettisoned as Mayo reached the business end of the championship. Rochford has done the same this year, finishing the “experiment” as soon as they reached Croke Park. A drifter from the full-forward line is the ideal forward for Higgins to mark. Kevin McManamon looks to be that man.
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