Monday, March 23, 2009

Bury Street Blues - Mayo Struggle for Every Score

Mayo 0-9
Dublin 0-9

The slightly baffled expression on the face of Mayo’s captain, Ronan McGarrity, to your left is one that will have been replicated on the faces of many of the Mayo faithful as they trooped out of the Stephenites’ pitch in Ballina after a desperately disappointing draw with Dublin yesterday.

In terms of disappointment, it was like taking the lodestar of one’s life to some classy joint like Ballina's own Ice House Restaurant for a feed of pan seared turbot, mussels Provençale, any amount of confit new praties and black olive tapenade crus, only to be served Tesco fish fingers and chips instead, washed down with warm TK red lemonade. Not quite the way to set you up for the evening.

Even more distressingly, Mayo were lucky not to be wiped off the face of the Earth by the extraordinary levels of dominance that Dublin achieved in the first half. Dublin did not take advantage of this, for reasons best known to themselves, but against a team with rather more lethal assassins up front (Meehan! Conroy! Joyce!) the results could be appalling.

As this is only the League such trimmings are something that the faithful could take on board, on the basis that you must break the eggs to make the omlette. However, the way that the Mayo formbook has lurched so violently this year, from implosion against Derry to fighting comeback against Donegal to clinical dispatch of Westmeath to a fighting performance in Tralee and now back to abjectness on the team’s return to Ballina is a source of great concern.

So what’s going wrong? Well, a number of things. Mayo are not bossing midfield, they can get overrun in defence but, most critically of all, Mayo struggle so very desperately to score. A Mayo score this year is like that Watchmen movie. It takes ages to arrive and when it does, you wonder what all the fuss was about.

Mayo have struggled to score in the past, and greybeards of the heather country often amuse themselves by chanting lists of the great shockers they have seen (the Connacht Finals of 1994 and 1995 are always to the fore there. Some All-Ireland finals get a mention too).

But the consequences of struggling to score are exacerbated this year because of the novel decision taken at the start of the year to enforce the rules of the game and protect the flair players. Scoring is on the up this year, and that’s why you see Kerry and Galway thriving the way they are. They have the boys that can stick it over the black spot.

Mayo share the second lowest scoring average in Division 1 of the National Football League with Donegal. Only doomed Westmeath are worse, and Mayo’s matching of Westmeath’s struggles before the posts makes Mayo favorites to join the Lakelanders in Division 2. The emphasis hasn’t been as strong on scoring in football in years, and a team that struggles to score in this new era is going to struggle to win.

Gaelic football forwards have to act as a unit. They must operate in rhythm with each other, not like some boys who are just meeting each other for the first time for the stag weekend of a mutual friend. The best way to achieve this unity of forward progress is to play a centre-forward who can direct operations with accurate foot-passing. Alan Dillon was heroic today, but a centre-forward he isn’t. Neither is Trevor Mortimer. Tom Parsons could be, and it would be nice to see him get a run there before the team goes to New York. After that might be a bit too late.

Aidan O’Shea is clearly the hot prospect, but my goodness gracious it’s a remarkable level of responsibility to put on a man who will be sitting the Leaving Cert in three months time.

If only there were someone who could do a job while O’Shea seasons. A veteran, a man with a lot of experience, who’d have the vision see what others cannot, to hit them high to Barry Moran or low to Conor, and maybe even take a crack at a 45 every now and again. But where would John O’Mahony find a man like that? If there were such a being, you’d think he’d be noticeable. Not least because of the hair, the boots and the tattoos...

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