Thursday, July 28, 2011

Project CIG: How Mayo Can Beat Cork on Sunday

Paddy Power is quoting Mayo as a 9/2 longshot against Cork on Sunday. That means if Mayo were to play Cork eleven times Mayo would win two and Cork would win the other nine. That price is probably a bit mean – it’s hard to see Mayo beating Cork at all, to say nothing of beating them twice.

But Paddy can’t go true price 9/1 or 10/1, because then you realise the difference between bookie odds and true probability. Why, even Pat Spillane himself would take Mayo at 10/1 if he were offered it. Yerra, just in case, like.

And that’s what Mayo must focus on this week. When the back room team sits down to analyse the game against Cork this Sunday they have to realise that not only have Mayo a puncher’s chance, the confluence of events means that one chance in ten may very well have arrived this weekend. For three reasons.

1: Complacency
It’s extremely difficult for any Cork team to take Mayo seriously at the best of times. Why would they? It’s very difficult for Cork to take anyone seriously, other than Tipperary in hurling and Kerry in football, but there’s no way they think anything other than shaking the jersey will be required against Mayo.

Connacht football is a national laughing stock – junk bond status, in Pat Spillane’s nice phrase – and Cork themselves have only to think back to the havoc they wreaked on Mayo in Croke Park in April ’10, fifteen months ago to realise what a stroll in the park it’ll be.

Sure the Mayo manager, whoever he is, probably has to cut the players’ dinners for them of an evening, as they can’t be trusted to work cutlery themselves without stabbing each other or lopping off a digit or a limb. Conor Counihan will rant all he wants but come on. Mayo? All those boys will be thinking about another crack at Kerry, and making up for the Munster Final.

Just like the Mayo players themselves couldn’t take London seriously, and were licking their lips at the prospect of a crack at Galway. Pretty much the same thing.

2: Injuries
Cork are cursed with injuries. There’s a lot of talk in modern Gaelic football about systems and training and thirty man panels and the divil knows what but while An Spailpín pays science due respect I can’t get it out of my head that if you don’t have the players your system won’t save you in the white heat of the Championship.

Cork have more strength in depth than any other team. We saw it in the League final earlier this year, when it seemed like each sub that came on was better than the man who went off. But a lot of that was illusory, as Cork’s growth coincided with Dublin’s falling away.

This Sunday, Goulding is gone. Sheehan is gone. Colm O’Neill is gone. Joe Brolly might be onto something about Canty. That’s a lot of holes.

Cork are still thick with superstars of course – the O’Connors, Paddy Kelly, and An Spailpín’s own favourite, the immortal Noel O’Leary, the pride of Cill na Martra. But Cork will miss Goulding and the rest. Nobody can lose that many first line players without Fate coming to collect at some stage. If Conor Counihan isn’t worried about his injury list, he ought to be.

3: Goals
For years Mayo have used the inside line as a source of third midfielders, or a place to send starting midfielders for a breather because those same starting midfielders were on the tiles the night before and are burning diesel badly.

Not this year. For the first time since the brief career of the unlucky John Casey, Mayo are dangerous inside. None of the three young men along the full-forward line are nationally known. No-one ever heard of Pavarotti either until he started to sing. O’Connor, Freeman and Jason Doherty can do damage if they get ball into them, not least as Cork’s full back line isn’t the rebels’ strongest unit.

The Cork half-backs are, to An Spailpín’s eye, the heart of the team. Kissane, Miskella and O’Leary. Warriors all. Bizarrely, however, the current Mayo half-forwards are an interesting match for them. The Mayo half-forwards have become quite the ground hogs this summer and if they can scrounge a few breaks and deliver it lively inside – rather than ponce off into a corner, soloing thoughtfully, say – well, who knows?

It’s a big ask of course, and the reward for victory over Cork is almost certain butchery at the hands of the Kingdom. But I wouldn’t mind that. I would even accept it as a price worth paying.

Mayo are a very young team and still a few piece short of the puzzle. But a beating from Kerry would help season them, and know what the highest level is like.

And through the winter as the team show their scars and talk about what it’s like to face the best, they could take comfort in the thought of Cork, crying by the Lee all through the winter as the Israelites wept by the rivers of Babylon. The thought of those tears should be reward aplenty, irrespective of what else the Championship has in store. Maigh Eo abú.