MAYO have recovered from the Galway loss with wins over Derry and Clare but questions remain which will need to be answered tomorrow at the Gaelic Grounds.
Mayo have come through two stern tests which should boost morale and confidence but overall there has been deficits in performance which they will need to improve and Cork will look to exploit.
Mayo had 16 wides in the Derry game and this poor execution carried over into the Clare match. It’s long been a criticism of this team that they rely too much on Cillian O’Connor. Early on against Clare, Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLaughlin, in particular, seemed lacking in confidence in attacking positions. While not playing at their best, and some credit to Clare here also, it took some big plays from other Mayo player’s, which was key to Mayo winning the game.
This included a Lee Keegan fisted point and two crucial points from Andy Moran which cut the deficit to two points at the break. No player performing at his best, but still showing leadership qualities when it was needed.
I felt at times watching Mayo in the first half versus Clare that they were lethargic getting back and I don’t think it was due to going to extra-time the previous week versus Derry. Sometimes we can miscalculate a player’s work-rate or hunger by just focusing on what the player is doing in possession or during a team attack.
The real test is when defending and this is not just the immediate defender, but also rather a free player who should be sprinting back to double up or pick up a better defensive position. This is part of the game that many a talented team suffers from and it’s certainly an area that the Cork hurlers have improved on.
Just using an example from another sport, Guardiola’s dominant Barcelona team is well renowned for its attacking brilliance and ability to pass and move. The key element though in my mind was how the team defended. Xaxi and Iniesta are outstanding footballers but more impressive was their honesty and work-rate to apply defensive pressure on opponents in the attacking half of the field. This created easier scoring opportunities for Messi and co and demoralized many an opponent.
This lethargy getting back though could cost Mayo this week. When Clare ran hard at Mayo’s defence, they looked vulnerable, which started with Donal Vaughan getting black carded for hauling down Gary Brennan. If Jamie Malone had taken his goal chance in the first half, Clare would have been further ahead and the game may have turned out differently.
Who knows if Cork will score goals on Saturday but they certainly have the ability to create chances as they have shown all year and not just against Kerry in the Munster final.
It was more a mindset rather than physical factor I feel, similar to last year where Mayo struggled to get past Fermanagh in the qualifiers. As impressive as Dublin were last Sunday versus Kildare, they too struggled for long periods to shake off Carlow in the first round.
I think you will see an upsurge in consistent energy and commitment from Mayo this week as irrespective of Cork’s recent performances, Mayo will very much respect Cork and feel they have to be at their best to win. This will create a psychological edge in itself.
It’s hard to predict what team will start for Cork but you would expect three or four changes to the team of which started the Munster Final. Provided Eoin Cadogan has trained well over the last two weeks, he could start but where remains the question.
Cadogan is an ideal man to pick up Aidan O’Shea if O’Shea is positioned at 14. I don’t expect O’Shea to move to full forward until later in the game so will be interesting to see where Cadogan starts.
Apart from positional switches in the back line you might expect John O’Rourke to come into the half-forward line, Aidan Walsh to stay midfield and either or both Peter Kelleher and Colm O’Neill to start in the full-forward line.
One thing for sure is Cork just need to start better. This isn’t an issue just affecting Cork as was shown in the Leinster final last Sunday. Kildare had plenty of possession in the first twelve minutes but turned over possession six times and dropped two shots short. This provided Dublin with ample counter-attacking opportunities and in no time Dublin had an eight-point lead.
This can affect the best teams also. In last year's All-Ireland semi-final versus Dublin, Kerry had seven turnovers in the first 10 minutes. As a consequence, Dublin were four points up while they also missed three other easy scoring opportunities.
All teams will make mistakes but the key is not to make consecutive mistakes, as the best teams will punish you.
This use of the possession will be the key outcome this Saturday night as right now I think both teams are vulnerable to the counter-attack. The conversion rate of many players needs to improve but I expect a high scoring game. It is hard to predict a winner as so many factors come into play, which includes kick-outs, turnovers, match-ups, referring decisions, and impact substitutions.
Avoid the really poor 10- to 12-minute spells in either half though, and then Cork could very easily win, as they have the ability.