6 talking points from Sunday's GAA action

How Monaghan’s quick start gave them the belief they needed to win, and what lies in store next for James Horan and Mayo.

Mon the lads: A delighted Malachy O'Rourke celebrates after yesterday's Ulster SFC final.
Mon the lads: A delighted Malachy O'Rourke celebrates after yesterday's Ulster SFC final.
Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

1. A good start can be half the battle

MALACHY O’ROURKE HAD Monaghan primed and a good start can frequently be half the battle, especially for an underdog who want to bite and bark. While it wasn’t exactly a blitz the four unanswered points Monaghan scooped at the outset were enough to put belief and confidence into the Farney Army. It was all they needed.

Donegal were left playing catch up and in a match that was always likely to be raw and attritional that isn’t what a team wants to be doing.

Due to Monaghan’s early enterprise Donegal had to go scrambling about trying to find a path back into the reckoning. That they failed was down to Monaghan’s soaring spirit and the effective manner in which bodies were put behind the ball and then put on the line.

Donegal didn’t score until the 32nd minute, it wasn’t as if they had been just failing to convert, they were struggling to unleash shots. Monaghan dictated the tempo and ensured this gripping game was played on their terms: physical and feisty.

2. Coping with the stresses and strains

Even champion teams find the going tough when marquee names are injured, convalescing or off colour. Jim McGuinness admitted the departure of Mark McHugh was hugely relevant. Few could disagree. McHugh, the template modern day footballer, usually calls the shots, like a quarterback issuing instructions on how a play has to unfold.

Donegal seek to break in a rehearsed fashion, McHugh is the on field conductor. Privately many believe that is why he was so instrumental as a substitute when Donegal defeated Tyrone in Ballybofey, McHugh brought a sense of calm. When he limped off the Clones grass yesterday there was Monaghan mayhem. McHugh couldn’t sit in the pocket and Monaghan’s delightful diagonal kicking had Donegal truly vexed.

Donegal’s Michael Murphy does battle with Monaghan’s Vincent Corey (©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry)

3. Supermac and hitman Hughes

When forwards dovetail nicely the sights, smells, and sounds of summer get better. Conor McManus has forged a favourable reputation up north, kicking frees and peeling off to cause havoc and rifle opportunistic scores. That happened against Donegal and McManus had a willing and able accomplice. Kieran Hughes provided a serious attacking outlet: winning hard ball and also contributing three points that were as stylish as they were significant.

McManus and Hughes were sharp inside and Donegal couldn’t cope with the laser guided deliveries that had their full back line on the turn and in tatters. Out the field Paul Finlay, Padraig Donaghy, and Darren Hughes ensured that the potent McManus and Hughes feasted on another one of those epic occasions on the fabled Clones Hill.

4. Mayo head for Croker untested

It is staggering to think that the aggregate total for Mayo’s three victories over Galway, Roscommon, and London out west is 45 points. Certainly that is scary for the other Connacht counties, who have watched on as Mayo claimed a third provincial title on the spin. Things can alter briskly, but Mayo appear to be a bit more advanced than their neighbours and they have the cut of a team who could stitch another few triumphs to that sequence.

Still Mayo have made no secret of the fact that their campaign will be defined on the Jones Road. It is where they will play their football from here on in and whoever emerges from the round four qualifiers will provide a far more more stern examination than Mayo have received thus far. Mayo have simply torched what has been put in front of them. Whether that is a good or a bad thing will only be told in time.

(©INPHO/Cathal Noonan)

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5. James Horan demanding more from his attack

Little is off the cuff anymore in Mayo. James Horan has them measured and almost methodical, but the Mayo manager was slightly peeved by his forwards’ shot selection and option taking yesterday.

Ruthless and relentless when dismissing Galway and Roscommon Mayo posted 5-11 from 37 scoring opportunities in the Castlebar decider with London. Those figures won’t have satisfied Horan.

Undoubtedly it is strange to win a Championship encounter by 16 points and not be fully content, but Horan is pondering what could occur further down the line. Mayo won’t manufacture as many openings and to only take 16 (albeit with five majors) will have Horan and Donie Buckley busy over the next fortnight. Cillian O’Connor did bring a clinical efficiency following his introduction with a second half hat-trick, and it is precisely that type of crisp accuracy Mayo will require at headquarters.

6. London in the last 12

London don’t want to be patronised. Paul Coggins’ side have earned respect the difficult way and there were glimpses of the durability and drive that had flummoxed Sligo and Leitrim. Mayo can just find that other gear or two compared to their Connacht counterparts.

The attitude and application of London couldn’t be faulted in Castlebar: they had a cut, and a good one too. When Mayo outfoxed Galway Joe Brolly spoke about how the Green and Red were so expertly versed in being physical and making turnovers that they were ‘pigs to play against’. It is a fair assessment given with a nodding respect and London like Galway and Roscommon before them coughed up a lot of ball in the tackle.

Cavan have a similarly gritty approach so London will be especially anxious to avoid a slow start. When London achieved results against Sligo and Leitrim they were out of the blocks quickly, posing questions rather than just trying to answer them and find solutions.

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