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5 talking points as Mayo discover their best form by returning to the running game

Stephen Rochford’s men are hitting form at the right time as they prepare for a titanic semi-final against Kerry.

1. Mayo hit form at the right time

THEY STUTTERED THEIR way through the championship up until today, but Mayo will arrived in the last four high on confidence after their sensational 22-point dismantling of Roscommon.

David Murray and Aidan O'Shea Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sligo and Clare were the only two teams Mayo had managed to defeat inside 70 minutes this season up to this point. It was an unconvincing start to the summer but Mayo hit something close to their potential this afternoon.

They’ll need every inch of that form for the semi-final against Kerry in a repeat of the 2014 epic All-Ireland semi-final counters. Kerry’s replay victory in the Gaelic Grounds probably robbed a Mayo team at its peak of their best chance to lift Sam Maguire.

The late collision which forced Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor to leave the field late on, coupled with Kieran Donaghy’s dramatic intervention for James O’Donoghue’s goal put Kerry on the path to an All-Ireland title in Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s second year in charge.

Caoileann Fitzmaurice and Seamus O'Shea Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2. Football’s ‘Fab 4′

The four elite teams in Gaelic football are back where we all expected them to be. Granted, Mayo took the scenic route to the All-Ireland semi-finals through the qualifiers to take their place alongside Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone in the last four.

The four teams left in the competition are streets ahead of the rest of the country. The accumulative winning margin of the four quarter-finals was 58 points – 11.6 per game when you take into account the drawn Roscommon-Mayo game.

On the face of it the introduction of the Super 8s will do little to close the gap between the ‘Fab 4′ and the rest, but only eight of the 24 games will be played in Croke Park with the rest in provincial venues. That should reduce the chances of blow-outs like the one we witnessed today.

Lee Keegan looks on Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Quality of Mayo performance without Lee Keegan

Mayo relied heavily on Lee Keegan in the drawn game and looked devoid of ideas in attack during the second-half when he followed Enda Smith to the edge of the square.

Without the Footballer of the Year, who missed the game after spending time in hospital with a leg injury during the week, the rest of his team-mates stepped up to the mark and took on the responsibility.

Stephen Rochford now has a welcome headache ahead of the semi-final in deciding where to play Keegan on his return to the team. Any one of Chris Barrett, Tom Parsons, Paddy Durcan, Donal Vaughan or Seamus O’Shea could miss out, depending on how Rochford wants his side to match-up against Kerry.

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The most versatile player in Rochford’s deck, Keegan could slot into midfield or anywhere in defence. It’ll be interesting to see where he lines out.

Fintan Cregg leaves the pitch after being sent off Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

4. Roscommon’s puzzling no-show

It’s hard to put your finger on where it all went wrong for the Rossies today. Defensively, they had bodies back but didn’t tackle with anything near the sort of intensity required to hurt Mayo.

The movement in attack wasn’t good enough and they were laboured going forward with the ball, meaning Mayo could drop men in behind and easily deal with the danger. They were indisciplined, picking up seven yellow cards in addition to Fintan Cregg’s red.

Overall, 2017 will be seen as a successful season for Kevin McStay and his management team. They delivered a first Connacht title in seven years and brought heavy favourites Mayo to a replay in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

The manner of this defeat to his native county will leave a sour taste in his mouth, but the great strides this young Roscommon team made this year must not be forgotten.

David Murray and Gary Patterson with Jason Doherty Source: James Crombie/INPHO

5. Mayo’s running game is back

When Mayo were in their pomp under James Horan, the hard-running half-back line of Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan and Colm Boyle was their attacking platform.

Rochford showed his tactical nous by putting the lessons he learned from the drawn game to good use today and he employed  running game we haven’t seen from Mayo since Horan left.

Rochford preferred to use the sort of kicking style he enjoyed much of his success with Corofin, but today proved the running game better suits these players.

Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins, Donal Vaughan and Chris Barrett made several probing runs from the half-back line and all three first-half goals arrived from deep runs. Aidan O’Shea is at his best when his first thought is to take on his man and on a number of occasions he hand-passed a ball into the full-forward line rather than kicking it.

They had 13 different scorers from play enjoyed by far their best game in front of the posts, despite their 11 wides. Rochford might have stumbled on the formula to beat Kerry, who have looked vulnerable to the running game this season.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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