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5 key considerations for a divided Mayo

As Connelly and Holmes decide whether to stay or go, Mayo face an uncertain future.

1. Shoes to fill

Kevin McStay McStay is off to Roscommon Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Should Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes step down, the list of native candidates to replace them has been severely hit with Kevin McStay’s decision to pitch up in Roscommon as co-manager with Fergall O’Donnell.

McStay was the front-runner to take over from Horan following his departure last year, but the RTÉ pundit was left scarred by the decision of the Mayo County Board to opt for the alternative co-managerial team with the former Mayo player expressing his “massive disappointment” at missing out. That call may now come back to haunt the Mayo board with few obvious high-profile candidates.

A return for Horan seems highly unlikely, especially considering his media commitments over this past season.

2. Sideline calls

Aidan O'Shea bursts through the Dublin defence O'Shea was shackled by Dublin Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The Mayo panel are purportedly unhappy with the tactics employed by Connelly and Holmes and their use of two star men this year appears indicative of an uncertain approach.

Aidan O’Shea’s move to centre-forward was hailed by many as a game-changer for the five-in-a-row chasing Connacht champions early in the season. Meanwhile, a slightly-modified defence saw Connelly and Holmes adjust the attacking wing-back approach favoured by James Horan. Both moves would play a big part in short-term success and, ultimately, failure.

O’Shea was fed ball with little thought in the All-Ireland semi-finals and as much as Philly McMahon’s efforts can be praised or criticised, it’s questionable whether the tactic was persisted with for too long.

Elsewhere, Lee Keegan at times seemed uncertain of whether he should be an attacking threat or concentrate on defensive duties, with the Westport man starring against Donegal after the reins appeared to be loosened before fluffing his lines at a crucial moment against Dublin.

3. Backroom blues

James Horan Horan continues to cast a shadow on the current management Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Changes in the Mayo backroom have also been cited as a reason for the players’ unhappiness, but questions will now be asked of whether the panel became too conditioned to James Horan’s set-up.

While strength-and-conditioning trainer Cian O’Neill jumped ship from Mayo to Kerry back in 2012, it is believed that his departure from Horan’s set-up was precipitated by the then manager’s concerns with O’Neill’s increasingly hands-on role in training sessions when it came to footballing matters. The fact that the Mayo panel are now understood to be upset with training regimes and an apparently out-dated approach of the current management will lead to many to query if they have become too used to Horan’s approach.

It is worth remembering that Horan’s uncertainty in terms of tactics and substitutions during the 2013 All-Ireland final defeat, though, which suggests the lack of a coherent tactical plan is an ongoing problem.

4. Personnel problems

Cillian OÕConnor scores a late penalty Mayo are still overly reliant on Cillian O'Connor Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The tiresome talk of Mayo’s lack of scoring forwards was revived once again following the clashes with Dublin, although it is arguable that Cillian O’Connor’s personal brilliance and unflappable free-taking reliance played its own part in such a perception – the Ballintubber club man kicking 2-15 of Mayo’s 2-29 tally between both semi-finals.

O’Shea’s impact at centre-forward masked such concerns in Connacht, while the emergence of Diarmuid O’Connor as a dependable presence at senior inter-county level was welcome.

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Mayo, however, remain weak in many areas. Their defensive frailties replaced talk of scoring concerns as the hot topic during the early part of summer, and while their midfield prowess was relatively consistent the departure of Séamus O’Shea in the loss to Dublin highlighted their dependence on certain players.

The introduction of Andy Moran, Alan Freeman and Barry Moran from the bench in the drawn game led to some joy, but Mayo looked in dire need of alteration during the last quarter of the semi-final replay.

5. Hell or Connacht?

Keith Higgins lifts the Nestor Cup The Nestor Cup is not the reward Mayo have been yearning for Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The Mayo set-up cannot be criticised for over-selling their provincial achievements, and they rightly celebrated the momentous achievement of winning a fifth Connacht SFC title in a row even if that success was devalued somewhat by the decline in competitive standards out west.

Galway offered a decent challenge while never looking likely to upset their rivals, but Sligo wilted in the Connacht final with their 2-11 tally being their main contribution as it highlighted the potentially porous gaps in the Mayo defence.

The lack of a provincial challenge for the Connacht men did not receive as much attention as that of Dublin’s one-sided Leinster campaign, though. That did not ultimately upset Dublin’s campaign – even if another competitive outing in the replay against Mayo can be cited as a blessing in disguise – but with the All-Ireland structure continually coming under scrutiny, Mayo would likely benefit from more stringent summer tests.

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About the author:

Ciarán Gallagher

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