Keith Higgins in action against Dublin last weekend.

The defeat will deeply hurt and embarrass

The setting was ideal. Before an expectant attendance of 14,000, Mayo and Dublin lined up under lights in near perfect conditions to battle for league honours, writes Martin Carney.

The points on offer guaranteed the hosts survival in next year’s top echelon of the league were they to win. Furthermore, depending on other results, victory would likely qualify Mayo for this year’s league semi-finals. On the other hand, relegation was a probable outcome for the Dubs were they to fail, so patrons arrived anticipating a hard-fought contest with both teams having much to play for.

Games with Dublin always exposed a huge response from Mayo. That was my take on this fixture until all my pre-conceptions were shattered on Saturday night. To say Mayo were poor would be as close to an understatement as you could get. For most of the game they were beaten in every man–to-man duel and seemed uncharacteristically sluggish. Only a handful emerged from this whitewash with reputations intact.

Once the game settled down, one outcome seemed inevitable as Mayo’s decision making was confused, skill execution inferior and overall body language betrayed them. On the night, tiredness and poor focus seemed ever-present. I am sure that this week’s post-match analysis will try to find answers to those problems that were ever-present.

With the exception of the opening six minutes, when a promising start yielded points from Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin, Mayo were inferior to the Dubs in every facet of play. How often did we see ball taken into contact and turned over; players abdicating responsibility when scores were there for the taking; and bouts of poor handling and inaccurate kicking betraying good approach work?

The last minute changes to their line-out, which saw the introduction of Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn, strengthened enormously the Dublin forward sector. Every one of them performed with a level of understanding that was vastly superior to what was in evidence from Mayo.

Though he didn’t score, Kevin McManamon linked up the play effectively throughout and his movement stretched the Mayo rearguard. Thomas Brady, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Ciaran Kilkenny all registered excellent points and, though his goal should have been disallowed as a consequence of a double bounce, Bernard Brogan still possesses a degree of craft that is a joy to behold.

Over the last few games Mayo have enjoyed midfield supremacy due primarily to the efforts of Seamus O’Shea and Donal Vaughan. Try as he did, Seamie found it hard to establish dominance in this area on Saturday and I don’t think his cause was made any easier by the poor off-the-ball movement in the forward line. The smooth transition of possession to the inside line is still very much a work in progress.

If we play with a target man, early ball is a priority. Running the ball through the lines from deep is counterproductive in this case. To maximise his effectiveness as our key target man, Aidan O’Shea needs a quicker and a more accurate delivery than has been the case recently. Danny Kirby, when introduced, gave us a glimpse that this role is one that might suit both him and his team. It may be an experiment worth working with.

Returning from a hamstring injury is always an uncertain experience for a player and I felt that Donie Vaughan played well within his capacity for this reason. The dilemma for the selectors, as the championship looms, is from which position can he contribute most. His absence from the number 6 jersey is an issue that needs addressing. Too often on Saturday Dublin were able to penetrate our defence through the centre with little or no resistance being offered. It will not surprise me if Donie is restored to that pivotal position for the championship.

Displays of this nature are not what we have come to expect from the team. Perhaps this explains in part why so many left MacHale Park in a state of shock on Saturday night. Many moons have passed since a Mayo team last suffered a 14-point trouncing but what was more mystifying altogether were the levels of lethargy and uncompetitiveness present.

The defeat will deeply hurt and embarrass. It is something that demands a root and branch probe of all aspects of preparation, team tactics and general approach. A setback like this can become something much more long-lasting if the post-mortem is underpinned by an absence of honesty. Players, management and all involved know that this performance was neither good enough nor acceptable.

There is no need to panic and the timing of this defeat allows for a period of reflection and space to put things right. The squad of players have represented the county with great distinction and don’t become a bad team on the basis of one stinker. They owe themselves a thorough examination to find out what went wrong and prove that this was merely a temporary aberration and not something more serious.