The case for the defence

GAA: All Ireland SFC quarter final

After every victory, no more than after every loss in a football game, people look for something to take out of it and work on for the next game. Scoring 6-25 in a provincial final win makes everything appear rosy on the the attacking side. But questions are also asked about the quality of the team you have just beaten. Add in the fact that you also conceded 2-11 to a team you were so far ahead of on the field of play, to go with the 2-8 you shipped against Galway in the Connacht semi-final win, and the attention on Mayo has switched to their potential defensive frailties.

Two of the men in that defensive rearguard, Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan, said in the build up to tomorrow's All Ireland quarter-final, while they know there are things to work on, they are making progress on keeping things tighter at the back. Higgins, when asked about the score that Sligo put up in Hyde Park, said: "The one thing when you're looking at it is that you see mistakes made and the mistakes might not be necessarily close to goal, it can be a bit further out, and it's how the team reacts overall really. It's easy for me to see that when you're in the full back line, but it's how you react to the mistakes that happen. Some of the stuff that happened the last day, you'd be disappointed with and you've to work on that. But there are other areas you've to work on you can't just go focusing on the defence."

When it was put to him that some complacency could have crept in because of how things were going on the other end of the field he was not so sure, saying: "I don't know if that would be the word, there was a bit of sloppiness because we'd a bit of a lead. The second goal [Sligo scored], we were so far ahead the game was probably over at that stage, and we'd taken our foot off the pedal a small bit really. That's hard to tell, but at least we know we've plenty to work on and that's the thing, if we went in scoring 6-25 and thinking everything was rosy we'd be in for a shock the next day, at least we know what we've to do at this stage."

Still learning

Keegan added that he knew things need to be worked on to lock things down a bit more at the back, saying: "Obviously that's something that we really highlighted. As a defender myself, I wouldn't be too happy but you know I suppose with the scoreline it was probably hard to keep going over the full 70 minutes because we were so far ahead. But again if we are to get that ruthlessness to us we have to take every minute as it comes. Teams will be looking at that, and conceding soft scores is something that we have to nail down over the next few weeks."

Getting the defensive structure right is something that Mayo have been working on, but that plan changes for each game for the individual and for the defensive unit as a whole. "It's a bit of both, you've to look at it. To be ruthless you have to go for the 70 minutes and we didn't go against Sligo as big as the scoreline was, and that's a bit of a disappointing aspect, but every team is trying a defensive structure and that's just the way this game is evolving. Again it's just down to probably individualness during the day and the goal against Galway is one of the poorest I've [been involved in], look at their first goal, as good as Gary Sice was it probably just came from a bad turnover and we were caught cold. Look, little tweaks of concentration need to be looked at. In the last four years we've some of the best individual defenders there are, it's just something we will look at. We're very hard on ourselves when it comes to goal chances like that, very disappointing with what we've seen on the highlights against Sligo, it's something we've looked at and will improve on."

Competition for places very tough

The Mayo management team have named the same back six to start tomorrow's game as the one that started the Connacht final, but the competition for places is something that has kept every one of the established players on his toes, and Higgins would have no problem with one of the players who missed out on getting the nod starting any game. "Kevin [Keane] had such a good league that he had to start against Galway. He damaged his ankle and when you've someone like Ger Cafferekey to come on and replace him, you've no problem with that. Ger might have been lacking that bit of match practice and sharpness, but it comes back to having a panel of players. We'd have no problem if Chris Barrett came in the next day, or Paddy Durcan or Stephen Coen or anyone, and that's the good thing about it. They probably haven't played a huge amount of games, but you still trust them when they are thrown in there to do a job." He went on to say that it was the most competitive time for places in the starting back six in a long time, adding: "Especially in the half-back line, that line probably hadn't changed in three or four years, now Chris came in for the Galway game, Paddy came on, and as I said you'd have no problem if Stevie Coen was there the next day, that's the way it is and it's a good thing. It keeps the likes of Donal Vaughan and Colm Boyle and these boys on their toes. Donnie wasn't happy when he didn't start against Galway and you'd expect that, and you want a reaction out of them, and in fairness when he came on, the first ball he got, he tore up the pitch and set up a point. That's the kind of thing you're looking for and if you get that kind of reaction off everyone who doesn't start it's great."


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