Emmet Ryan looks ahead to Mayo's clash with Roscommon with an eye on how youth could play a big difference for the more veteran-laden outfit
Considering the proficiency of Mayo in attack over the past six seasons, the side continues to be lumbered with bizarre concerns about its lack of an elite forward.
Andy Moran must be the most ignored force in the game. Despite being far from a towering presence, he is one of the top high ball winners in the game. As a target man, he's flat out better than Aidan O'Shea. While O'Shea is a better pure ball winner, marginally, Moran works better after returning to terra firma at either progressing or off-loading. It's about the sum of the parts as well. When Moran wins a high ball, he's far better suited to put O'Shea in position to do something with the offload than vice-versa.
The Moran-O'Shea-Cillian O'Connor dynamic has proven really good for Mayo at scoring. Even before O'Shea's conversion to a full-forward, the other pair did plenty to turn Mayo's attack into the second most reliable since the turn of the decade next only to Dublin. At championship or league level, no other side has consistently created and converted as many scoring chances as Mayo. No other side has been in position to win the big one as often as Mayo. The big difference of course is that other sides have won the big one. Kerry won in 2014, Donegal in 2012, Dublin got the rest. Mayo's run on consistency hasn't resulted in the ultimate trophy.
That's where the pieces behind the front-line, particularly from the next generation, could prove crucial. Last season's under 21 All-Ireland winning side has already delivered a few players who could make a big impact in terms of getting the win that matters.
Andy Moran in action for Mayo during the All-Ireland final replay in Croke Park. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
In Fergal Boland last year's All-Ireland runners up have added vital depth to the half-forward line. Boland's ceiling is far from clear, as is the norm with younger players, but he has already shown that he is not a making up the numbers grade talent. Depth is utterly vital to Mayo in the middle third, deep runs in the summer and the final 15 minutes of a big game rely on having players who can come in and do a big job there. Despite his youth, Boland's already shown he can be relied on there.
Somewhat more interesting is the case of young Eoin O'Donoghue who has all the touches required of the modern footballer but comes at the game with a delightfully old-school edge. O'Donoghue's a crunching type of player, hitting hard and fair whether it's in the tackle or looking to break out of defence. He has all the athletic gifts needed to succeed in the game today but comes to it with the glee of a man who would love to be out playing Junior B for the tussle.
Considering his age, that's a vital tool for Mayo's defence, particularly with this being the second season of the Stephen Rochford project. Having a young defender capable of starting or putting in a lengthy stint off the bench without being liable to getting roughed up by veterans is a luxury.
How these pieces come together is the real question for Mayo. The Rossies present an ideal test here as youthful vigour is the one thing Kevin McStay's charges have in plentiful supply. They will run Mayo hard, forcing Rochford's young guns to show they can fit into the mould and deliver what the veteran front line needs. Mayo has never lacked elite scorers or elite players. It's issue is the lone elite result. The process to rectifying that continues in this clash.