Intercounty Football

Mayo vs Kerry – Kick-out Strategy Key to Mayo Success

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I’ve spent the whole summer pontificating about how so many sides have gone man-on-man on oppositions’ kick-outs yet have failed to stop defenders from peeling off their men and gaining the short pass from the keeper anyway.

All statistical analysis from this year’s championship and long before is showing that the difference between getting off a quick kick-out and being forced long into the melting-pot typically runs at anything between thirty and fifty percent of a point.

In Mayo’s dismantling of Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final replay, they gave a master-class in this regard. Huge credit has to go to Stephen Rochford and his backroom team. It’s a result this year I didn’t see coming.

From start to finish they pushed high on Kerry and put them under huge pressure to get the ball of short. It forced a number of kicks to the midfield melting-pot and a couple of short attempts intercepted too.

At the other end, with Kerry sitting a sweeper for the most part, Mayo time and again, played the correct angles and made the right runs and David Clarke played the right ball into the right space for Mayo to gain primary possession.

The possession figures at half time said it all – 65/35 in Mayo’s favour. That kind of possession dominance at this level of inter-county football is virtually unheard of.

By the second half Kerry had gone man on man, but Mayo’s inventive and intelligent runs continued to create the space for Clarke to find a man.

Whereas Kerry tried to drag their men before the ball was played, to prevent their runs, Mayo applied sound man-marking principles.

Huge credit is due to Clarke too who picked out a few less obvious kicks, particularly one midway through the second half where he dinked the ball to the free Mayo man in a small gap between two groups of players.

However, it wasn’t just on kick-out that Mayo produced the goods in this regard. Whenever they forced a man-on-man situation, their man-marking was excellent – even forwards.

The prime example was late in the first half near the Cusack Stand side-line. The t-v cameras probably didn’t pick it up, but Kerry’s go-to play-maker, Donnchadh Walsh made the run to pick up the short free. It’s the kind of run that players have become extremely used to just picking up easy ball from.

Cillian O’Connor, however, a corner forward, marked him from the front like an experienced corner back would. Walsh made no less than three different runs to get the ball, but O’Connor simply didn’t allow the angle, with meticulous man-marking. Kerry had to go back.

In the day and age where zonal defending has seen too many defenders, never mind forwards, allow the opposition easy possession out in front, it was a kick-back to the old-school values that made Meath under Seán Boylan so formidable.

Credit Stephen Rochford. He comes in for stick week in week out, never loses his cool, yet never panders to popular sentiment.

The manner in which Mayo managed to get possession on the short kick-outs yet deprive Kerry of the same was a tactical master-class for which the management team and players deserve huge credit.

By Stephen O’Meara