Dave McIntyre: True test of Mayo's grit won't come against Westmeath

Off The Ball's Dave McIntyre looks ahead to the weekend's action, with live and exclusive national radio commentary right here on Newstalk


Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie 

Mayo will have take a lot of positives from their victory over Kildare at Elverys MacHale, but a true test of their mettle is unlikely to come this weekend as they take on another Division Three side.

Mayo and Westmeath will come face to face at Croke Park on Saturday, and all the action will be live on Off the Ball with a star-studded commentary team. Dave McIntyre will be joined by Conor McManus and Emmet Bolton to analyse the action, while Mossy Quinn will keep you up to minute with the view from the sideline.

Ahead of the game, Off the Ball's Dave McIntyre shared his thoughts on the game and says he expects Westmeath to try and negate Mayo's increasingly potent attacking threat.

"I think it’s difficult to know what type of challenge to expect from Westmeath because they’re obviously coming in off the back of a pretty heavy defeat in the Leinster final," he said. "It won’t be a defeat that has overly scarred them, they won’t be in the same boat as Roscommon were for example, coming in off the back of the Connacht final defeat.

"I expect a pretty defensive set-up, I certainly don’t expect them to deviate from the type of game that they played against Dublin and Kildare this year. They just need to find themselves going forward a bit more often. They need to be getting the ball to the hands of the guys who can do the damage in John Heslin and Kieran Martin.

"I think they’ll pose Mayo a decent challenge, but on the evidence of what we’ve seen over the past two years, when Westmeath take on a Division One side it’s very hard to put a case together that would see them win the game." 

Despite the emergence of Diarmuid O'Connor in the Mayo forward line, alongside the attacking talent of Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor, he says that the same old questions will be asked of Mayo's forwards until they can prove themselves at the highest level.

"Do they have a top class forward outside of Cillian O’Connor who can get the four or five scores from play that can see them win a big game?

"Diarmuid O’Connor is huge to them. He’s in the top 15 players in the country and he was magnificent against Kildare. Also, Evan Reagan’s performance against Kildare will have really heartened Stephen Rochford.

Mayo’s Diarmuid O'Connor and Cillian O’Connor. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

"He was so impressive and clinical in the chances that he got and then took against Kildare. But you can’t base your opinion of Reagan on one game, you have to do it again and again.

"He needs to do it in an All-Ireland quarter-final and potentially a semi-final. Andy Moran’s deployment on the edge of the square also indicated that there’s a lot more to come from him. It just means that the way Westmeath set up, the space that Moran enjoyed against Kildare won’t be there.

"The wonderful kick passes that the Mayo players were finding him with just won’t be on this time around. Westmeath will likely have one if not two players sweeping across the front of the Mayo full forward line.

"We’ll forget that Mayo have had a full forward line that have tested the best in the country for the last three years. They have come within a replay of beating the All-Ireland champions both of those years. Mayo are so close, it’s not like they have an awful lot of ground to make up on the big teams.

But are they more formidable in their full forward line as this as they were last year? I don’t think we can answer that until we see them against Tyrone potentially next weekend."

Mayo pushed Dublin all the way in the All-Ireland semi-final last year. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie 

Since their defeat to Galway, Stephen Rochford's side have beaten Fermanagh and Kildare, which will boost their confidence, something McIntyre feels is essential to their chances of contesting a quarter-final or semi-final this week.

"I think Mayo will have grown in confidence over the last two games. Their ego and their gameplan and the overall atmosphere in the squad will have taken a massive hit after the defeat to Galway. I don’t think anyone in Mayo would have seen that coming.

"That probably led to an awful lot of soul searching after that game. The scare against Fermanagh would have brought them all together as a team because they probably didn’t get enough credit for how they performed under that savage pressure in the second half in front of their own fans.

"At times against Kildare they looked like the old Mayo, with the intensity and the scores coming from a whole different number of angles, winning plenty of ball in and around the full-forward line.

"If they win this weekend and get themselves into an All-Ireland quarter-final, that’s when we’ll find out where Mayo are. Questions won’t be answered until they beat Westmeath and take on Tyrone. 

"For now, they’re not playing to the best of their ability and not playing as well as they have done over the past three or four years. But that's to be understood, they’ve a new manager and he’s still finding out about some of the best positions for these guys, like where to play Aidan O’Shea, Donal Vaughan and Kevin McLoughlin. There’s still an awful lot of conundrums yet to be solved."

Here's the Newstalk GAA coverage you can look forward to this weekend 

Saturday: Mayo v Westmeath, 6pm Croke Park: Dave on commentary alongside Conor McManus and Emmet Bolton. Mossy Quinn reports from the sideline.

Sunday: Clare v Kerry, 2pm Croke Park: Dave McIntyre on commentary alongside Kieran McGeeney and Anthony Moyles. Mossy Quinn reports from the sideline.