GOLDEN GOAL Mayo's Mark Ronaldson
Mayo inch closer to FBD League Final
Football FBD Connacht league
IT will be fascinating to see how many Mayo footballers who played a part in this enjoyable FBD League work-out last Sunday will be involved when push comes to shove in the Connacht championship later this summer.
The truth is that nobody, including Mayo’s open-minded new manager, James Horan, knows for sure and that it is one of many reasons why another crowd of around 2,000 people flocked to Ballyhaunis for the latest derby match against the Rossies.
With fifteen changes from the team that started a week earlier, we weren’t too sure what to expect, especially against Fergal O’Donnell’s second-string Roscommon outfit that was backboned by five of his Connacht championship winning selection.
By the end, we had been pleasantly surprised as an experimental Mayo XV recovered from a slow start and produced an impressive second half display to run out comfortable winners.
“I’d be very happy with some aspects of the performance, particularly in the second half,” conceded James Horan afterwards.
“Some of the guys, Cathal Freeman, David Killeen’s performance in the second half was very, very strong, Ruaidhrí O’Connor breaking up the wing all the time. . [There were] A lot of things to be happy about.”
The story of a bright and breezy game is uncomplicated; Roscommon led by three points for much of the first half but the trusty free-taking of Mark Ronaldson kept Mayo in touch and the lead was pared back to the minimum by half-time.
The elusive Shrule/Glencorrib forward then scored a sublime goal three minutes into the second half and Mayo never looked back.
They outmuscled Roscommon’s big men around the middle, snaffled up most of the breaking ball, tied down their forwards, and held them scoreless for over thirty minutes.
Debutants like David Killeen, Eoghan Reilly and Andrew Farrell worked hard and did the simple things well while Cathal Freeman, a prodigious minor, was a revelation at centre-half forward.
Playing his first game for eighteen months after breaking his leg in a club match, Freeman stood out from the crowd. He was comfortable in possession, used the ball smartly, and his quick hands and two-footed deliveries set up plenty of opportunities for the Mayo marksmen.
Keith Higgins, Trevor Howley, Barry Moran, Enda Varley and the razor-sharp Mark Ronaldson were the pick of the ‘veterans’ while Lee Keegan and James Kilcullen put themselves about as you’d expect. Jason Gibbons also caught the eye and nailed a point off the bench.
However, it was Mark Ronaldson’s nifty footwork and sniper’s instinct just after half-time that proved crucial as he dribbled around Roscommon goalkeeper, Eamon McGinley, to score the game-breaking goal.
The diminuitive inside forward finished with 1-7 (six points from frees) after a hard day’s work as Mayo outscored their tiring visitors by 1-6 to 0-1 during the second half.
The visitors had led at the break by 0-7 to 0-6 with Kevin Higgins, Jonathan Dunning and Donie Shine (a couple of frees) all contributing two scores apiece to emphasise Roscommon’s intent.
But five points from frees from the aforementioned Ronaldson, and a trademark finish from Enda Varley, kept Mayo in the hunt as Roscommon spurned a hat-trick of goal chances at the other end.
“Roscommon started very well,” offered James Horan. “Their movement up front was good and we were loose at the back. We just couldn’t get to grip with the runners.
“But I suppose the main reason for that was we were being dominated at midfield and we were getting hammered on breaking ball. I don’t think we got a breaking ball in the first fifteen or twenty minutes. We actually got a good return in the first half for the amount of possession we had.”
When Fintan Cregg galloped through to extend the visitor’s lead a minute into the second half, a typically hard-fought, close-run thing looked in prospect.
Instead, buoyed up by the only goal of the day, Mayo started to win most of the individual battles and, with Cathal Freeman pulling the strings, points from Andrew Farrell, Enda Varley, Jason Gibbons, Aidan Kilcoyne and Mark Ronaldson (2) closed the game out.
“We talked at half-time about what we were doing and what we needed to do to move on,” explained the Mayo manager.
“We played some very good football in the second half. We won breaking ball, we dominated midfield, we broke forward from the back, we let the ball in early to the guys that were winning it inside. . We just did what we should have been doing in the first half and it paid off.”
Next Sunday will bring a trip to Ballinamore in Leitrim and more fun and games.
The interest levels in next weekend’s final group match will be dictated by the result of Leitrim’s refixed match with GMIT later this week.
If the students win, Mayo will quality for the FBD Final. However, a victory for Mickey Moran’s side would set up a winner-takes-all joust with his old friends from Mayo next Sunday.
Either way, there will be plenty for most of James Horan’s new faces to play for.
K O’Malley; K Higgins, D Killeen, E Reilly; T Howley, L Keegan, R O’Connor); J Kilcullen, B Moran; I Rowland, C Freeman, A Farrell (0-1); E Varley (0-2), M Ronaldson (1-7, 6fs), B Benson.
Subs used: R Feeney for Howley; J Gibbons (0-1) for Kilcullen; A O’Malley for Farrell; A Kilcoyne (0-1) for Benson; C Hallinan for Moran.
E McGinley; S Purcell, D Ward, S McDermott; C Beirne, N Carty, J Nolan; M Finneran, K Higgins (0-2); F Cregg (0-2), J Connaughton, S O’Grady; J Dunning (0-2), D Shine (0-2, 2fs), C Cregg.
Subs used: T Kelly for Connaughton; J Carney for D Ward; J Rogers for Shine.
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)