STANDING TALL Mayo's Enda Varley challenges Down's Martin Clarke during Saturday night's Allianz NFL Division 1 clash at McHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Horan pleased with Mayo’s performance
FOOTBALL ALLIANZ NATIONAL LEAGUE
YOU didn’t need a degree in psychology to read the minds of the respective managers after this historic, entertaining and dramatic stalemate which unfolded under the floodlights at a rain-soaked McHale Park, Castlebar on Saturday night.
Down manager James McCartan was, in his own words, ‘frustrated’, to say the least after watching his team surrender a seven-point lead midway through the first half, not to mention a couple of five-point advantages in the second period.
Meanwhile, James Horan pronounced himself pleased with ‘the performance’ and ‘the result’ after his experimental XV had fought back from the concession of three goals (two of them as freakish as they were fortuitous), and chased down Down (if you’ll pardon the pun) in the last quarter when all seemed lost.
“We’d be happy with the result I suppose in the end,” said Mayo’s manager.
“We could have snatched it in the end when Peadar Gardiner had a shot. . We were finishing by far the stronger and we could have taken it. But we’re happy with the performance and we’ll take the point.”
Andy Moran spent most of the evening trying to bend the game to his will and he succeeded in the 69th minute when he fired over his sixth point to ensure a first ever draw between the sides.
An eventful evening would have ended perfectly for Mayo had sub’ Peadar Gardiner not fired wide in injury-time as rejuvenated duo, Alan Dillon and Andy Moran, drove their team on in search of the winner.
It was hard to credit such an ending when Mayo trailed by 3-6 to 1-7 on 50 minutes after a magnificent Down move, that spanned the length of the field, ended with Ronan McGarritty flicking the ball into his own net as he tried to intercept Peter Fitzpatrick’s handpass.
However, a barnstorming last quarter which epitomised all that is good about Mayo football — played with pace, style and confidence — saw them outscore the visitors by 0-6 to 0-1 to earn a fully-deserved point.
It was the proverbial game of two halves; last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists got off to a dream start when a ‘45 from the gifted Martin Clarke flew low and hard into the Mayo goalmouth before clipping Ronan McGarrity’s shin and flying past Kenneth O’Malley into the net.
The score served to stun the majority of the 5,500 crowd into silence and rocked the homeside right back on their heels.
They pulled a few scores back through Andy Moran and Alan Dillon to settle the nerves but the new-look full-back line was prised open on 14 minutes when Benny Coulter went past Tom Cunniffe and Keith Higgins before leaving John Clarke to finish from point-blank range.
A fisted point from the goalscorer a few minutes later and Down led by 2-4 to 0-3; Mayo were struggling to penetrate their well-drilled and organised defence, misplaced passes and wrong options dogged their play, and there was only one team playing smart, heads-up football.
However, a goal from the outstanding Alan Freeman (whose move to centre-forward proved a masterstroke on an evening when nothing went right for Aidan O’Shea) and a sweet score from Mark Ronaldson meant the margin had been pared back to four points at the halfway mark, 2-5 to 1-4.
That deficit had been halved ten minutes after the restart with converted frees from Mark Ronaldson and the industrious Andy Moran (2).
It was at this stage that Ronan McGarrity put the ball into his own net so there was nothing for Mayo to do but stand and fight. They did so with admirable spirit and bravery as men like Tom Cunniffe and Keith Higgins fought the rearguard action while, further afield, Kevin McLoughlin, Alan Freeman and Enda Varley gave most help to the dynamic duo of Dillon and Moran.
Tom Parsons also make a big impact off the bench as he picked up where the hard-working Jason Gibbons had left off before being replaced.
A string of inspirational scores from the irrepressible Moran (2), Freeman, McLoughlin and Varley (an outrageous effort from the right wing) hauled Mayo level for the first time on 64 minutes.
A shell-shocked Down then broke upfield and sub’ Conor Maginn squeezed over the lead score with two minutes of normal time left.
The momentum was with Mayo though and ‘Handy Andy’ drilled over the equaliser, after clever play from Cillian O’Connor and Alan Dillon, to leave the issue deadlocked.
“We’ve a lot of good players,” said James Horan when asked what he had learnt from the exercise.
“I knew that before the game but we hadn’t seen it in quite a while. Some of those players were immense. There’s obviously a lot of of different fitness levels with some of our players but everyone gave it everything they had while they were on the field.
“That’s all we were looking for at the start of the league so I have to be very happy with the performance in that regard.”
Kerry are up next on Sunday, February 20.
K O’Malley; T Cunniffe, C Hallinan, K Higgins; R Feeney, G Cafferkey, K McLoughlin (0-1); R McGarrity, J Gibbons; A Moran (0-6, 4fs), A O’Shea, A Dillon (0-2); E Varley (0-1), A Freeman (1-0), M Ronaldson (0-3, 2fs).
Subs used: P Gardiner for Feeney; N Douglas for Ronaldson; T Parsons for Gibbons; C O’Connor for Freeman (inj.)
B McVeigh; G McCartan, D Gordon, L Howard; A Brannigan, K McKernan, P McPolin; P Fitzpatrick (1-0), K King; D Hughes (0-2), M Poland, M Clarke (1-3, 2fs); P McComiskey, J Clarke (1-1), B Coulter.
Subs used: C Maginn (0-1) for McComiskey; R Murtagh for J Clarke; C Murney for McPolin.
Referee: C Reilly (Meath)