SEE YOU ON SUNDAY?Mayo captain Andy Moran shakes hands with Derry’s Emmett Bradley after last weekend’s Allianz Football League clash.?Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo get the right result
TWO teams with very different objectives crossed paths at MacHale Park, Castlebar on Sunday and everybody left with what they came for in the end.
A solid, if not spectacular, Mayo victory meant qualification for the semi-finals of this competition for the third year in a row, while it also stretched their recent unbeaten run to five games.
James Horan also used the occasion to run the rule over a number of fringe players with Kevin Keane, Shane McHale, Tom Parsons and Mikie Sweeney all making the most of their auditions, just four weeks before the start of Mayo’s championship campaign in New York.
The fact that Derry had already qualified for the semi-finals, before a ball was kicked in anger on Sunday, meant that Brian McIver lined out with just one of his regulars in the first fifteen.
However, he seemed pleasantly surprised afterwards by just how competitive his makeshift side had been, especially in the second half, and admitted he learnt plenty in defeat.
The fact that both drama and excitement were largely conspicuous by their absence though means it’s only right that both sides will get a second chance to win some friends and influence people when they meet again in next Sunday’s Division 1 semi-final at Croke Park.
By then the fact that Mayo made very hard work of getting the victory they needed to make the play-offs again will be long forgotten, much like large portions of this strange game.
Ultimately, another tour de force from in-form full-forward Alan Freeman proved to be the difference between the mismatched sides.
Freeman tormented Derry’s patchwork defence and contributed 2-6 of Mayo’s tally, including a crucial goal from a penalty five minutes into the second half.
Despite playing with a strong wind behind them, Derry’s second-string side had trailed by 0-8 to 0-1 at the interval after shooting eleven wides, most of them as poor as they were outrageous.
However, driven on by the likes of Niall Holly, Emmett Bradley and full-forward-cum-midfielder Emmett McGuckin they rallied bravely at the beginning of the fourth quarter to make a game of it.
A goal from McGuckin on 52 minutes (which could have been ruled out for a push on Shane McHale) left the natives among the crowd of 9,292 extremely restless, but Alan Freeman came to their side’s rescue with another brilliant goal in the 57th minute to settle the nerves.
“We got through today but we were very poor,” admitted James Horan afterwards.
“We let our standards and tempo drop a little bit. Derry had a goal chance in the second half to bring it to two points so we were lucky in the end, against a Derry team that were missing fourteen of their regulars. So we’ve a huge amount of stuff to try and work on for next week.”
Mayo had got off to a solid start and with Tom Parsons in dominant form at midfield, scores arrived from Alan Freeman (3, one free), Mikie Sweeney and substitute Darren Coen to open up an early five-point lead.
Wind-assisted Derry’s efforts were dogged in the first half by wild shooting and their only effort to hit the target came in the 20th minute from wing-back Aidan McAlynn.
Mayo’s efforts against the breeze lacked nothing in terms of perspiration but there was a shortage of inspiration for long spells, not helped by the loss of Cillian O’Connor to a muscle spasm in his back after only ten minutes. Keith Higgins was also withdrawn at half-time for a well-earned break.
When Alan Freeman smacked home a penalty on 40 minutes after he had been bundled over in the square, Mayo were nine points ahead and the game looked safe.
Instead, Emmett McGuckin’s stunning goal threw Derry a lifeline, and points from subs Aaron Kerrigan (free), Emmett Bradley and Charlie Kielt pared the deficit back to three points again.
The introduction of a big gun like Barry Moran helped Mayo get back on track in the last quarter, and points from Donal Vaughan, Andy Moran and the confident Freeman (2) saw them close the game out.
Croke Park now awaits again.
R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Keane; C Boyle, S McHale, D Vaughan (0-1); T Parsons (0-2), S O’Shea; K Higgins, A Moran (0-1), J Doherty; M Sweeney (0-2), A Freeman (2-6, 1-0 pen, 3fs, ‘45), C O’Connor.
Subs used: D Coen for O’Connor (inj, 10m); R Feeney for Higgins (half-time), B Moran for Doherty (47), M Conroy for Sweeney (47), D O’Connor for Parsons (62); L Keegan for Boyle (70).
E McNicholl; O Duffy, C McAtamney, K McKaigue; C Kielt (0-1), M Craig, A McAlynn (0-2); E McGuckin (1-1), N Holly; A Devlin, D Heavron, C McWilliams; J Kearney, D Mullan, C McGoldrick.
Subs used: E Bradley (0-1) for McGoldrick (half-time), A Kerrigan (0-1, 1f) for Mullan (45), K Conway for Devlin (52), N McFeeley (0-1) for Heavron (60), P Cassidy for Kearney (68), N McNicholl for McGuckin (69).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)