NUI, Galway 0-9
NOBODY was quite sure what to expect as the curtain came up on the new GAA season last Sunday in Garrymore, but most Mayo people would have left the quaint South Mayo venue fairly content after the dust had settled on the first skirmish of the year.
A two-point win, and a solid start to a new campaign, will be enough for Mayo’s management team for now. After all, the FBD League will be soon forgotten once the serious business commences next month.
With both eyes firmly focussed on their National League opener against Galway, Mayo kept faith with ten of the team that started against Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final last August and added David Clarke, Alan Feeney, Chris Barrett, Mikey Sweeney and Mark Ronaldson into the mix.
Before the day was out, Jimmy Killeen, James Burke, Neil Douglas and Kevin Walsh also got their chances to make an impression and all did enough to warrant a second look before the month is out.
The game itself was a typical, pre-season affair. There were no shortage of mistakes, unforced errors and bad wides while the new, experimental rules provided ample talking points before, during, and after an interesting encounter.
In summary, seven points from the boot of corner-forward Mark Ronaldson made the difference in the end. His four frees and three scores from play were all converted with confidence and his partnership with gargantuan full-forward, Aidan O’Shea, looks to have some potential.
NUI, Galway asked plenty of hard questions throughout. Their team was built around an experienced spine of David Finnegan, Kieran Conroy, David Duffy, Gareth Bradshaw and Sean Armstrong, and they gave as good as they got all through.
Galway’s Armstrong (who looked in serious shape for this time of year) was their stand-out player and shot six points (two from play) from a variety of angles and distances.
Mayo led after 18 minutes by 0-5 to 0-2 and at half-time by 0-6 to 0-5; Ronaldson converting three frees and adding a point from play, while Aidan O’Shea also took time out from breaking down high ball to barrel his way through for a well-taken score with his fist.
NUI, Galway stayed in touch through sheer hard work and points from the wandering Gareth Bradshaw, Conor Devaney (free) and Sean Armstrong (free) whose place-kicking was immaculate.
The third quarter followed the same pattern and, by the 44th minute, the students were level after John Egan and Sean Armstrong (with a superb left-footed point from the left wing) hit the target.
Mayo, sensing the natives getting restless in the Garrymore stand, then upped the ante and rattled off three points in the space of five minutes to open up some daylight.
Their direct approach paved the way for a plethora of scores all day and also worked when Aidan O’Shea got a hand to a ‘garryowen’ and set up Mark Ronaldson for his sixth point of the game.
Substitute Neil Douglas then finished a flowing move with a well-taken score from close-range and the irrepressible Ronaldson curled over another sweet point after Tom Parsons did the spade-work. There were 53 minutes on the clock and Mayo led by 0-10 to 0-7.
However, the classy Sean Armstrong landed a couple of superb scores in the closing stages to make Mayo sweat, and it was left to local hero Jimmy Killeen to land the insurance point from a spectacular right-wing free in the 59th minute.
Mayo finished the game with fourteen men after Keith Higgins was sent off three minutes from the end after receiving his second yellow card. But it was only a minor footnote from a game that won’t linger long in the memory.
D Clarke; D Vaughan, A Feeney, K Higgins; P Gardiner, T Howley, C Barrett; R McGarrity, T Parsons; A Moran, P Harte, T Mortimer (0-1); M Ronaldson (0-7, 4fs), A O’Shea (0-1), M Sweeney.
Subs used: J Killeen (0-1, 1f) for Sweeney; J Burke for Howley; N Douglas (0-1) for Harte; K Walsh for Mortimer.
L Grant; C O’Connor, D Finnegan, C McDonald; P Domican, K Conroy, C Leyden; D Duffy, P McGee; C Devaney (0-1, 1f), G Bradshaw (0-1), C Kenny; J Egan (0-1), J Doherty, S Armstrong (0-6, 4fs).
Subs used: D O’Gara for Devaney; J O’Brien for Kenny; C Mimnagh for Doherty; A Glynn for Leyden.
Referee: D Hunt (Roscommon)