THEY have a big score to settle with Mayo following their collapse in the championship last summer, but if Roscommon’s performance in this FBD match on Sunday is any indication recovery is still a while away.
Not that Mayo’s four-points win at Ballinlough is anything to write home about. But they did shade the exchanges in a tight, tough battle that bore all the signs of early spring football.
In preparation for their opening Allianz League tie with old rivals Galway next Sunday, Mayo fielded their strongest team of the FBD competition, and to say that improvement is essential if vital home points are to be garnered is an understatement.
With one or two exceptions, the team on duty was similar to that which the selectors relied on last season, and there is no doubt it also forms the basis for battle in the months to come.
So what was new? Nothing in defence where the only talking point was the outstanding performance of Keith Higgins at left-half back. The Ballyhaunis man was back to his hungriest best, and threw himself into the action with gusto.
Liam O’Malley at left corner found Ger Heneghan a handful and was replaced at the interval by Shane Nally. Otherwise, Ger Cafferkey, Donal Vaughan, Peadar Gardiner and Trevor Howley were adequate. And once again David Clarke’s reliability was evident.
The selectors rested Ronan McGarrity for the start, thus providing Seamus O’Shea with an opportunity to rediscover his under 21 form, and his enthusiasm suggested that he is in contention for a midfield spot.
But that half hour on the sideline did McGarrity a power of good and his performance in the second half hinted at a return to the form that won him automatic selection a couple of seasons back . . . not so much his fielding prowess as his willingness to work and tackle hard.
Mark Ronaldson, once again, was Mayo’s top marksman, bagging a total of 1-6, four of his points coming from frees, and the goal from a penalty. It was the decisive score after Enda Varley was fouled in the rectangle. The new eleven-metre penalty spot made the kick easier, nevertheless the Shrule/Glencorrib man tucked the ball away competently.
It came seven minutes into the second half and at a time when Roscommon had shown some signs of turning the tables. For the first time since the third minute they had taken the lead, and were desperately anxious to establish a new challenging image.
Ger Heneghan had them in front from a free shortly after the start. But if Mayo were a bit steadier in front of the posts they would have been farther ahead by the 20th minute that the four points that came from Seamus O’Shea, Trevor Mortimer and Ronaldson (2).
The Shrule/Glencorrib man added one more before the break, but Heneghan, centre-half back Ian Kilbride (Roscommon’s best player) and sub’ Gary Cox cut the lead to a single point . . . 0-5 to-0-4 . . . at the interval.
Led by Kilbride and Cox, Roscommon maintained their revival with two points within a minute of the restart to regain the lead. But Ronaldson’s accuracy from frees wiped out that advantage, and when he scored from the penalty, the game lurched positively in Mayo’s direction, with Trevor Mortimer and Andy Moran displaying a lot of their old craft and experience.
John Rogers and Mayo’s star marksman swapped a brace of successful frees before Andy Moran clipped over the final point. But the Mayo defence had to resist a stirring onslaught, triggered by Cox, to maintain their four-point lead.
Mayo meet Galway at the end of the month in the home final, and the prize of a trip to New York makes it a match both sides will want to win.
D Clarke; L O’Malley, G Cafferkey, D Vaughan; P Gardiner, T Howley, K Higgins; S O’Shea (0-1), T Parsons; A Moran (0-1), B Kelly, T Mortimer (0-1); E Varley, A O’Shea, M Ronaldson (1-6, 1-0 pen, 4fs.).
Subs used: R McGarrity for Kelly; S Nally for O’Malley; N Douglas for Mortimer.
G Claffey; S McDermott, M Killilea, S Ormsby; N Carty, I Kilbride (0-1), J Rogers (0-2fs); M O’Carroll, M Finneran; S Purcell, C McHugh, B Higgins; T Kelly, E Kenny, G Heneghan (0-3, 2fs).
Subs used: K Higgins for B Higgins; G Cox (0-2, 1f) for T Kelly; P Freeman for McHugh; J McDermott for S McDermott.
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)