Mayo’s display deserved more
WE came expecting nothing like we got. Not the renewal of old fighting qualities; not the emergence of peripheral players as new, hot talent; not the unfamiliar accuracy from long distance, not the heart-rending finish.
Well no, the finish we ought to have foreseen. We should have expected that. Goodness knows, that experience has been with us long enough . . . our inability to close out a victory in vital games.
So it should have been no surprise when Brian Hurley rose to finish to the net that cross from Conor Dorman to send Cork into the league semi-finals. But it was a cruel blow, nonetheless, coming in the last minute of an uplifting performance when there was no time for redress.
In the face of so many defections it was a well-thought-out selection that faced the table-toppers in Pairc Ui Rinn. We didn’t expect a win, but it was obvious that for once players on the margins were being handed a rare chance to blossom, to display their latent talent.
It is an unremitting flaw in the Mayo character that in praising performances, and as a result hyping expectations, you are damning everyone to disappointment in their next outing. It happened after Kerry and again following Mayo’s win over Derry.
Yet, while the display on Sunday can be over stated, you can’t overlook the inspiring nature of Mayo’s approach work, their attitude or their adaptability. And central to it all was the work of relative newcomers. More than any they rose to the challenge. Barry Moran and Tom Parsons took over the middle of the field from the injured Seamus O’Shea, with Donal Vaughan reverting to his customary defensive role.
Against the acclaimed Fintan Goold, Jamie O’Sullivan, and his replacement Eoin Cadogan, Moran and Parsons more that held their own. Moran’s was a measured contribution and the better for that having played second fiddle to so many positions. He fielded well and distributed safely, and, if not injured, offers at last a serious challenge to other contenders.
Parsons was quite magnificent, the Parsons that promised so much for so long. He set the trend for others with his points from long distance, skills that Mayo forwards have neglected and which on Sunday repaid constructive approach work.
One glorious expression of his fielding proficiency was on view in the second half when the Charlestown man won from the kick-out an aerial tussle with two Corkmen, each taller than himself, and sent Kevin McLoughlin gliding through the centre for a spectacular point. It was the essence of skill and economy.
Danny Kirby looked every bit the type of player Mayo need at full forward in order to release the brilliant Aidan O’Shea for other work. Apart from scoring a point, he won a lot of possession and might have scored more but for a slippery surface which caught him out on two occasions.
Donal Vaughan back in familiar, defensive territory turned in a display of mature attacking football, especially in the first half, that caught Cork out of position.
Around him, Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan were back to their old aggressive nature and, together with Kevin Keane, held the O’Driscolls and Paul Kerrigan scoreless.
Mayo, at times, pulled back their half-forward line to help suffocate Cork’s noted scoring power. Alan Dillon, Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Mark Ronaldson and Jason Doherty all contributed enormously to containing the danger men.
After an early lapse Keith Higgins held O’Driscoll to a single point and had the satisfaction of seeing the corner forward replaced in the second half. Kevin Keane continues to grow in courage and determination and Ger Cafferkey settled well at corner-back.
It was a powerful Mayo performance that was blemished somewhat by a certain naivety in allowing Dorman to create the goal chance for Hurley. Neither Dublin nor Kerry would have allowed that score to develop at such a crucial moment; someone would have risked incurring a black card to stop him.
One senses that if Kevin Keane had not been forced to leave the field with an injury that goal would not have materialised. The Westport man was in flying form, tackling and covering ferociously. Barry Moran had by then also retired with an injury.
A repeat performance needed to take down Donegal
AND so to the final game of the division! Like Mayo, Donegal have experienced the ebb and flow of the league’s shifting fortunes. They lost to Kerry in Kerry by two points; magnificently and unexpectedly triumphed over Cork in Ballybofey; had one other win over Derry by six points, and then lost to Dublin in Croke Park and at home surprisingly to Monaghan.
But last Sunday’s overwhelming performance against Tyrone has set them up for a possible semi-final spot if they beat Mayo on Sunday. It’s between the two for that prestigious honour.
Despite indifferent performances, unless they lose to Donegal next Sunday by fifteen points and Tyrone beat Kerry by a point Mayo will at least have secured their Division 1 status. Victory over Donegal would ensure a place in the semis.
In a division of crazy results all season, predicting the outcome is hazardous, and after their annihilation of Tyrone, Donegal will come with high hopes.
They won’t have Michael Murphy, however, who was outstanding last Sunday, but is now sacrificed to suspension after incurring two black cards.
Not much has changed since the two met in the league and championship two years ago. Having triumphed by four points in the spring at Castlebar, Mayo awaited a backlash in the subsequent championship quarter-finals.
But the fury that impelled Jim McGuinness’s All-Irelanders had switched to his counterparts on that occasion and Mayo triumphed by sixteen points, a modicum of solace but scarcely sufficient redress for their defeat in the final the previous year.
Still it was a humbling experience for the innovative McGuinness and he has now left it to his successor Rory Gallagher to plot a counterbalancing victory that could transport them into the semi-finals and once again into the spotlight.
Like Mayo, Gallagher’s bench is not overloaded with gifted talent; his team is still backboned by many of the stars of that All-Ireland win of 2012. The McGees and Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey, Michael Murphy, Neil Gallagher, Christy Toye and Patrick McBrearty are all there.
They’ll come gunning for Mayo, motivated not just by a thirst for retribution, but also a strong urge to lay a foundation for the championship.
Could be that they will rediscover some of the old fire at MacHale Park. There’s some bite left yet in McGlynn and Lacey. And with Mark McHugh on the other wing, the significance of that half-back line cannot be discounted.
Michael Murphy’s loss is enormous and is a setback to their hopes. But unless Mayo reproduce last Sunday’s form a semi-final spot is out of the question . . . leave alone the thought of demotion.
They have not produced two impressive performances back-to-back so far in the league. Almost all of their nerve and heart have been flaunted in away games. This is a chance for the new men of last Sunday’s team to re-state their claim to permanent positions.