NOWHERE TO RUN Mayo’s Tom Parsons is wrapped up by Cavan’s Niall Clerkin, left, and Killian Clarke of Cavan during Sunday’s National League Division 1 match in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
THE next two weeks will tell a tale.
That’s about all we can be certain about now when it comes to trying to predict the short-term future of the Mayo footballers and their love-hate relationship with the National League.
That sign outside MacHale Park that suggests Mayo ‘Have Got Home Advantage Always’ is certainly starting to look a little far-fetched after yet another defeat on home ground in Castlebar.
As a consequence, Mayo now need to either beat Tyrone in Omagh next Sunday or Donegal at MacHale Park a week later to make sure they don’t drop out of the top flight for the first time in 20 years.
On the evidence of their performance last Sunday, and the lack of urgency, intensity and cohesion, that will be easier said than done.
Cavan were full value for their first victory in Division 1 since 2004 as they made a mockery of their 4/1 odds and finished like a train with three late points to get the job done.
Mayo had no answer to the visitor’s drive, directness and guile in the closing stages as late scores from the magnificent Gearóid McKiernan, Dara McVeety and substitute Joe Dillon won the day.
Mullahoran midfielder McKiernan was the star of the show for the winners, shooting 1-5, including the ‘golden goal’ that turned the game on its head two minutes into first half stoppage time.
Cavan went from strength to strength after that while Mayo seemed to sleepwalk their way through the majority of the second half and never looked convincing.
This third defeat in five games highlighted just how vulnerable Mayo are when they’re not at full tilt, playing to their strengths, and missing some key personnel.
Proven performers like Aidan O’Shea, Seamie O’Shea, Jason Doherty and Diarmuid O’Connor were certainly conspicuous by their absence when push came to shove.
Stephen Rochford couldn’t hide his frustration afterwards as he reflected on another poor result.
“We’re disappointed,” he admitted.
“In the first half we did well, we got a reasonable response, but we can’t be giving away soft goals.
“We kicked eight points from play against a stubborn defence that Cavan play.
“Then we conceded what we would feel was a soft goal, we were very disappointed with that.
“Obviously that gave them the momentum playing with the elements in the second half, and we were put on the backfoot quite a bit in the second half.”
The trend of the match changed completely after Gearóid McKiernan’s superb strike two minutes into first half stoppage time.
Mayo had put themselves in the driving seat without hitting too many high notes and were leading by 0-9 to 0-4 as half-time approached thanks to two points each from Danny Kirby, Conor O’Shea and Andy Moran, some of them stunning long-range efforts.
Then McKiernan took centre stage, firing over a point before hammering in the only goal of the game from close range on 37 minutes.
At 0-9 to 1-5, the tide had turned.
Cavan hit the ground running at the start of the second half too and four quickfire points from full-back Rory Dunne, Conor Madden, McKiernan and Mossy Corr eased them ahead for the first time.
But Mayo rallied impressively midway through the half with three unanswered points from Danny Kirby and Lee Keegan (2) to go back in front on 54 minutes.
Corr and Mayo sub’ Shane Nally then traded scores to leave Mayo clinging to a narrow lead swinging into the home straight.
Remarkably though Mayo failed to add to their tally in the last quarter of an hour as Cavan played some smart counter-attacking football to pick off the match-winning scores.
Stephen Rochford must now try and rally the Mayo troops ahead of next weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-final rematch against Tyrone in Omagh.
We will all be a little wiser by next Sunday evening.
R Galligan; K Brady, R Dunne (0-1), F Reilly; G Smith, K Clarke, C Moynagh; G McKiernan (1-5, 3fs), T Corr (0-2); M Reilly (0-1), D McVeety (0-3), N Clerkin; N Murray, C Madden (0-1), S Johnston.
Subs used: C Mackey for Johnston (44); S Murray for N Murray (50); C Brady for Clerkin (61); L Buchanan for Corr (70); J Dillon (0-1) for Madden (62).
D Clarke; B Harrison, K Higgins, P Durcan; C Boyle, L Keegan (0-2), D Vaughan; T Parsons (0-1), D Kirby (0-4); F Boland (0-1), C O’Connor, C O’Shea (0-2); K McLoughlin (0-1), A Moran (0-3), C Loftus.
Subs used: S Coen for Vaughan (52); S Nally (0-1) for Boland (55); E Regan for Loftus (60); N Douglas for O’Shea (66); J Gibbons for Parsons (70).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)