SUPER SUB Mayo’s Barry Duffy (right) shoots the only goal of the game against Sligo, three minutes into added time, at the end of last Friday evening’s Connacht Junior FC semi-final. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
VERY few people outside of the Mayo camp seem to take their participation in the Junior championship seriously, but on the evidence of their win over Sligo last Friday evening the group themselves mean business again this year.
Seán McLoughlin rounded up his troops at fairly short notice, but equipped with the right attitude, a wonderful sense of adventure, and a determination to play positively, they duly booked their place in yet another provincial final.
Sligo played their part in a cracking contest, pushing Mayo to the pin of their collar, and showcasing yet again the benefits of selecting senior panelists, underage starlets and good club players for their junior combination.
Mayo, as always, made the best of their situation and, even without any of Westport’s All-Ireland winning Intermediate squad, they togged strong and certainly didn’t look like a team who’d only met up a few days earlier.
From Matthew Flanagan in goal through to the subs who came in late on to help close the game out, Mayo played like a team who were intent on honouring the jersey on their back.
Barry Leonard, Conor Walsh and Ray Neary didn’t stand on ceremony in defence while captain Micheál Forde and the powerhouse Peter Collins brought energy and dynamism to the engine-room.
But it was up front where the magic happened as Kevin Gibbons and Mark Ronaldson shared the playmaking duties to devastating effect, teasing and tormenting the Sligo backs, and creating chances with impressive regularity.
Ronaldson was particularly effective, buzzing around the attack and clipping six points as he swung over a mixture of frees and neat scores from play.
Kiltane’s John Reilly and Belmullet’s Ryan O’Donoghue also shot five points from play between them as their respective power and pace caused Sligo more than a few issues.
As a unit, Mayo seemed to gel as the minutes went by.
But the fact remains that the outcome was still hanging in the balance with only six minutes left; Sligo just two points down and chasing hard with Nathan Rooney and Barry O’Mahony threatening constantly.
But Mayo dug in and managed to hold their opponents scoreless for the last ten minutes while a well-engineered point from the lively Brian Heneghan at the other end gave them some breathing space.
And the game was made safe when half-time substitute Barry Duffy struck three minutes into injury-time to hit the Sligo net from close-range.
But it took Mayo all their time to shake Sligo off.
After being level three times during the course of an entertaining opening half, it was no surprise to see the teams still locked together at the break at 0-7 apiece.
Early scores from Ryan O’Donoghue, Mark Ronaldson, James Kelly and Matthew Flanagan ( a ‘45) had Mayo out in front by 0-4 to 0-2.
But Sligo shot five points in the second quarter, three from the influential Nathan Rooney, to draw level at the break.
Former Sligo Rovers player Barry O’Mahony also kicked two points in the second half and saw a goalbound shot superbly saved by Flanagan as Mayo were kept honest.
But in the end they got what their attitude and application deserved, and they will return to Fr O’Hara Park tomorrow evening (Wednesday) to face Leitrim in bullish mood.
M Flanagan (0-1,’45); B Leonard, P O’Malley, C Walsh; J Kelly (0-1), R Neary, S Gaughan; M Forde, P Collins; M Ronaldson (0-6, 3fs), J Reilly (0-3), K Gibbons; R O’Donoghue (0-2), J Maughan, D Walsh.
Subs used: B Duffy (1-0) for Walsh; B Heneghan (0-2) for Maughan; C Gordon for Gaughan; K Lynch for Leonard.
D Cafferkey; E Connolly, J Earlis, A Cummins; JF Carr (0-1), P McNamara, S Carrabine (0-1); C Burns, K Henry; C Davey, N Rooney (0-6, 4fs), J Clarke; L Gaughan, A McLoughlin (0-1), B O’Mahony (0-3).
Subs used: J Brennan for Burns; M Clarke for Cummins; D Kilcoyne for Henry; K Waters for McLoughlin.
Referee: P Daly (Roscommon)