HIGH FLYERS Clare’s Gary Brennan jumps with Mayo’s Aidan O'Shea during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier at Cusack Park, Ennis. Pic: Sportsfile
WOULD the real Mayo please stand up?
Like the national anthem before Saturday’s game, it took last year’s All-Ireland finalists a long time to get going in Cusack Park, Ennis. But once they got into their stride, they displayed a ruthlessness that was at odds with the jaunty version of Amhrán na bhFiann that eventually came through the speakers.
With no need for late heroics this time around, the Mayo supporters – who out-prayed the locals in their own cathedral – were sufficiently relaxed in second-half injury time that they greeted news of a missing child being located with a big cheer. All’s well that ends well ... all round.
The visiting fans had plenty to shout about in that second half. Two goals in as many minutes – one apiece from the O’Connor brothers – effectively killed off the game with 25 minutes left. Aidan O’Shea and Kevin McLoughlin put in big performances. As Mayo ran their bench, 21 players saw action, including – for the first time in 2017 – Alan Dillon.
A few Mayo supporters had a bite to eat on the Cusack Park turf afterwards. But what had gone before was no picnic for Stephen Rochford’s side. Having played with the breeze in the first half, Mayo were lucky to be only two points down (8-6) at the break. Crucially, David Clarke had kept his goal intact, making two fine stops, but Clare’s running game and intelligent offloads caused problems. A more clinical team might have built up an unassailable lead.
The game was bookended by black cards for Mayo players – Donal Vaughan walked in the fourth minute, for pulling down Gary Brennan, while Brendan Harrison and his marker Keelan Sexton were both ordered off in second-half injury time after a wrestling manoeuvre. In between, Clare defender Ciaran Russell was shown a black in the 40th minute, leading to the introduction of Ballyhaunis player Eoghan Collins.
Collins’ uncle Colm, the Clare manager, will have been pleased with his side’s early efforts. But they expended a huge amount of energy in the warm conditions, and Mayo’s double strike thwarted their ambitions. The first of those goals, in the 42nd minute, came from a defensive mistake – Martin McMahon’s under-hit free. Conor Loftus’s pass found Cillian O’Connor, who side-stepped goalkeeper Hayes and finished left-footed to the net.
The Mayo captain turned provider soon after, giving his brother Diarmuid a pop pass. Seamus O’Shea and Kevin McLoughlin – who’d scored straight from the throw-in and just missed a goal chance himself – made the hard yards in a nine-man move. The younger O’Connor’s finish was emphatic.
The remainder had the feel of a cake-icing exercise. McLoughlin and Aidan O’Shea were especially busy in the kitchen. Cillian O’Connor, scoreless in the first half, converted five second-half frees. Keith Higgins fired over a decent point. Aidan O’Shea got a hugely popular score after good work on the right.
All of Clare’s replies – from David Tubridy, Eoin Cleary and substitute Gearóid O’Brien – had the feel of mere consolations. They had a penalty shout rejected when Sexton tumbled in the 57th minute.
Both the mood music and the action contrasted starkly with the first half. Having conceded an Andy Moran point direct from the throw-in, the Bannermen then held Mayo scoreless for 20 minutes. By the time McLoughlin broke that duck after a monster Aidan O’Shea catch, Clare had scored six – from Cleary (free), Tubridy (two frees), Brennan (influential early on before fading), Jamie Malone (a monster point shortly after his goal chance) and Sexton (a 45’).
Diarmuid O’Connor’s shot was tipped over by Joe Hayes, and Lee Keegan fisted over. Points from Seán Collins and Sexton left Clare ahead by double scores, but Andy Moran – outstanding in the first half – struck twice in a minute to halve that deficit. That allowed Mayo to build a bridge. And having done so, they took a sledgehammer to Clare’s ambitions.
And so the magical mystery tour continues. Is anyone else getting a sense of déjà vu?
D Clarke; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; K Higgins (0-1), C Boyle, L Keegan (0-1); S O’Shea, D Vaughan; K McLoughlin (0-2), A O’Shea (0-1), D O’Connor (1-1); C Loftus, C O’Connor (1-5, 0-5f), A Moran (0-3).
Subs used: S Coen for D Vaughan (4 mins, black card); E Regan for C Loftus (48 mins); J Doherty for A Moran (55 mins); T Parsons for S O’Shea (58 mins); F Boland for D O’Connor (65 mins); A Dillon for A O’Shea (67 mins).
Joe Hayes; G Kelly, K Harnett, D Ryan; C O’Dea, M McMahon, C Russell; G Brennan (0-1), C O’Connor; P Lillis, S Collins (0-1), J Malone (0-1); E Cleary (0-3, 2f), D Tubridy (0-4, 4f), K Sexton (0-2, 1 45’).
Subs used: John Hayes for C O’Connor (39 mins, inj); E Collins for C Russell (40 mins, black card); G O’Brien (0-1) for C O’Dea (53 mins); S Malone for P Lillis (65 mins); D Nagle for K Sexton (76 mins, black card).
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)