CELEBRATION TIME Members of the Mayo Ladies squad celebrate after the final whistle in last Saturday’s FAI Ladies Senior Cup semi-final.
Mullin fires Mayo to cup win
IT was the type of day at Milebush which the weather could have contrived to ensure that the best team lost. It is to Mayo’s eternal credit that they had the tenacity and will, combined with their superior football ability, to make sure that this didn’t happen.
In the process they made history, becoming the first ever Mayo team to qualify for an FAI Senior Cup final and those who braved the elements in Milebush were let know, in no uncertain terms, what it meant to the Mayo women on the sounding of the final whistle.
They had played the better football, controlled the majority of the game, created the majority of chances but on a day more suited to kite surfing than football, a 1-0 lead is especially precarious and with the high wind, any type of speculative shot could have caused problems.
That Mayo restricted Lifford to only one meaningful chance showed just how strong and resilient Mayo were at the back. Centre-halves Karen Lilly and captain Michelle Ruane were simply outstanding. Lilly’s control on the ball was top-class, getting herself and Mayo out of countless tight situations while Ruane’s reading of the game, combined with her pace, meant Lifford’s sights of goal were seriously restricted.
It was a day when mistakes could have been plentiful. The surface, one of the few in the county playable last Sunday, was as slippy as an ice-rink while the howling wind blowing towards the clubhouse meant constructive football was often next to impossible.
But Mayo rarely put a foot wrong. They were steady, controlled, driven at the prospect of a national final and no player was going to slip up.
Mayo probably were better than a 1-0 win but the conditions limited the scope of their chances. In strikers Emma Mullin and Aoife Herbert Mayo had two players capable of causing headaches to any defence.
But Sunday was a day for persistence and manager Aidan Flatley will be happy with their contribution here. Holding up the ball rather than chasing it was what had to be done and more often than not Mullin and Herbert obliged.
On the rare occasions there was for glimpses of magic those present weren’t disappointed. Herbert showed one outlandish Ronaldihno type flick under the stand to send Jackie Mulligan through and it was fitting that, despite the weather, the game’s solitary goal would come from a moment of magic from Mullin.
Mayo had dominated the opening quarter and played the conditions well by trying to keep the ball on the ground. Aine McLean, Katie Walsh, Martha Carter and Herbert all linked for Herbert to find Mullin 25 yards out from goal.
Mullin unleashed a thunderous right-footed drive which flew into the top right corner of the net, leaving Lifford ‘keeper Sue McNamara without a prayer.
Mayo were playing all the football. Martha Carter was controlling the game at midfield with efficient energy while outside her right winger Triona McNicholas was involved in most of Mayo’s best attacks.
However she was hamstrung by the fact that the wind was blowing left to right and any aerial delivery from the clubhouse side was next to impossible.
Two minutes after Mullin’s goal McNicholas should probably have scored. Aine McLean’s left wing cross was cutely left run across the area by Mullin to let McNicholas in but her shot sailed over.
After all their pressure, Mayo would have been at a major disadvantage had they not led at half-time. Such a scenario almost transpired six minutes shy of the whistle when Yvonne Byrne in the Mayo goal was called into action for the first time in the game.
Lifford’s Lynn Marie Grant played Jenny Critchley in past the Mayo cover and with Byrne unsure whether to come off her line or wait she seemed to be stranded. Critchley’s shot seemed certain to go in but Byrne saved superbly to her left to tip the shot off the post and wide.
It was a wake up call for Mayo in case they countenanced an afternoon stroll and Mayo came out for the second half determined to finish the game off quickly. Jackie Mulligan had a chipped effort saved while Emma Mullin was denied from close range by Sue McNamara, both efforts inside two minutes.
From then on the game descended into limbo. Herbert and Mullin apart, Mayo didn’t commit too much in attack but they never looked like conceding at the back. Michelle Ruane and Karen Lilly were superb and time after time Lifford went into dead ends.
Mayo were still the most creative and Katie Walsh shot just over midway through the half. Martha Carter almost got the goal her performance merited when she skipped by four tackles on a thirty yard run only to shoot over.
A lead of 1-0 is never meant to be safe, especially in difficult conditions but Mayo made it look like second nature on Sunday and only on the final whistle they did lose control.
Y Byrne (Kiltimagh/Knock); A Gallagher (Kilmore), M Ruane (S & F), K Lilly (Kiltimagh/Knock), A McLean (Ballina Town); T McNicholas (Kiltimagh/Knock), M Carter (Ballinrobe), K Walsh (Ballinrobe), J Mulligan (Ballina); E Mullin (Ballinrobe), A Herbert (Ballina).Sub: P Coyle (Ballina) for Mulligan (73mins).
S McNamara; T Hartley, L Henchy, S Maher, L McCormack; J Critchley, B Reynolds, S Considine, LM Grant, M Tierney; I Hehir. Subs: A Roche for Reynolds, L McKee for S Considine (both 59mins); M Purcell for Tierney (85mins).
Referee: Liam McEntee (Castlebar).