Direct route pays off in the end
A VICTORY more for effort than style. The minors had to work hard for their win ... and they earned it. Composure while under pressure in the closing minutes was an asset that served them well.
Cillian O’Connor epitomised that quality with three successive points from his lethal right boot. They were the last scores of the game and turned a one-point deficit into a two-point win.
It was that close. Offaly, never the essence of elegance, put it up to Mayo. They were three points ahead a minute into the second half, and whenever Mayo caught up, the midlanders seemed to have the ability to streak ahead again. Until O’Connor hit magic near the end, Mayo did not look safe.
If they had lost, we would have extolled Offaly’s intrinsic use of direct ball as the difference, especially when they had the benefit of the wind in the first half. Nothing seemed more natural than the manner in which they surged ahead by three points in the opening two minutes. Possession, a pass, a shot ... eminently sensible play.
Nor could you fault the fundamental short-ball approach adopted by Mayo against the wind, which had them out in front some seven minutes later. In that time O’Connor had chalked up two of his nine-point total ... and carved open the defence with a pass that led to Jack O’Donnell’s fine goal.
It was when they turned over you saw the need for an exchange of styles ... for Mayo to become more direct with the help of the wind and Offaly more elaborate against it. Neither did to any great extent, until Mayo began to run out of time, and urgency demanded the quickest route to O’Connor. That’s what paid off in the end.
The conditions were made tricky by a heavy shower just before the start of the game, and players found it difficult to hold their feet. Whether that had anything to do with the inordinate amount of fumbling is hard to say, but while the closeness of the scoring stoked excitement, in general it was scrappy football.
When they got back on top in the first half Mayo looked comfortable on the ball. The hard grafting of Danny Kirby at midfield was influential, and the big man came to their rescue in the second half on two occasions clearing dangerously dropping ball off his own goal line.
The defence found it hard to come to terms with the tricky conditions as the ball skid fiercely along the wet surface. It caught Ciaran Twomey out when he slid on the ground two minutes before half-time. As a result, Paul McPadden got free and set up midfielder Noel Andrew Graham for Offaly’s goal.
That slip seemed to unnerve the corner back somewhat, and it was only when he swapped places with Brendan Harrison in the second half that he regained his confidence. Harrison then reined in McPadden, and took the sting out of the Offaly attack. Between the two corner backs, Niall Freeman’s hard-working performance won admiration.
The goal thrust Offaly into the lead for the first time in 26 minutes and they held it to the break. It was a big confidence boost, and when Graham increased it to three a minute after the resumption, Mayo had it all to do.
The midlanders were strong on the break, and although Mayo plucked at their lead, they were not able to delete it. Right up to the 54th minute they were in front, taking heart from Mayo’s growing anxiety.
The defence, led confidently by Freeman and Conor Walsh, and with vital help from Kirby, made every effort to restore the touch and the timing that the team as a whole had lost since that dominant period in the first half.
Michael Forde lent a welcome hand to midfield, and around him Sean Kelly, Darren Coen and O’Connor prowled hungrily. But even though he found Conor Lowry an awkward customer, O’Connor’s class could not be stifled. In the end he was Mayo’s main man.
Young lions now scrap for glory
ROSCOMMON’S dream ended at Croker on Sunday. Nobody expected it to be otherwise. But Cork were forced to call on their big guns to silence the Connacht champions.
Roscommon had more than matched the best of what the Munster men had to offer in the first half. They won midfield, fought back to parity, and went ahead early after the break. If they had not the likes of Murphy and O’Connor to spring from the bench, Cork would not have found it so easy.
A lot of the fire they had shown in the Connacht final powered Roscommon’s first half. They crumbled afterwards for lack of maturity. But they’re a young side, built around the successful minor team of 2006. They are a growing force and their reign in Connacht is not a fleeting phenomenon.
Meanwhile, the rise of Down, Kildare and Dublin have brought new excitement to the championship. Golden oldies Kerry and Tyrone must take a back seat while the young lions scrap for glory.
Cork are now hot favourites to elbow out all opposition. Don’t rule out any of the other three though, Dublin in particular, whose defeat of Tyrone has lifted the confidence of their rookie players to a new level.
Another best Mayo team
MICHAEL Walsh of Killawalla makes several changes to my best Mayo side of the past 50 years.
His selection is: Eugene Rooney; Kenneth Mortimer, Kevin Cahill, Jimmy Browne; Joe Earley, Johnny Farragher, Noel Connelly; Pat Fallon, David Brady; James Horan, Joe Langan, Noel Durkan; Joe McGrath, Willie McGee, JJ Cribben.
“If those two could meet in McHale Park it would be a great game. How could you hold my full-forward line?” he asks.
With great difficulty, Michael!
Just a thought …
Watching how easily bare-armed players were dispossessed in the sodden conditions of the weekend resurrected my old chestnut about the protection long-sleeved jerseys afford a soapy ball. No one seems to plan for that contingency anymore.