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Mayo win a step in the right direction

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

A step in the right direction

A VICTORY in keeping with the temperament of Mayo football: redemptive and unforeseen. Although painfully slow in establishing the lead their authority warranted, Mayo did recover the stature they left behind in Ruislip.
And the lusty cheers that greeted victory had more to do with the healing of those shattered reputations than any satisfaction of success over their old rivals.
But Roscommon will not have gone away quaking in their boots. No one, not even the most rabid Mayo supporter, watching the first half will have left McHale Park believing that Mayo face anything other than a huge mountain in Roscommon in three weeks time.
Having set the pace from the beginning in terms of possession, Mayo’s difficulty in getting the ball between the posts left you wondering would they pay a heavy price for their wastage.
It was not only the nine wides they compiled in those first thirty minutes, but the number of shots that fell short, the chances being missed to validate the grip they had on the game that had you cursing their luck.
And when Paul Conroy found the ball blissfully at his toe, having only to nudge it into the net a minute before half-time to leave Galway four points ahead, the silence among the Mayo fans at the break was deafening.
A heavy mist, of course, militated against good football and may have contributed largely to the huge amount of fumbling and slipping and misdirected passes in general. The greasy underfoot conditions certainly swelled the doubts about either side making any real impression on the All-Ireland.
In fairness to them Mayo did go about dismantling the lead systematically after the restart. And it was in that period of Mayo recovery that Galway¹s decline was underlined. They had been kept in the game principally by Mayo¹s wastage.
Now, as the lead vanished, their attempts to gain control of the vital areas looked toothless . . . unlike great Galway teams of the past.
Nowhere was the gap more evident than at midfield where the O’Shea brothers enjoyed a greater slice of the play than Joe Bergin and Finian Hanley had been expected to allow them.
Seamus O’Shea it was that set the example, and it was good to see the man, who has been plagued with injury for so long, restored to his old combative form, contesting everything in sight with familiar vigour.
Not everything the older brother did was perfect, but he and Aidan, who also confirmed his midfield suitability, brought to that area stability and muscle, the qualities that managers have been seeking for some time.
Further evidence that the selectors were getting it right with their midfield choice came when Ronan McGarrity, also returning from injury, replaced Seamus in the second half and grabbed a trademark point from the wing.
The fact that Galway scored only one point in the second half compared to Mayo’s 1-8 is a telling statistic about the difference between them, and the grip Mayo enjoyed after the break.
It took more than successful midfield performances, however, to copperfasten that advantage, and the half-back line of Richie Feeney, Donal Vaughan and Trevor Mortimer played a significant part in erecting a tight defensive screen.
Feeney was strong and reliable on the right wing even though faced with Galway’s best forward, Gareth Bradshaw; Vaughan’s display was a huge improvement on his London experience, and Trevor Mortimer’s experienced old head was invaluable when Mayo were trying to come to terms with faulty shooting . . . as he proved with a point from his weaker foot just before the interval.
Expectations that Padraig Joyce would constitute the biggest threat to Mayo were not too wide off the mark. You  always sensed the danger he posed when in possession. Confronting him was the unenviable task of Keith Higgins, but the Ballyhaunis man fared well in the task, and Joyce was confined to a single point.
There was one moment in the second half when Galway were presented with a chance that left you wondering how they might have reacted if the inrushing Gary O’Donnell, set up by Joyce, had not kicked wide with the goalmouth yawning. As against that, of course, ‘keeper Adrian Faherty and corner back Johnny Duane spared Galway a worse defeat with a couple of brilliant saves in the second half.
Fullback Alan Feeney is growing in stature with every game and while he gave away a few frees, his performance was generally competent. In the corner Tom Cunniffe curtailed the speedy Cormac Bane to the extent that the corner forward was eventually replaced.
After an uneasy first half the forward line came into their own in the second half, led admirably by Andy Moran and Alan Dillon. Moran’s astuteness eventually created new patterns of play and while Dillon was uncharacteristically off target from frees, his overall contribution was positive.
Ironically, it was goalkeeper Robert Hennelly who, in addition to stopping scores, got Mayo’s opener, a point from a 40 metre free, and the Breaffy man added another from a ‘45 twenty minutes later.
The highlight, however, was perhaps the tussle between Colin Forde and Alan Freeman. The Aghamore man signalled his composure under pressure with a goal coolly taken which virtually ended the game as a contest in the 57th minute.
It was a measure of the gritty performance of Kevin McLoughlin that Gary Sice, normally one of Galway’s best defenders, was eventually replaced, while Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor in the corners were equally adventurous.
So with the disaster of Ruislip atoned, Mayo head for Hyde Park, not fully convincing, but a bit more confident perhaps, and a little less burdened.

Major setback for minors
THEY have often shown the way to their senior colleagues, but on Sunday Mayo’s minors, for a change, were overshadowed by the rising graph of Roscommon football.
Although starting brightly with a goal by Evan Regan against the wind, Mayo failed to capitalise on that boost and as the game wore on Roscommon took control, their overall superiority in the end was indisputable.
Ever since Fergal O’Donnell led Roscommon to that unexpected All-Ireland minor win in 2006, football in the county has steadily improved . . . or could it be that Mayo football is on a downward spiral.
Whatever it is, Roscommon are getting the better of their underage clashes. A couple of months back they came to McHale Park and defeated Mayo’s U-21s in the Connacht championship.
Their senior Connacht final win over Sligo last year has been confidently defended so far this season and the aggregate success of their teams is irrefutable evidence of the renaissance in Roscommon football.
The minor match was notable for the performance of Conor O’Shea, the third of the Breaffy brothers, who captained the team, as well as for the outstanding performance of Roscommon’s centre half-forward Donal Smyth.
In the end six points separated them, but what was notable about their win was the manner in which Roscommon crowded Mayo out at midfield, picked up most of the broken ball and aggressively swarmed around every opponent in possession.
They are learning fast.