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A game of one half in Castlebar

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

A game of one half



DARK thoughts had begun to gather before the fog rolled in, and long after it dispersed, traces of inadequacy still lingered around McHale Park.
There was still the second half to come and Mayo trailed by three points when the whims of nature forced officials to wisely call a halt to the proceedings.
If consistency over the past twelve months means anything, Mayo would have found a more imaginative response after the break, and the bleak outcome that the first thirty-five minutes portended on Saturday night would have dissipated into the foggy air.
Throughout last season’s campaign, and again last Saturday night week in Portlaoise, Mayo were at their most enterprising in the second half, overcoming fragile beginnings.
But we can’t ignore the fact that they were outplayed for the duration of Saturday’s half by the progressive All-Ireland champions, whose confidence has grown immeasurably since winning the title.
Dublin played on Saturday night like a side believing they were superior, and their opponents like a side knowing they were.
It’s the impression Dublin’s style rarely fails to emit, champions or not. They begin in sweeping attacks threatening to engulf the opposition, but once their weaknesses are exploited some of the veneer wears off.
Mayo touched some nerves in an All-Ireland semi-final a few years back when they came from a seven-point deficit to snatch victory from the expectant Dubs with that exquisite last-minute point from Ciaran McDonald.
On this occasion Mayo trailed only by three points, and if they took their chances that shortfall might have been wiped out by the interval, and the Mayo we had hoped to see re-emerge afterwards.
Maybe. But there were few glimpses of any sort of upswing . . . of any inspired leadership in those thirty-five minutes. Midfield offered whatever prospect there was of a recovery, Barry Moran winning some clean, vital possession, maintaining his welcome return to form.
There were signs, too, that Aidan O’Shea, who was becoming more involved as the game progressed, might be influential after the break. And you could not fault the efforts of Alan Dillon to inspire his front men by example.
But the full-back line struggled as Diarmuid Connolly found space to rekindle the form he showed in the corresponding game at Croke Park last spring.
The ball, moved at speed from the Dublin defence mainly to the wings, left Mayo backs floundering, and while there was only one real scare around the goalmouth, the fear was that Dublin would eventually find a way around edgy backs who were too often being caught on the wrong foot.
Keith Higgins was the best of the full-back line, especially when moving forward, and Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan handled the rumbles from Bryan Cullen and Kevin McManamon reasonably well.
But not until Dublin’s wing back James McCarthy was given a red card in the 23rd minute was there any inkling of a genuine Mayo response to eighteen minutes of ascendancy by Dublin.
Cillian O’Connor had shunted Mayo into the lead with two points from frees in the opening five minutes. But their only two points from play came from Enda Varley, one each before and after McCarthy’s dismissal.
Dublin had reason to fear the Garrymore man as they watched his second point fizz off the top of the crossbar at such cracking speed that no one was quite sure whether it went over or wide.
McCarthy was penalised for felling Alan Freeman with an elbow and it did not go unnoticed by the eagle eye of referee Marty Duffy.
His loss was sure to have some adverse affect on Dublin’s performance, but how much we’ll never know. Before he vacated the field Dublin had scored their eight points, seven of them in succession, six from play.
It’s a bit harsh to judge a performance on thirty-five minutes of play. But there ought to be concerns about the overall strength of the defence and their ability to shut down an attack in which all six players are moving as a unit.
The loss of Ger Cafferkey has left a crack which no one has been sufficiently groomed to fill just yet. There is also the feeling that with greater conviction Donal Vaughan at centre-back could provide that surging, resolute quality that lifts teams.
No doubt James Horan will continue to experiment in a bid to find the correct blend throughout the team, and while his forward line was not perfect it was hard to find fault on Saturday with the genuine endeavour of anyone of the six.
On three occasions the distance was misjudged when the ball fell short of its target, Dillon, O’Connor and Keegan obviously surprised at missing from close range chances that could have evened up matters before time was called on the game.
Mayo did not lose on Saturday night, so there is no need for alarm. What many will wonder though, is what effect the experience will have on their game when the Dubs come west again.

Not to be for Davitts
NOT for the first time have Kerry opponents spiked a Mayo dream. And Davitts, who have been thrilling us all year with their fast, open, positive play, fell victims to whatever kind of spell Kerry football casts on Mayo teams in Croke Park.
Sunday’s All-Ireland intermediate defeat will have disappointed the hordes of Davitts fans scattered all over the world who have followed their dream throughout the last twelve months or so.
But there is no shame in defeat, no room for embarrassment for any team that gives of their best and sacrifices so much to bring honour to their club and county only to fail at the final fence.
Pete Warren’s men have set an example in what can be achieved when the minds and hearts and passion of a community unite in one common purpose. Forget about failure. Think of the spirit that forged such commitment.
The men doing duty last Sunday in Croke Park touched a chord with Ballindine and Irishtown people in far-flung places around the world.
Those who could not be in Croke Park listened on the internet to the broadcast, and while victory failed to adorn the efforts of their footballers, the achievement in reaching an All-Ireland final for the first time is a memory they will hold dear for the remainder of their lives.
They will know, too, that their footballers were capable of better stuff than they produced in Croke Park, that Michael Conroy and Colm Boyle, and Ronan McNamara, and the ageless Alan Roche, and the others that make up the team had shown on previous occasions oceans of the calibre that deserted them in Croke Park.
The players will wonder how they failed, whether complacency had wormed its sinister way unconsciously into their minds, whether the unimpressive win of Milltown-Castlemaine in their semi-final had unlatched their customary vigilance.
To be favourites is not a tag any team desires in a final . . . especially when your opponents come from Kerry. Maybe that and the enormity of the occasion eventually got to the players. Whatever it was, Davitts were unfortunate to hit one of those days when nothing went right . . . days in Croke Park we have all experienced only too well.

Just a thought …
IN the event of many people having already disposed of their tickets when Saturday’s match at McHale Park was called off, GAA authorities may have to consider throwing the next game open to everyone free of charge.