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Down expose Mayo weaknesses

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Down expose weaknesses

IT ended on nine minutes with the dismissal of Aidan O’Shea, and throughout the hour that followed Mayo died inch by inch . . . a cruel crash to the high hopes with which they had begun.
The midfielder had won a free from Daniel Hughes fifty yards out from his own goal. Hughes niggled him from behind and O’Shea shook him off . . . with his elbow.
It looked a harmless incident, but Hughes made a mountain of it, and having consulted his linesman, referee Barry Cassidy issued the red card.
And that was that, the seminal moment of a disappointing result.
Hearts sank almost instantly and Mayo’s challenge visibly wilted. It was a time for real leadership, but nothing emerged.
Captain Andy Moran tried some cajoling and a certain response was detectable, but when Conor Maginn swept the ball to the net eleven minutes later the die was cast. Mayo went chasing the game, but Down were rampant.
With the likes of Donegal, Cork, Kerry and Dublin ahead Mayo will now be fighting to retain Division One status let alone a semi-final spot, and the immediate concern of James Horan is to mend their battered confidence.
No doubt, the absence of O’Shea made huge demands on his colleagues. Just as he had done against Armagh, the towering Breaffy man won the throw-in and set about establishing midfield advantage.
But no one adequately replaced him. They moved Alan Freeman from the ‘forty’ to help out Barry Moran at midfield. But the stimulus of the Breaffy man’s absence was Down’s opportunity, and they made the best of it.
Later on, Seamus O’Shea, brother of the dismissed man, came in for Jason Doherty and moved to midfield, and he gave his best, but too many of his colleagues had more or less thrown in the towel. And that’s the flaw in the Mayo team.
You would have expected the more experienced players to set an example and inject some semblance of spirit into the team, but the stark truth is that neither Alan Dillon nor Conor Mortimer, hard though they worked, made little headway against a Down side that smothered every Mayo initiative.
Mortimer has never worked harder for Mayo, but, without physical strength to garnish his efforts, drew a blank. He scored six of Mayo’s eleven points, all from frees, and was victim of one of the referee’s bizarre decisions by stepping a yard beyond the designated mark for a free.
Mortimer and Dillon were also careless with their distribution on occasions and the experienced Pat Harte, when introduced near the end, was similarly culpable.
Back in defence, Keith Higgins bought a couple of glaring dummies from Conor Laverty, much as Tom Cunniffe did from the Gooch last year.
Higgins going forward, however, did his best to stir some kind of response and pinned though they were to their own areas, Ger Cafferkey, Kevin Keane, Richie Feeney and Lee Keegan had limited success.
For a brief few moments in the second half, between the 42nd and 58th minutes, Mayo stemmed the Down tide, and reduced the deficit to two points. A few chances came their way to unnerve the Down men. But poor free-taking by goalkeeper Robert Hennelly and Freeman let them down.
And all of that was rooted in the dismissal of O’Shea, and the harsh lesson that for all of their progress Mayo have not yet reached the maturity needed to reach the summit.
The chinks are obvious. Maybe this was the time to find them.
Donegal up next
THEY are not now the team to beat in the division, and next Sunday Mayo are back in the north in a bid to begin rebalancing their record with Donegal, which is tilted sharply in the host county¹s favour.
Of their nine league confrontations reaching back over seventy years, Donegal have won six, Mayo two, and there has been one draw.
The first of Mayo’s two victories was back in 1940 at Ballina when Mayo were creating league history; the second was also at the same venue, seven years ago, when Mayo had two points to spare.
A draw was an unlikely prospect at half-time in their 2009 encounter. Donegal had sliced through the Mayo defence, piling up a lead of nine points by the interval and seemingly indestructible.
Halfway through the second half Mayo found the key to a revival that earned them a dramatic draw. But the memory of Michael Murphy carving their defence with two brilliant goals — and another disallowed — still sends a chill down Mayo spines.
That’s the same Michael Murphy now back from injury who, together with the blanket defensive strategy developed by manager Jim McGuinness, poses a huge problem for Mayo with an anaemic forward line and without the services of Aidan O’Shea.

Paddy’s day for Muldoon
Paddy Muldoon, at the cutting edge of Mayo GAA affairs for more than half a century, is to be honoured for a lifetime of service to the Association.
The outstanding voluntary contribution of the Westport-based farmer and insurance official will be acknowledged at a presentation function in Croke Park on Friday night.
The awards have been established to honour those, “who go above and beyond the call of duty in their commitment and dedication to any chosen field within the wider GAA family,” and Paddy Muldoon is the first Mayo man to receive the distinction.
It is a fitting honour for a man who has personified the ethos and values of the organisation, and who has won the respect of GAA officials everywhere for unremitting, selfless service for most of his life.
A native of Aghagower, Paddy was chairman of the Mayo GAA Board for eight years, and represented the board on the GAA Central Council for 21 years, stepping down under the new rule which confines service in any one voluntary office to five years.
They were the crowning years of a career that began in Islandeady where he played his first competitive football and with whom he won a West Mayo junior medal in 1959 as a teenager.
Paddy played minor football for Mayo that same year and the following season was one of a select band of West Mayo junior footballers to win a county senior medal with the divisional side that beat Castlebar Mitchels in the final.
After setting up his insurance business in Westport, Paddy togged out with the local GAA team and for nine years served as chairman of the club, service that equipped him well for the administrative posts to follow.
He managed the Westport team that won the county junior championship in 1970 and which was pipped in the intermediate final the following year.
He was selector on the All-Ireland winning Mayo minor team of 1971 and on the county senior side the same year. And he was chairman of the county minor board when Mayo won the title again in 1978.
He is now patron of the Mayo board… and much more than the father figure associated with such honours. Paddy is still actively engaged, encapsulating the soul of the organisation, and a precious font of wisdom and experience for aspiring officials.

Just a thought …
Retaliation is a main cause of players being dismissed by referees. Sunday’s is a case in point. Aidan O’Shea was being held when he elbowed his opponent. If he deserved a red card, the blatant provocation by his opponent deserved a yellow.