Different attitude, same result
FOR a moment we toyed with a vision that the slide had been stemmed and demotion spared, but the image died with Donncha O’Connor¹s injury-time point, and once again Mayo’s chances of survival receded into the distance.
But at least they lost with dignity.
To concede four points in the final six or seven minutes was naïve and guileless in the extreme, but at least Mayo rediscovered a fighting heart against a side of far superior talent.
A more astute Mayo would of course have held onto possession a bit longer and played down the clock when they had a point or two to spare in those dying moments . . . even when it seemed a draw was inevitable.
A daring score is always tempting, but against a side hardened by recent All-Ireland and league success efforts to secure that vital point were a bit too ambitious and a hungry Cork is no side to mess with when the stakes are high.
Mayo could have made better use of the wind advantage they enjoyed in the first half if, like Cork, they had confidence in long range accuracy. Ironically, two of their best points came in the second half, kicked into the wind by Andy Moran and Jason Doherty.
On other occasions those would amount to inspirational scores. Doherty’s great point seven minutes from the end was, however, Mayo’s last as Cork, even though a man short, came thundering back to reel in four successive scores without reply.
Minutes before half-time Mark Collins was red-carded for felling Donal Vaughan off the ball. After consulting his umpires referee Joe McQuillan had no hesitation in dismissing the Cork centre-forward.
That decision suggested a more even battle for Mayo against the strong wind after the break, and they maintained the lead right up to the closing minutes when Cork’s pressure became greater than Mayo were unable to withstand.
In a way they had done well despite conceding midfield throughout the game where Pearse O’Neill and Alan O’Connor held sway and were helped in no small way by roving full-forward Aidan Walsh.
The Mayo mentors, among whom trainer Cian O’Neill was less conspicuous than in other games, moved to improve the central area by replacing the luckless Seamus O’Shea with Danny Geraghty. The Ballintubber man got spiritedly involved, but midfield only marginally improved because Barry Moran was off form.
Midfield mastery was thus a big advantage for Cork even though playing against the wind, and it heaped endless pressure on the Mayo defence. Fortunately, Keith Higgins was at his best in the corner, and his timely interceptions and lightening runs contributed enormously to the containment of Cork’s nimble forwards.
Ger Cafferkey, Colm Boyle, Shane McHale, Donal Vaughan and goalkeeper David Clarke played their parts quite well, too and Cafferkey made a vital interception halfway through the second half when O’Connor seemed destined to beat David Clarke in the Mayo goal.
Up front, Mayo had a bit more zip to their play than in recent games and Conor Mortimer improved matters considerably when he replaced the out-of-sorts Cillian O’Connor in the first half.
When in possession Michael Conroy brought a bit of excitement to the play but was forced to retire from an injury in the second half and was replaced by Jason Doherty.
Alan Dillon, more assured and effective, incurred the wrath of the referee with two yellow cards for inconspicuous indiscretions, and his loss five minutes from the end eased the pressure on Cork at a vital stage.
All of Andy Moran’s acumen was on display, but while he is still a huge asset the Ballagh’ man has yet to regain his full pre-injury dynamism.
Kevin McLoughlin’s point in the second half was the type of tenacious score that too few Mayo players carve out and it was one of the best scores of the day.
But in the end Mayo lost. So far they have failed to maintain last year’s promise, and the mighty of Gaelic football has yet to be faced.
Here come the Dubs
SO off we go again, on Saturday, with Dublin back in Castlebar to complete unfinished business. First indications of Mayo’s league troubles emerged in that first half of their McHale Park meeting in February before the fog intervened.
Half-time hopes were buoyed somewhat in the belief that the dismissal of Dublin’s wing-back James McCarthy would balance out a game weighing heavily towards the All-Ireland champions at the time.
But if their experience in Ballyshannon and McHale Park is any yardstick — when Donegal and Cork were reduced to fourteen — the Dublin result will be no different from that of Mayo’s last three encounters.
That’s the harsh prospect facing Mayo on Saturday as they slide inexorably towards Division 2. Unable to take advantage of their opponents’ adversity those past two weeks it is hard to expect any sort of miracle this weekend.
One thing is certain that unless they come up with even a half right midfield, they are going nowhere.
Aidan O’Shea will be back, and hopefully will bring some influence to bear on this vital area.
But even with the big Breaffy man in top form, nothing other than a Dublin win is envisaged.
MAYO underage football is also spinning out of control. The defeat of the county’s under-21s by Roscommon in the championship for the third year in a row is a cause for concern . . . and in need of serious investigation.
The way this semi-final was lost in Kiltoom is a stark reminder of the times when Mayo confidence slid to its lowest point and stubbornly clung there for a painfully long time.
For thirty minutes on Wednesday they played with the conviction one expected from a side that, bar a few players, reached the All-Ireland minor final three years ago. By half-time they were a point in front and predicting better to come.
But once Roscommon put on the squeeze after the break Mayo lost shape and inexplicably folded, three points their sum total for the half, two of those from frees in the dying minutes.
These are players who should be pushing for senior places, who demonstrated in the first half a capacity for subtle accomplishments, but who didn’t have the heart to compete with Roscommon’s tenacity after the break.
They started without Danny Kirby who injured a hand in training, but Aidan Walsh more than compensated at midfield with a powerful performance, one of his best for some time.
Evan Regan, Cillian O’Connor and Conor O¹Shea benefited from the good work of Walsh and Danny Geraghty.
O¹Connor’s resourcefulness almost won him an audacious goal when from the sideline he spotted goalkeeper Naos Connaughton off his line. Only an equally vigilant Fintan Kelly, who cleared the ball off the line, denied him.
None of that nerve was detectable after the break as Roscommon went about exposing Mayo’s underlying doubts.
Fintan Kelly and Niall Daly got support from the roving Niall Kilroy, and with Paddy Brogan, Cathal Duignan and Conor Daly growing in spirit in defence, Mayo lost the plot . . . and the heart to dig out a suitable response.
And when Donal Smith grabbed the only goal of the game seven minutes from the end it heralded the end of Mayo’s feeble resistance and was no more than Roscommon deserved.
One Mayo man who refused to quit, however, was perhaps their smallest defender, Michael Walsh, whose endless drive failed to re-ignite the rest of his colleagues.
“From the open window could be heard his colourful orations in the dressing room and they were a tourist attraction.”
David Healy on Hollymount’s Mike Jennings who was honoured by the Green & Red Trust.
“I asked Jim Fleming why I was being honoured and he told me there were seven on the list for consideration, but the other six had died.”
Mike Jennings on receiving the award.
Just a thought …
THE decision to restrain team trainer Cian O’Neill from encroaching onto the field to issue advice to players during games gives some credence to rumours of discontent in the Mayo set-up. Hopefully, it has nothing to do with recent defeats.