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Where did that come from?

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Where did that come from?

IT is the enduring paradox of the Mayo football psyche that a result of this nature tends not just to flatten the opposition, but also to mystify the winners’ own supporters.
And the question was writ large on the minds of thousands of Mayo people leaving McHale Park on Saturday evening . . . What changed?
What sourced this explosive response to a trinity of failure that had pitched Mayo toward the brim of relegation, and in one giant swoop now hoists them to third position on the table . . . above Dublin in scoring difference?
What is it about Mayo football that swings low and high, that engenders alternate bouts of despair and ecstasy and squeezes every ounce of good sense from their loyal following?
The trimming of Dublin¹s sails was not on . . . not after the events of Down and Donegal and Cork. But in a 70-minute tidal wave of power and aggression Mayo transcended all that at McHale Park with a work ethic in which hearts and minds were in rare and almost complete unison.
Dublin came without the Brogans, but still with the bulk of their All-Ireland winning side intact and, being Dubs, they lacked nothing in confidence.
They left, however, with a sizeable headache after a twelve-point drubbing that leaves them facing Cork next week in a scramble for vital points the outcome of which could threaten their own security.
For Mayo, further tenure of division one looked a fading prospect after their three defeats. More than that it seemed also to have become a question of dwindling morale for James Horan charges.
On Saturday the spring was back in their step. You held your breath as they commenced purposefully to take Dublin asunder with a team that marked four changes from the side beaten by Cork, and a few significant switches.
Was that big start just a piece of tinsel, though, before Dublin got to grips with the game?
Aidan O’Shea’s assertiveness in the middle of the field was reassuring. He has been missed since that joust with Down, although a certain fear among supporters accompanied his return that too much reliance was being placed on one man to spare further blushes.
In the circumstances the trimmed down Breaffy man fulfilled general expectations as a tower of strength and ability that left no one in doubt about the extent of his loss these past painful weeks.
O’Shea was also comfortably partnered by Danny Geraghty, having his first full game at midfield, and who functioned commendably under the close scrutiny of a hard-pleased audience.
Whether O’Shea was the sole inspiration of Mayo’s general upsurge is difficult to say because for once leadership surfaced in several areas none more perceptible than in the performances of Alan Dillon and Conor Mortimer.
Dillon restored faith in those of us who have followed his consistency at top-level football for close on a decade. The standard he set himself had waned somewhat in recent matches, but by golly he was back to his inspired self against the Dubs and his points from long range set a fashion for the rest of his forwards.

CONOR Mortimer has made his own piece of history, replacing Joe Corcoran as the highest scoring Mayo man ever to don a jersey. He scored eight of Mayo’s twenty on Saturday.
But scoring was not his sole accomplishment on Saturday, nor was it against Cork. A new dimension to his arsenal is a huge appetite for work, and the manner in which he won ball and re-won lost ball, and took others into his confidence, was a big slice of his overall contribution.
Indeed work rate was the one common characteristic in Mayo’s performance. They worked for one another, worked feverishly and selflessly, and there was an aggressiveness that for too long has been missing from performances.
Nobody epitomised this better than Kevin Keane and Keith Higgins in defence working together to deny even a glimpse of an opening to any Dublin forward. Keane’s interventions were timely and efficient and the touch and timing of Higgins was executed with an assurance that filtered through the whole side.
Onto the shoulders of Shane McHale was thrust the responsibility of dealing with Diarmuid Connolly, one of Dublin’s most menacing forwards, and the young man showed nerves of steel in confining the prolific goal-poacher to a single point.
Connolly’s bad temper got the better of him, and long before he was sidelined for a second yellow card, should have received a red for a nasty foul on Mortimer.
His dismissal came in the 58th minute, eighteen minutes after Paul Flynn was banished by referee Michael Duffy for a backlash on Colm Boyle. Mayo were eleven points ahead when Flynn left the field at which stage Dublin were well and truly beaten.
Colm Boyle took a lot of punishment with the courage of a man who has his opponent well beaten, and he, Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan were the springboard of intensive Mayo attacks.
In commanding the central spot Vaughan left a big impression on the game, his resilience and determination in grabbing a couple of brilliant points encapsulated the mood of the team in general.
David Clarke added to his reputation in goal with two saves of immense quality, one from Kevin Nolan, the other from Kevin McManamon.
Up in the corner Michael Conroy had the best game of his short Mayo career, tangoing around Dublin defenders with all the skill he portrayed last season for Davitts.
Andy Moran was a source of inspiration at centre forward, Kevin McLoughlin’s industry was indisputable and while he has yet to regain his earlier form, Barry Moran’s bulk was in itself an asset around the goal.
It was a day in which even the subs were straining at the leash on the sideline, and all five did get a run.
But, let’s be realistic, one swallow does not make a summer.
Next Sunday they make the long journey to Tralee to lock horns with Kerry who have already qualified for the semi-final with some quality victories on the way, and where will Saturday’s performance stand in the Mayo psyche?
A win in Tralee would probably assure Mayo of a semi-final spot, but Kerry is not a side to concede anything soft. Nor will Mayo expect any sort of scaled-down response from the prince.
What Mayo need right now is a sample of Kerry’s customary toughness and expertise with which to measure their own progress. Saturday’s win is not an accurate gauge.
If the permutations of next Sunday’s results go against Mayo, their match with Kerry will be their final competitive outing before their championship date with Leitrim or London.
Kerry will be without their redoubtable wing-back Tomas Ó Sé who was red-carded in their last game against Laois. But with the likes of Marc Ó Sé, Paul Galvin, Kieran Donaghy, Anthony Maher, Bryan Sheehan, their new star Patrick Curtin and the possible return of Colm Cooper, in their line-out, whatever confidence Mayo gained from Saturday’s display will be put to the test in Tralee.

Just a thought …
Some of the yellow cards issued to players by referee Michael Duffy were for thumping the arms of their opponents in a bid to dispossess them. Not all referees are so alert to the persistence of this offence.