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Both sides rise to challenge

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Both sides rise to challenge


JAMES HORAN rested some of his stars for the challenge with Donegal on Sunday, marking the opening of Swinford’s fine new grounds. And the challenge had all the flavour of a championship tie.
While Mayo have more than a month to spare before their meeting with either London or Leitrim, Donegal open their Ulster campaign next week, and manager Jim McGuinness sent most of his first team into action.
Key men missing were Rory Kavanagh, Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy and while Mayo started without twelve of their league final side, you felt the performances of some players must merit strong consideration for first team places in the Connacht semi-final.
This was no picnic challenge. There was bite in it all through . . . tough, cringing, hard-hitting exchanges which no Mayo man shunned, and was some recompense for the league collapse in Ballyshannon back in March.
Their degree of fitness was also noteworthy since most of them had come through tough league games with their clubs the previous evening.
Barry Moran’s form is enigmatic. In the first half of this challenge he produced the qualities that never quite materialised in Croke Park . . . work rate, hard graft, resoluteness, and together with Pat Harte they held a distinct edge over their opponents.
Harte confirmed his penalty-kicking prowess when he tucked another spot-kick to the corner of the net after Danny Kirby was fouled in the box. Neither Moran nor Harte competed with the same intensity after the break . . . understandably drained after tough games the previous evening.
Alan Freeman was at full-forward, staking a claim for a pitch in the championship by winning most of what came his way in the first half. On this form the Aghamore man could have made an impact in Croke Park.
He will have competition from Danny Kirby who was given a run in the second half and, as he had done the previous evening for Castlebar, worked tirelessly at full-forward.
Peadar Gardiner at right wing-back stormed into the game with an excellent goal, the pathway cleared by Harte and Freeman. The Crossmolina man was forced to retire in the second half with a face injury . . . but left a good impression.
So, too, did Shane McHale at full-back. Confronted with no less a power than Colm McFadden, the Knockmore man more than held his own against a strong, tough opponent, and is obviously being groomed to eventually replace Ger Cafferkey.
In goal, Robert Hennelly, beaten only by a penalty by McFadden, was otherwise as safe as David Clarke. Richie Feeney, Eoghan O Reilly, and Michael Walsh, all played their parts in reining in some of Donegal’s most dangerous attackers.
Cillian O’Connor’s goal in the first half was brilliantly finished after he scorched through the defence from the right wing. Jason Doherty, Enda Varley and Aidan Campbell were on fire throughout the first half, and the selectors gave Conor O’Shea, the youngest of the Breaffy brothers his first taste of the toughness he will encounter when his time comes to take his place in the team.
All of them are now pushing for recognition and on this performance will surely have given James Horan and his selectors some food for thought as the championship approaches.
Native son Padraig Carney performed the official opening of the Swinford ground. Many of those who recalled his football feats over sixty years ago warmly greeted the former star of Mayo’s last dual All-Ireland success.
Carney played only thirty times for Mayo, but packed more success into those thirty championship games than many other players have done in a hundred. In his mid eighties now, he is still lively and enthusiastic about Mayo, and his presence shed lustre on a big occasion for Swinford GAA.

Cold facts remain after Cork defeat
MORE than a week has passed and the blood has barely thawed in our veins. The chill of Siberian weather in Croke Park will be a hot topic long after Mayo’s defeat in another league final is forgotten.
What talk there is of Mayo’s performance surrounds the blatant foul on Lee Keegan that went unpunished and that led to Cork’s second goal, the leniency of referee Maurice Deegan in confining sanction on Pearse O’Neill to a yellow card for a professional trip on Donal Vaughan as he sliced through the defence, and the aggressive nature with which Cork tackled in general with impunity.
Managers have spent many long hours down the years trying to steel Mayo against the widely-held belief that they could never mix it with the big tough guys in Croke Park. 
It has been a long battle and they have made progress as Kerry testified last year. But the perception still exists among some counties that the use of aggression and intimidation will eventually grind Mayo to a halt.
Referees generally have come in for considerable criticism for their different interpretation of some of the football rules . . . and specifically the tackle. Fists are blatantly used without penalty in attempting to dispossess opponents, and no amount of debate has yet found a solution to the pack-tackles on high-fielding players.
Some referees may be daunted by the vocal protests of players at their decisions. For persistent protests referees occasionally shorten the free by a further ten metres.
Yet it is difficult not to be convinced that because of their celebrity status, the Donaghys and Coopers and O’Neills get away with much more of this type of dissent than less well-known players, that their protests will eventually win them the benefit of the doubt in subsequent fifty-fifty decisions.
Thus it would seem that Davy Fitzgerald is not far out when he rails against similar influences in hurling. Following their defeat to Kilkenny, the Clare manager said the elite counties were “refereed different to all others,” that in effect they get away with more from referees than the teams of other counties.
To be sure, Lee Keegan was fouled as he headed for goal in the league final, and equally certain is the fact that Cork’s goal came from the counter-attack.
But you cannot attribute Mayo’s defeat alone to that or some of the other nasty incidents if the number of scoring chances Cork missed from play, chances for points they would normally have been expected to score, is taken into consideration.
It is not today or yesterday this column has argued that every team has got to be good enough to beat the referee. He is the 16th man on the other side that has got to be overcome.
God knows this county has suffered enough from bad refereeing decisions . . . going back all the way to the 1948 All-Ireland final when Mayo lost to Cavan by the infamous ‘short  whistle’ to realise that the demands for All-Ireland success include overcoming the whimsical decisions of such referees.
Mayo did not lose to Cork because a few decisions went against them. Physically stronger opponents outplayed them as a team and in some of the hard-hitting exchanges their limitations were exposed.
Mayo took the blows well though and dished out some of their own muscle until Cork’s heavyweights eventually wore them down. They did not lose for lack of bottle, but for want of stronger men in certain positions.

Just a thought …
Roscommon entered the All-Ireland under 21 final against Dublin as outsiders, and while they failed narrowly, they surprised Dublin with the spirit of their performance, providing genuine hope to their supporters for success at senior level.