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Untested Mayo sail into final

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Untested Mayo sail into final

LEITRIM’S hopes of emulating Sligo suffocated under an avalanche of Mayo scores in a Connacht semi-final as one-sided as their most pessimistic follower could have predicted.
The challenge lasted some twenty-one minutes at McHale Park . . . until Alan Freeman adroitly scooped the ball into the net for Mayo’s first goal. Almost from that moment Mayo cruised to the final more easily that even they themselves could have envisaged.
But what message has this heralded for the champions? Could it be that Sligo will have benefited more from Leitrim’s calamity than the men who caused it? For despite the size of their win the ambivalent impression it leaves is that it was not a vintage Mayo performance.
From the beginning it was obvious that the main purpose of Leitrim’s dogged start was to disrupt Mayo’s fluidity, to prevent free-flowing football, to knock them off their stride.
It was the only option for a team clearly conscious of the gulf in standards between them . . . as exposed in the league. A weapon to help them resist with every fibre whatever Mayo threw at them in the early stages, to hold out and in the process plant some seed of doubt in the minds of the champions.
From a Mayo perspective it was not clear that the Leitrim plan wasn’t working. For twenty minutes or so they were shoulder to shoulder. Leitrim were slogging it out with Mayo, full-blooded and spirited, matching them point for point, and exposing a flaw or two in the home machine.
No Leitrim star shone more brightly in those opening minutes than the stylish Emlyn Mulligan at centre-forward, evoking memories of past Leitrim heroes like the great Packie McGarty and George Dugdale which the county unearths now and again.
Adrian Croal was causing some trouble in the full-forward line and despite some good work by Barry Moran, Leitrim’s Darren Sweeney and Shane Moran were holding their own in the middle of the field.
So, although Cillian O’Connor and Alan Dillon had given Mayo an early lead, Leitrim were back on level terms a few minutes later, and were still only a point behind when Lee Keegan, and Andy Moran set up Freeman for the first of Mayo’s four goals.
Keegan’s switch to centre-back was a notable move by the Mayo mentors, having the immediate effect of squeezing out the danger that Mulligan posed and denying Leitrim a central plank of their hopes.
The freedom provided to Donal Vaughan by that telling intervention was marked by Mayo’s second goal four minutes before the end of the half when the Ballinrobe man collected a Leitrim clearance that had over-shot midfield, and skated through the heart of the defence before off-loading the ball to the unmarked Andy Moran to finish it off.
Thus by half-time the game was as good as over. And yet no distinguishing mark had been left on the proceedings by Mayo. The goals had come from Leitrim’s failings rather than from any spark of brilliance by Mayo.
Maybe we expected too much from the Connacht champions, maybe their long wait for this game had a restraining effect.
But Sligo watching would not have been overawed.
After a slow start Barry Moran mastered midfield with some fine fielding and shrewd delivery. His interventions in defence for the long speculative ball by Leitrim were crucial and Mayo benefited from his streak of form.
Ger Cafferkey was excellent at full-back. The work done by the Ballina man is rarely of the spectacular variety, but it is competent and effective.
On either side of him Kevin Keane, after coming to terms with the wiles of Croal, and Keith Higgins, with his usually gusts of energy, stuck diligently to their tasks. Behind them David Clarke in goal was together with Cafferkey in complete command of the square.
The switch of Keegan and Vaughan was a powerful influence on Mayo’s performance in general. Colm Boyle on the left wing did not reach the standard he set in other games but Richie Feeney consolidated the line when called from the bench later in the game.
Danny Geraghty, who started brightly at midfield, did not quite maintain that start and there was a warm welcome from the Mayo followers for the re-introduction of Ronan McGarrity after his absence from the league scene.
Cillian O’Connor, deployed for his first competitive match at centre forward, bagged six points, four of them in succession from frees shortly after the resumption. Yet the Ballintubber man looked unsettled in that unfamiliar spot, and did not achieve a lot, even though assisted by the hard graft of his wing-men Kevin McLoughlin and Alan Dillon.
In his selection James Horan bravely chose Alan Freeman and Jason Doherty over Michael Conroy and Conor Mortimer, and although they engaged freely and effectively, the two will be under pressure to hold their places in the light of the form shown by the Shrule man, and especially Conroy, when called on during the final quarter.
There was no hiding the intention of all five subs to reclaim first team places, a factor that will not have been lost on James Horan as he prepares for the final against Sligo.
Andy Moran, alert as ever around the goal, grabbed his second on fifty-three minutes, having been set up by Conroy. And McLoughlin hammered home the final nail in the dying minutes, Dillon and Mortimer opening the way.
But this was no test for a team preparing for the final. Mayo could have learnt more from a decent challenge. They now enter the Connacht final without a serious test on which they can be truly assessed. That’s not their fault. It’s the way the dice is thrown. All they can do is play what is in front of them. But it does leave us wondering how good they really are.
In the meantime Leitrim are left to wonder if they will ever again produce a team to repeat the achievement of the side of 1994 in winning their second ever Connacht title.
On this evidence they have a long way to go.
Minors hang on for victory
NOR can expectations be very high for any prolonged run in the championship by our minors. They began on a high note, but in the end flattered to deceive.
Sligo came to McHale Park in high standing, but it was Mayo who set the pace with some superb football . . . high catching and clever distribution.
Their finishing left something to be desired, however, and for that they almost paid the ultimate penalty. In too many instances they took too much out of the ball, ran into cover too often so that the final kick came from a pass too many.
Strong performance by Kevin Lynch, Cian Burke, man of the match Michael Plunkett, and Adam Gallagher set the pace and by half-time they were leading by 1-4 to 0-1.
But all that polish and unity disappeared after the interval as Sligo commenced their fight back, ensuring that the breaks Mayo won at midfield in the first half were not repeated.
Two points made up the sum total of their second-half efforts and it took some sterling defending to deny the visitors the win for which they had come in high hopes.

Just a thought …
Complaints were voiced after Sunday¹s semi-final that the seats of those with reserved stand tickets were not in fact reserved. Would it not be wiser to have no reserved seats in the stand?

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