A step back in the right direction
IT was beyond what we expected, way beyond the precipitous challenge we had predicted, and in the end Mayo’s destiny in the league may yet be decided by the margin of victory in this incoherent league contest.
There was enough promise in Mayo’s performance to calm the warranted criticism of their performance against Tyrone. There was life in them, and imagination and a cutting edge that seemed to carry some kind of remorse for the deficiencies last time out.
But let us guard against whatever sense of complacency the result might tend to trigger. Mayo won deservedly, but against a Monaghan side that lost the plot and were reduced to 13 players long before the end.
Against that background it is difficult to measure Mayo’s performance. While they were at full strength an intriguing encounter was being played out. Monaghan – into the teeth of the strong wind – were holding their own, due mainly to Mayo’s recurring theme of ineptitude around the goalmouth.
But Mayo were impressive outfield, battling for every ball with renewed passion.
The selectors made five changes from the side that started against Tyrone. Significantly they planted Aidan O’Shea at full forward with Cillian O’Connor moving to the left corner, Jason Doherty out at wing half and Kevin McLoughlin at centre forward.
O’Shea won everything that came his way in his new position, a tormenting thought in the light of their last performance and surely a conundrum for management for future outings ... whether his leading the attack ought to be a permanent fixture. As master of the square he won all sorts of ball low and high, tacked on 1-3 and demonstrated his versatility and his promise.
Though Mayo were on top, they were slow in building scores over the opening 15 minutes, mainly because of a shot-shy mentality from 30 and 40 yards. They ran hard out of defence and were more purposeful and constructive. If they had scored the goals they deserved to get from superior team work, we would perhaps have forgotten about their obvious lack of confidence in going for long-range points. Four times they were reminded of that fault when denied goals from close range.
Kevin McLoughlin was the least lucky, mis-kicking the ball on the goal-line, and on another occasion agonising as his shot flashed harmlessly across the face of the goal from an opportunity he made for himself a couple yards out. All that happened while Monaghan were at full strength and instead of a lead of three points at the interval, Mayo’s control of the game ought to have had them ahead by 12.
Eight minutes before the end of the first half, centre forward Stephen Gallogly was sent off by referee Rory Hickey for a punch on Jason Doherty that became obvious only in a replay of the footage. The decision emphasised the vigilance of a linesman who brought the matter to the attention of the referee.
For some reason Monaghan came determined to undermine Mayo’s game with unexpected aggression. But after the Tyrone disappointment the hosts were in no mood for disruptive tactics. And it became clear when Ryan Wiley fired Mark Ronaldson against the hoardings – earning him a red card – that the visitors had run out of ideas.
The faith of the joint managers in Ronaldson was again rewarded with a workmanlike first half performance from the Shrule man, and the manner in which he linked up with O’Shea, the luckless McLoughlin, Jason Doherty and the energetic Diarmuid O’Connor reflected tough preparation all round. Although he kicked five valuable points, Cillian O’Connor on this occasion prowled less dangerously.
The referee handed out a black card each to Seamus O’Shea and Monaghan’s Dermot Malone. O’Shea had been competing in customary vibrant fashion when dispatched minutes after the Gollogly sending off. His partner Donal Vaughan had his best game at midfield, his speed off the mark an invaluable feature of his game.
The Ballinrobe man was replaced at half-time and a new partnership of Danny Kirby and Stephen Coen took over the midfield reins with Colm Boyle installed at wing back.
It worked satisfactorily, supported by a strong back line centred around the Trojan work of Kevin Keane, the acceleration of Tom Cunniffe and Keith Higgins, the fierce tackling of Lee Keegan and the keen edge of young Patrick Durcan on the left wing. Behind them, Robert Hennelly dealt competently with the one shot that threatened.
All this was fine can-do spirit, but most of the scores came when dismissals had weakened Monaghan and Mayo had more freedom to build. It should be judged in the context of an improved rather than an all-conquering performance. Think of Tyrone.
Our trip to Derry will be no Sunday stroll
LAST year Derry caught us off guard. Having already qualified for the semi-finals of the league, they came to MacHale Park for the final match of the series fielding not even the bare bones of their regular side.
Mayo had a field day. Pretty near full strength, they dominated the game – hitting form judiciously, it seemed, on the eve of the championship with eight points to spare.
At full forward, Alan Freeman waltzed around the defence, bagging a whopping 2-6 of Mayo’s total of 2-12 and beginning at last to realise his potential.
It was a pretty confident Mayo that made the journey to Croke Park a week later with high expectations of repeating their conquest of the same opposition in the semi-final of the competition.
Only it was a much different opposition. Manager Brian McIver made 14 changes for the match, fielding a side more competent and physically stronger. Only Emmett McGuckian, who scored 1-1 the previous Sunday from midfield, found a place.
The game was only 23 minutes old when midfielder Fergal Doherty was dismissed for double yellow-card offences. Weakened though Derry were, Mayo were unable to take advantage of their misfortune. And when Mark Lynch broke loose from midfield and stuck the ball in the Mayo net, it ignited their adventure and the oak leaf triumphed unexpectedly.
At lease six of that side will line out next Sunday at Celtic Park for a renewal of hostilities. McIver was forced to make eight changes from the Kerry match for the visit of Tyrone last Saturday. The experienced Mark Lynch and Gerard Kane were scarcely missed as the manager made the best of his weakened side.
Their draw with Tyrone was their first point of the campaign and an incentive to build on that in Celtic Park on Sunday. At the bottom of the table, they are desperate for points.
In common with modern trends, the half-back line of Brian Óg Mac Alary, Kevin Johnston and Seán Leo McGoldrick will set the scene, breaking fast in disruptive tactics, a headache for any defence. Mac Alary together with Corless McWilliams and Eoin Bradley were having their first outings in the league.
Mark Craig and Brian Óg McGilligan occupied midfield last week with certain success. But the man who caused Mayo real problems last season was Enda Lynn, who ranged all over the field. They will also have Mark Lynch back on Sunday after his suspension.
It’s a tough assignment for Mayo. Derry will test to the core the real substance of their progress. Maybe after all some good will have come from that Tyrone defeat.
Sunday will tell.