Mayo show true grit to prevail
THIS was a victory for character, for singular perseverance in the stark face of defeat.
Little blasts of brilliance had sustained Mayo’s slim half-time hopes until the 60th minute when Derry drew level after four unanswered points by sub James Kielt and with the advantage of wind and sun looked set to sail ahead.
But from somewhere deep within them Mayo found renewed power. And Aidan O’Shea was the expression of it, winning possession and sending Kevin McLoughlin bursting through the defence for an inspirational point that set the scene for ten final minutes of memorable resilience.
Two minutes later Colm Boyle, scrapping his way up the wing, was fouled and McLoughlin slotted the free over the bar. Mayo had scented victory and Derry were panicking.
And then came the goal that seemed to have capped a fine win for the visitors. Barry Moran, who had replaced Danny Kirby a few minutes earlier, found himself available for a pass he delivered across the goal to another sub, Mikie Sweeney. And in a flash the ball was hugging the corner of the net.
Five points up. Done and dusted? Not quite yet. The drama climaxed a minute into injury time when Derry assembled all their forces around the Mayo goal for a last-minute blitz that paid off with midfielder Brian Óg McGilligan fisting a bobbing ball into the net.
It was heart-stopping stuff right up to the last second when Seamus O’Shea, a rock of dependability for the entire seventy minutes, emerged with the ball from a swarm of flaking fists at the final whistle.
Nothing like that win or that defiance looked possible at half-time when Mayo led by 1-7 to 0-6, having had the strong wind in their favour.
A goal stabbed into the net by the ever-alert Mark Ronaldson in the 28th minute the ball from a free by Cillian O’Connor having rebounded off an upright had put a deceptive gloss on their score.
They hadn’t played that well, not quite sure how to harness the strong wind, not getting from it the advantage it offered.
Aidan O’Shea moved to full-forward after the throw-in, but did not win the kind of ball that singled him out against Monaghan, mostly because he was a marked man when in possession.
But that kind of vigilance became futile as the game progressed and O’Shea reached heights of distinction that no amount of tackles or battering could subdue.
The Breaffy man personified that endurance at the start of the second half with a solo through the heart of the defence and a point that galvanised the performance of the team as a whole. It sprang from a similarly stimulating piece of fielding by Kevin Keane who once again rose to the challenge at full-back with a strong, stable performance.
It is an indication of the extent of that diminishing art that you laud the high fielding of a full-back which was once a crucial quality of all full-backs. Thankfully it is a feature of Keane’s play, and the hope is that he will continue to prosper.
Those were the sparks that detonated Mayo’s doggedness after the break. Seamus O’Shea was his splendid self at midfield, and Danny Kirby gave him valuable assistance, especially in the first half. Barry Moran replaced Kirby in the second half, and had a steadying influence in the middle of the field, fielding cleanly and helping to deliver the coup de grace after the depletion of Mayo’s lead.
Kevin McLoughlin at centre-forward worked tirelessly all through the seventy minutes and Mark Ronaldson, always willing to take a score when the opportunity arises, continues to confound his critics. His goal and two points, one a peach in the second half, were splendid examples of his contribution.
Jason Doherty’s hard tackling often goes unnoticed, but Mayo would be less well equipped without his hard work. Cillian O’Connor, still potent around the goal, still swinging over important frees, and still to reach his summer form added his stone to the edifice while newcomer Micheál Forde showed potential.
Tom Cunniffe started at centre-back for the purpose of quelling the probes of Mark Lynch, and was hugely successful. Colm Boyle was back to his stirring best in the second half, and Lee Keegan, if not yet in full flow, rendered Enda Lynn totally unproductive.
Kenneth O’Malley saved brilliantly on two occasions in the second half, one from sub Michael McIver following a rare slip by Keith Higgins . . . scarcely a blemish on his customary consistency.
Altogether, it was a second-half performance that, for the first time this season, came from the heart. Now they take on Dublin on Saturday and hopefully will find similar reserves of conviction and persistence to deepen the anxiety of the league champions who are desperately rooting for points.
Senior starlets return to active service with U-21s
A CALL to U-21 duty denied Mayo on Sunday a vibrant trinity of tyros who are expected to shape the county’s football future.
Already Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen Coen and Patrick Durcan have begun to demonstrate the natural flair of successful players. They have shown promise, responsibility and an ability to learn fast in the cauldron of Division 1 football.
In the absence of Colm Boyle, Durcan made his league debut against Kerry in the opening round, having already lined out against IT Sligo in the FBD competition. No trace of the awesome challenge he shouldered in taking on Michael Geaney was to be found in the performance of the Mitchels’ man.
In their game against Tyrone he replaced Boyle again and was a key player in Mayo’s defeat of Monghan in the third round. He has thrown down a challenge to Boyle, a kind of taunt that he is nipping at the heels of the Davitts man. Boyle fittingly responded on Sunday in Derry, indicating that Durcan may have to wait a little while longer.
Diarmuid O’Connor had one FBD outing before replacing the luckless Adam Gallagher in Killarney, and while he failed to excite against Tyrone, his potential was evident against Monaghan in a powerful performance that took him all over the pitch.
Although selected for only one game in the FBD, Stephen Coen did enough to convince the selectors of his defensive qualities to be chosen at right corner-back against Kerry.
His was a rather nervous debut especially when Barry John Keane rounded him rather easily in the opening minutes. Then management made an inspired switch between the Hollymount/Carramore man and Chris Barrett at centre-back.
Both benefited enormously from changing places and Coen held the centre-back spot largely untroubled in the other fixtures.
On Wednesday the three play to a different beat when they line out with the county’s U-21s against Leitrim at MacHale Park in the preliminary round of the Connacht championship.
Impressive debuts with the senior side are no guarantee that they will all find a similar streak of form against Leitrim or that, as expected, they will shape the basis of a Mayo win. Less important grades have a habit of bringing egos crashing down to earth.
If, however, they hold their heads and the three contribute their undeniable talent to the full, anything is possible.