A draw that felt like a defeat
THIS time the cause was faulty shooting, and it has cost them a place in the lucrative semi-finals. Throughout the league campaign, Mayo have run the gamut of reasons for poor performances. Sunday’s against prickly Donegal was due to glaring inefficiency in the basic art of the game ... getting the ball between the posts.
A draw was not a defeat, but at the end of a gruelling match it felt like it. Having dominated the second half, Mayo had many chances to put the game well beyond the reach of Donegal, but failed miserably to find the target.
Frankly, some of their efforts were downright deplorable.
Donegal’s draw was built on the only goal of the game, scored in the 19th minute by their best forward, Paddy McBrearty. Footage of that score – not Mayo’s dominance – will haunt us in reviews of the game and previews of future meetings.
Mayo football is not good for the psyche. Throughout this campaign, their status in the division wobbled somewhat, with poor performances especially against Tyrone and Dublin, both on home ground.
In the end, paradoxically, only Donegal stood between them and a semi-final spot. And for 18 minutes in the second half, Mayo held the visitors scoreless, while in the face of a collection of dreadful finishing, they managed to take the lead.
It was quirky stuff in energy-sapping conditions. Mayo had managed to deal with the heavily defensive nature of Donegal’s game. They tackled bravely and successfully. They lorded it at midfield in the second half where Barry Moran, scoring three points, has suddenly emerged from that cloud of doubt hanging over his game for so long, where Seamus O’Shea, after injury, resumed his customary dynamic role.
But from the easiest of opportunities some of the forwards were denied scores ... by the intimidating sight of the goalposts. They did manage five points in the second half, but Mayo heads in the almost 13,000 attendance shook in disbelief at some of the misses.
You were left with the feeling that without a forward of the calibre of McBrearty, Mayo will be clutching at straws. We have Aidan O’Shea, who soaks up a considerable amount of abuse from opposition. He did well on Sunday but was targeted by Donegal – and especially by Eamonn McGee – and without sufficient support, was ploughing a lone furrow.
Cillian O’Connor will shore things up when back in full fitness, and with a bit of coaching, there ought to be a place for big Danny Kirby. But more power is needed up front and greater accuracy against the likes of Sunday’s opposition.
Except for the slackness that led to McBrearty’s goal, few faults could be found in the Mayo defensive set-up. Ger Cafferkey did not start having picked up an injury in the warm-up, and his absence as a tough, experienced tackler was missed.
Kevin Keane is a driven full-back and has left a deep impression in all of his games. Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Donal Vaughan worked assiduously, Vaughan’s speed a notable factor in attacking engagements.
The Ballinrobe man incurred dismissal for two yellow card offences in the final minutes of the game, the second for a deliberate pull-down. And for a similar infringement, Diarmuid O’Connor was also dismissed.
Both offences occurred in a bid to protect Mayo’s slender lead, but did not prevent sub Stephen Griffin from grabbing the equalising point that won a semi-final place for Donegal two minutes into injury time.
Up front – but indeed all over the pitch – Kevin McLoughlin was again outstanding. He may have missed from an easy free, but it does not take from the unceasing action of an honest, whole-hearted player.
Jason Doherty slogged it out, too, under extreme pressure from Frank McGlynn, who put in enormous effort for Donegal.
But faulty finishing apart, one memory rising above the rest is the phoenix-like performance of Barry Moran in the second half, the majestic high fielding, the re-assuring perfection of an art too rarely displayed in a game becoming smothered in a pervasive, defensive philosophy.