LIKE the curate’s egg, it was good in spots. A 13-points margin of victory, on a rock-hard surface and no serious injury picked up will have pleased management.
But a wide count that reached a baker’s dozen, and the black card picked up by Cillian O’Connor for an alleged offence, much less serious it seems than the unpunished and more blatant foul on Aidan O’Shea a short while later, blemished the visit somewhat.
A prestigious occasion when leading his team for the first time in the championship ended abruptly for the new captain with the game barely ten minutes old. How his presence might have affected the course of the game we’ll never know.
It was a tense opening. For ten minutes, although helped by the wind, Mayo inched their way round the pitch nervously, almost curiously. You wondered for a while could London possibly derail the wagon. Against the wind they hassled and harried, probing for that imperfection that might trigger a Mayo implosion.
You began to dread that long injury list that left so many stars sidelined. Diarmuid O’Connor, Seamus O’Shea, Barry Moran, Alan Freeman, Ger Cafferkey and Chris Barrett. Then Tom Parsons cried off just before the start. Add O’Connor’s dismissal and only a skeleton selection remained.
What they produced was not the performance that has half of Ireland backing Mayo for a decent tilt at Dublin’s crown – as if Galway and Roscommon did not exist. But it was an indication of the standard reached by those now pushing the regulars for first-team selection.
It was also an occasion emblazoned by the feat of Andy Moran, who broke the record of Mayo appearances that had been held by James Nallen with his introduction in the second half.
Since he first donned the Mayo shirt in 2003, the Ballaghaderreen man has endeared himself to the Mayo football public, not only for some inspired rescue interventions but also for the urgency he seems to engender when introduced.
That extra pep was in his step for his 133rd appearance on Sunday when he replaced Conor O’Shea midway through the second half with little lost of his old vitality or hunger for scores. He got one point and was part of the build-up to many more.
The same could be said for Alan Dillon (making his 124th appearance) when he replaced his club-mate Jason Gibbons in the second half. He let it be known that he, too, retains the commitment to answer whatever call Stephen Rochford makes on him in the weeks ahead.
London were not without some hope that on the confined and rock-like surface they could cramp Mayo’s style and lure them into self-doubt. What they had not accounted for was the manner in which Mayo crowded their short kick-outs, suffocating their attempts to build from the back.
In searching for a safe delivery, goalkeeper Gavin McEvoy often found himself short of choices, and it was an interception by Mayo in one of the keeper’s clearances that provided the opportunity for Conor Loftus to nail the first goal of the match.
That goal in the 17th minute helped to settle a tense opening period for the visitors. London, playing against a tricky wind, had opened the scoring with full-forward Scott Conroy claiming his first point from a free.
And although Mayo responded with four unanswered points, all of them were hard-earned, and seemed to suggest that things might get a lot tougher when they faced the wind after the break.
The goal, deftly flicked into the net by under-21 star Loftus who had replaced Cillian O’Connor, eased the nerves of those who did not have it all their own way in those opening minutes. And when Jason Doherty claimed Mayo’s second goal in the 24th minute, all doubt, all early frustrations suddenly dissipated.
Again it came from Mayo pressure on London’s deliveries. This time Aidan O’Shea made the vital interception that freed the Burrishoole man for the pass and the goal that clinched the game.
Leading by 2-8 to 0-5 at the interval, Mayo had chased the hope out of London’s performance. And with Evan Regan (in his first championship outing) in regal form up front, it was only a matter of time until the weary hearts of the hosts gave out.
Stephen Rochford chose Stephen Coen, the captain of that all conquering under-21 side, to partner Jason Gibbons in the middle of the field in the absence of Tom Parsons. The Hollymout/Carramore man progressed his immersion into county senior football with a resilient performance on the opening day of Mayo’s championship.
Ruislip still a charming Irish oasis
RUISLIP won’t be the same when Mayo make the return visit five years from now. They’re about to redevelop the headquarters of London GAA into a modern arena, in keeping with the progressive image of the association worldwide.
It is to be hoped, though, that into whatever contemporary appearance they reshape it, none of the old-fashioned charm and attraction it now holds will be lost.
As it stands, the Ruislip ground is in essence a little Irish oasis preserved in the centre of a smothering metropolis, a kind of pastoral setting that has almost disappeared even from Irish playing fields.
Each year on the June Bank Holiday, it summons the faithful of the competing counties for their championship opener. Like rural race meetings of old or the annual village sports contests, patrons and families gather more to see who they might meet rather than who is playing or how the game is going, reminiscing and renewing old acquaintances.
Of course, the aficionados will be clued to the proceedings on the field, all wondering as they were on Sunday whether Mayo have it in them to finally scale that unreachable mountain top.
Not sure they will have learned much, comprehensive though Mayo’s victory was. But they will have enjoyed the mystique of the place, the ambience, the leisurely stroll round the grounds, the bustle of those coming and going to the club house, the peep of a face long gone, the sound of a familiar voice, the warm handshake, the welcome.
It is this joyous gathering of the Mayo clans, those who have left meeting those who remained, that makes Ruislip such an attraction. All counties in Connacht savour those visits, and the hope is that in the revamped stadium none of this old character will be lost.