A team full of contradictions
SURVIVAL has been Mayo’s sole target in the league. To the rock face of that ambition they have clung grittily, if uninspiringly, in all of their seven games.
Half-time blues were tossed away against Donegal, Dublin, Galway — and on Sunday against Tyrone — in a series of perplexing revivals. In the end, though, you could not have asked for anything more from a team in transition than to avoid relegation.
But following their form could damage your health. The intensity of their recovery in most of those games left us breathless. And you came away from Sunday’s final match satisfied with the result but aware that question marks still loom large over the real worth of the team.
They were lucky enough to draw at McHale Park. Glaring misses by Ryan Mellon and Philip Jordan in the dying minutes denied the All-Ireland champions winning scores. Throw in Tyrone’s total wide count of eighteen, and you get some idea of their wastage.
Mayo’s extravagance was little better, amounting to some fourteen wides. But when you take into account their better goal opportunities you can only conclude that a draw was indeed the fairest result.
Tyrone were desperate for the points. They were not to know that win or lose Derry had done them a favour by relegating Donegal. The exchanges were thus intense all through, and Mayo had started a little livelier than in most of their previous contests.
The All-Ireland champions did not take the lead until the 28th minute and by then had narrowly escaped the firepower of Aidan O’Shea . . . the new weapon in John O¹Mahony’s arsenal.
The teenager outfielded Conor Gormley for a high ball from Peadar Gardiner, brushed the full-back aside only to see his blistering shot crack back off the upright. Austin O’Malley hoofed in the rebound which O’Shea fisted narrowly wide. But he was in the box at that stage and a score would surely have been disallowed.
The young Breaffy man has made a huge impact since the selectors promoted him from the U-21s. And his goal six minutes into the second half was taken with all the aplomb and confidence of a Cooper or a Donaghy.
We sincerely hope he will get the protection from all sides that a player of his tender years warrants. And it is to the credit of referee Pat McEneaney’s vigilance that he spotted an off the ball incident in which O’Shea was grounded by Kevin Hughes which cost Tyrone a point from the resultant free.
A rejuvenated Ronan McGarrity provided the full-forward with the high centre that led to the goal. Again O’Shea stunned the experienced Gormley with his high fielding and nerve in heading for goal with half the defence hanging out of him before cooly planting the ball in the corner of the net.
The goal ignited Mayo. Tyrone had rediscovered some of their All-Ireland form in the final ten minutes or so of the first half, hitting six points without reply. Two of those points came from the great Sean Cavanagh, who found it tough going against full-back Ger Cafferkey.
The speed of Davy Harte, Dermot Carlin and Philip Jordan out of defence, the dominance of Kevin Hughes and Enda McGinley at midfield, and the incessant probing and accuracy of Martin Pembrose in attack had re-established Tyrone’s control.
Mayo’s opening blitz had fizzled out, and a half-time deficit of five points triggered new fears about old failings.
Trevor Mortimer set the scene for the second half, however, with a point sixty yards out from the right wing. The pace was fast, the exchanges tough and furious. But, significantly, Ronan McGarrity’s indifferent first half gave way to an illuminating midfield performance after the break. He capped all that with three splendid long-range points.
His partner Pat Harte did many good things, but spoiled his good work at times with wild kicking and clumsy attempts at releasing the ball. Yet his fielding was of the highest quality, and was still effective when he move to the attack to make way for Tom Parsons in the second half.
The Charlestown man was barely on the field when he drew a brilliant save from goalkeeper Jonathon Curran, one of many with which the ‘keeper came to the rescue of the champions. On one occasion Curran was dispossessed by O’Shea which resulted in a free to Mayo and a valuable point by Conor Mortimer.
The Shrule man replaced Alan Dillon who cried off with an injury before the start, and showed an appetite for the battle with some aggressive tackling. Billy Joe Padden who had been selected at corner forward, but moved to the wing to accommodate Conor, bristled with energy especially in the first half when Mayo against the wind strove to dampen Tyrone’s fire. Austin O’Malley provided three points, but there is much more to give in the Louisburgh man.
Penrose was a constant threat to Mayo. Liam O¹Malley was entrusted with the task of curbing the elusive Tyrone man. O’Malley was brave and resilient and one occasion in the first half when the tricky Penrose got inside him, the Burrishoole man daringly denied him. It was a great battle, but you felt the Mayo goal less safe when Penrose was in possession.
Niall Gormley, Ryan Mellon and Cavanagh in full flight looked dangerous. But apart from a tendency to allow them the freedom to squeeze close to goal, the Mayo defence was effective in tackling in numbers. Cafferkey and Tom Cunniffe sealed off the centre effectively.
Peadar Gardiner’s deep running created gaps. Kevin McLoughlin had his hands full with Niall Gormley but confined the Tyrone man to a single point. And substitute Chris Barrett, who replaced the injured Andy Moran in the first half, also earned the respect of the selectors.
In general Mayo’s second half was in keeping with all of their league performances. But you get the impression that they are playing to no plan in particular, that their recoveries are caused more by accident than design. It’s a team full of contradictions.
YOUNG GUNS ARE READY FOR TOUGH ASSIGNMENT
HAVING stormed through Connacht, Mayo’s U-21 exemplars try on Saturday for an All-Ireland final place when they meet Down at Longford.
With one national title gained from their four provincial triumphs, a further crown would surely, if it has not already, set Pat Holmes, Noel Connelly and Micheál Collins apart as Mayo’s most successful management team.
That distinction would of course rest much more lightly on the shoulders of this modest triumvirate than the honour a further All-Ireland would mean for their charges and their county.
Last year they lost out to Kerry by a brace of points in the semi-final at Nenagh despite a magnificent, fighting performance. On Saturday their task is no less daunting against a Down side desperately seeking a return to national prominence.
It is a tough assignment especially for the members of the side who have helped Mayo retain their Division 1 status. Having performed so well at senior level a lot will be expected from Kevin McLoughlin, Tom Parsons, and Aidan O’Shea. Hopefully, all three will continue to display the form they have shown throughout the championship.
A commendable aspect of their performances so far has been the absence of total dependence on any one member of the side. All of the fifteen, and the subs so timely introduced, have contributed equally to the team’s success. Pick out any one and he is a star in his own right.
So, good luck to them on Saturday. We don’t know what the opposition promises. But any team that emerges from the North will not be short of invention or conviction. One thing is certain though, they face a team who themselves hold no inhibitions. We’re looking forward to a cracker.