Mayo manager John O’Mahony is interviewed after the recent victory over New York at Gaelic Park in The Bronx
Mayo attack starts to take shape
IF only for the social dimension alone the annual transatlantic visits to Gaelic Park are worth preserving. The standard of football New York has to offer will rock no foundations at home. But it is a tangible link to a culture that a century and a quarter of colliding interests has failed to dent.
The size of Mayo’s win will have surprised no one. It will have lifted their championship prospects no higher on the scale of supporters’ estimation. New York was not going to be anything other than a jogtrot, not even a serious challenge.
That’s no criticism of those who fly the flag in the city that never sleeps. On the contrary, it is to their eternal credit that despite so much opposition the flame still burns brightly and the big welcome for GAA teams remains undiminished.
Nor is the fixture treated with less respect by visitors than if it were against any other county at home. True, no one expects to lose at Gaelic Park. But lurking somewhere in the mind of every visiting team is the fear that one day New York will spring a trap . . . and that this might be the day.
Apart from the opening moments Mayo were not stretched and their win is no measure of their true capacity. They beat a team that did not have the benefit of league competition, whose only preparation was what they could muster over there to act as opposition. Without the match fitness of Irish teams New York will always be used as a bonding retreat for visiting sides.
It did, however, provide John O’Mahony and his selectors with an opportunity to experiment, and most notable was the performances of the two big men — Aidan O¹Shea and Barry Moran — in the full-forward line. Andy Moran reverted to his customary attacking position to complete the front line and all three prospered.
I don’t know if management persisted with that combination in subsequent challenges, but their selection in New York posed for the first time a serious threat to Conor Mortimer who has been an automatic choice in the right corner for so long.
The Shrule man would almost certainly have occupied his customary corner forward position in New York but for the hand injury he sustained against Tyrone which is likely to keep him out also of the semi-final on June 20.
Barry Moran had been pencilled in as favourite for the full-forward spot in the championship team, but recurring injury allowed him no real chance to prove himself during the league. Preference thus swung to Aidan O’Shea because of high performances in every grade over the past twelve months.
In that central role in New York, O’Shea reinforced his claims with another cutting edge display. To Moran, back to full fitness, was handed the No 15 jersey and by all accounts he, too, acquitted himself competently.
Andy Moran, on loan to a defence in crisis during the league, was back in the front line this time in the corner berth normally occupied by Conor Mortimer. If as a whole that front line continues to impress, it may delay the return of the Shrule man.
Mortimer has attracted a fair bit of criticism over the years for some indifferent performances, but like him or not, he has been Mayo’s most prolific forward in recent years. In championship and league last season he scored in the region of 3-44 and is still a formidable opponent.
In his absence the opportunity is there for someone good enough to take over. But can anyone seize it? Now is the time to prove that there is a better corner forward than the controversial South Mayo man.
MEANWHILE, Aidan Kilcoyne, who has been in and out of the team, made a big impression in Mayo’s two-point win over Westmeath in a challenge last week. Short a number of players because of injury and exams, Mayo, just back from New York, put in a satisfactory performance with Alan Dillon, Mikey Sweeney, David Heaney and Keith Higgins in good fettle.
In another sharpening exercise, Mayo take on Dublin next Friday night (8pm) at the Naoimh Mearnog ground in Portmarnock. They drew in the league in Ballina and both will be looking to improved performances as the championship beckons. Hopefully both sides will be as close as possible to full strength so that a more accurate assessment of their respective strengths can be made.
It is also understood that Mayo have lined up Cork for a similar challenge at Garrymore. Cork are one of the most talked about teams so far this season, one that could seriously challenge the All-Ireland ‘certainties¹ and the fact that they are travelling to Mayo is an indication of the high regard in which they hold their hosts.
KILMEENA SHOW SIGNS OF LIFE IN THE LEAGUE
IT had all the signs of a disaster for Kilmeena when they trailed Belmullet by twelve points after twenty-three minutes on Sunday. On their home ground they had barely troubled the visitors.
Rocked by a litany of injuries their makeshift side was at sea, unable to counter the power that Paddy Barrett and Billy Joe Padden generated in the middle of the field.
Prey to the strong, fervent running of the Belmullet men, they were further weakened by the loss through injury of corner-back kingpin Owen Joyce. For long periods they could not get beyond midfield with any sense of purpose.
A couple of clever switches by manager Michael Gavin and his selectors eased their anguish somewhat. Liam Heanue moved from full-back to midfield, Eddie Sammon went to full-back and Neily Ryan took over from Sammon at centre-half.
Heanue stemmed the flow from midfield somewhat and the Kilmeena forwards got a little more supply from his breaks. In the final five minutes the three points they reeled in barely dented Belmullet¹s lead. But it gave them heart.
And when they re-emerged from the dressing rooms they were motivated. Within five minutes that intimidating lead had been cut to a manageable five points, the assault led by David Feehan. The full-forward was a cut above the rest of the attack, and Belmullet could never quite rein him in.
His opening point of the second half conveyed a new determination. A couple of minutes later he had the ball in the net from a penalty after John Moore was fouled. The lead was down to five and Belmullet had a battle on their hands.
The North Mayo men were tested to the full in the following 25 minutes, and in a tingling struggle they held up well, the foundation laid in the first half.
But Kilmeena’s courage was commendable. Another side would have collapsed under the psychological weight of a 12-point deficit. Instead they took the game to Belmullet in the second half and brought a bit of life to what had been a very lopsided thirty minutes. They haven’t won a game so far in the division but they will have gained valuable experience from their jousts with the big guys.