Workmen at McHale Park, Castlebar take a break to watch the Mayo match last Saturday. But it was hard to stay interested at times. Pic: Sportsfile
So, just how good are Mayo?
THE new stand offered a new perspective on a venerable old ground. But the occasion did it no justice. There was no tension, no edge of the seat excitement, no nail-biting suspense.
It had all the trappings of a new era in McHale Park’s evolution . . . but as for theatre, it was an anti-climax. The show ended almost before it had begun.
Mayo owned the proceedings. Roscommon had come with well-founded ambition, but left ruing their immaturity. They were not as bad as they looked, but they know now that there is no substitute for experience, that a well-prepared Division 1 league team is still a gallop ahead of those in Division 3.
It must have been hard being a Roscommon person, watching your team implode and your dreams disintegrate before your very eyes. This year above any there seemed a sound basis for being hopeful. And it put all of us in Mayo on our guard.
We treaded warily in the belief that Roscommon were at last about to make an impact on the championship. We cocked our ears at the manner in which they defeated Leitrim under the management of Mickey Moran, their first championship win in three years.
We were anxious about Mayo’s form, because of their defeat by Louth in the run-in to Saturday’s match, and the memory of their lazy starts in so many of their league games.
But in minutes all that doubt vanished in the blur of a Mayo hurricane razing every platform on which Roscommon’s hopes were founded. In a compelling sense of strength and team work, Mayo swept Roscommon cleanly off course. And now we are left to wonder how good they really are.
It is no fault of theirs that they have reached the Connacht final without a stern test. So praise where praise is due: to John O’Mahony and his selectors for a well prepared team that played with a sense of purpose and with commendable width, pace and direction.
Before Roscommon had time to settle Mayo had cleaved a path through their defence. Good use of their two big men up front, Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran, was their obvious aim. And when the ball from Trevor Mortimer broke between them in front of goal, O’Shea’s prowling instincts had picked out Aidan Kilcoyne behind the defence. The goal was inevitable.
The game was four minutes old. Mayo had seized the moment and the opportunity, the forwards making good use of every ball. The flow from midfield was incessant, Ronan McGarrity and David Heaney winning and delivering accurately. Roscommon were stunned.
Kilcoyne, having one of his more confident games, had already lobbed over two 45s, and Alan Dillon, eager and astute, grabbed another after Peadar Gardiner was fouled. Roscommon strove to patch up their creaking defence, but Mayo swarmed on, attacking in packs, unchecked, urgent, making best use of the opportunities while they lasted.
By the 12th minute they had rattled in their second goal . . . from a penalty by Pat Harte. O’Shea ground out the move down the right wing regaining possession and setting up Kilcoyne for an intelligent cross to Donal Vaughan thundering through the centre. The corner back was floored in front of the goal and the competent Harte despatched the penalty efficiently to the top corner of the net.
As their dream disintegrated, Roscommon tried to dredge up some kind of inspirational response. But everywhere Mayo had the upperhand. On one or two occasions the home defence did seem vulnerable, and someone sharper than Paul Kelly might have made better use of an opportunity that drew a good save from Kenneth O’Malley in the Mayo goal.
Gary Cox, their captain, tried feverishly to whip up a revival, but Roscommon languished in a daze. The harder they tried, the more mistakes they made. And while the chances came Mayo’s way they made hay.
Roscommon may have depended too much on the speed and agility of their young players. We had seen some of their potential when they met in the U-21 championship and ran Mayo close. Maybe they relied too much on this aspect of their development rather than the finer tuning demanded at senior level.
Caught up in the maelstrom of Mayo’s instant dominance, the young Rossies panicked, and by the time the brilliant O’Shea grabbed Mayo’s third goal, the game, only 23 minutes old, was over as a contest.
That goal was a peach. Begun by the quick-thinking Trevor Howley — the centre of an attacking-conscious half-back line which included Peadar Gardiner and shrewd Andy Moran — his delivery brought Heaney scampering down the left wing to link up with Dillon who placed the ball deftly in the path of the in-rushing Aidan O¹Shea. The finish was clinical.
I can’t ever remember Mayo scoring 3-8 in a championship before the opposition opened their account. Conor Devaney did respond with a token score from a free in the 26th minute, Roscommon’s only score of the half, and they needed the sanctuary of the dressing room at the break to sort out their thoughts.
But what could they do? How do you go about restoring belief when you have been knee-deep in the fragments of broken ambition? Mayo know all about that. The sight of a Kerry jersey is enough to frighten us.
For all their dominance, Mayo did not always look comfortable in defence and while defeat was never contemplated in the second half you felt Roscommon might expose a flaw or two when they had the help of the diagonal wind.
Devaney did draw first blood with another point from a free. But then Andy Moran, McGarrity and Harte reeled off three points in succession. Karl Mannion moved to midfield, but made no great impression. Roscommon brought in a few subs and their enthusiasm did enliven the attack somewhat with Fintan Cregg drawing another fine save from Kenneth O’Malley.
But there was no real method to their attacks, no plan. And the Mayo defence, especially Ger Cafferkey and Donal Vaughan tightened up sufficiently to snuff out the danger. Roscommon tacked on five further points, two from Cox still setting the example, but the goal they sought never looked likely.
Mayo were never ruffled. Settled into their rhythm by that whirlwind start, they never lost their composure. It was that kind of easy stroll. Everyone looked to have leadership qualities . . . a new phenomenon in Mayo football.
When you watched Trevor Mortimer, who had a fine game, scramble a point with his left foot from the left wing, and Ronan McGarrity clip one from a stiff angle far out on the right wing, you know it was one of those rare days when any gamble is gong to be rewarded.
So the first cheers to ring out from the new, excellent stand were sounds of Mayo ecstasy drowning out the drone of Roscommon’s wretchedness. Their team had conceded without a whimper, but there will be better days for them.
Mayo have been too long on the high road to nowhere to know that what happened on Saturday is no guarantee of a Connacht title. They needed a greater honing than Roscommon provided. But their clinical efficiency in disposing of them was noteworthy.