Mayo take a step in right direction
Heart was required to win away to Tyrone but there were elementary mistakes too that caught the eye
RAIN lashed Healy Park in Omagh before Mayo embarked on a truer test than Galway had provided the previous week. And for long agonising moments the validity of that galloping victory over the Tribesmen was threatened by understrength Tyrone.
Critics were gathering to deliver a more sober verdict in the wake of that glossy performance. And who better than Tyrone — weakened as they were without three of their best players — to deflate any swollen Mayo egos in the slippery conditions.
In the circumstances Mayo produced a little of the good and the bad. Heart personified their recovery on two occasions in the face of ominous setbacks. But that rare and welcome feature of their play was tempered by some elementary mistakes when wild choice seemed to replace composure.
Tyrone, stung by their defeat by Derry, wanted these home points badly and their goal had all the characteristics of their All-Ireland winning sides . . . speed, confidence in the build-up, and a clinical finish by Eoin McCusker.
It silenced the big Mayo contingent in the some 7,000 attendance. And although Mayo did not lie down, you could sense the creeping angst in their inability to cope.
Inspiration came from two sources ... Andy Moran, and the admirable marksmanship of Mark Ronaldson. They helped drag Mayo out of inertia. Other than those two, the forward line was limping along. Aidan O’Shea has not quite got to grips with the high expectations his selection at full-forward has engendered.
And while his brother Seamus worked extremely hard at centre-half forward, he did not have the same impact on midfield as he had done in the previous game.
That was not for lack of effort, more a case in which the ball never ran right for him.
Halfway through the second half the brothers were replaced, but the two will certainly be back to claim their places because Mayo cannot afford to shed the muscle and the power they bring to the game.
Fifteen minutes into the first half the younger brother swapped places with Alan Freeman, having his first full senior game for the county.
And no sooner was the Aghamore man installed at full-forward than he latched onto a centre by Ronaldson only to be floored in the rectangle. The penalty taken by Ronaldson was inch-perfect.
It was a good piece of work by Freeman who has talent, but afterwards tended to overuse the ball and he, too, was replaced in the second half.
Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons were forced to give way at times to the determined Aidan Cassidy and Kevin Hughes at midfield.
Yet, both Mayo men were critical to Mayo’s recovery. McGarrity has rediscovered much of his old form.
He has begun to take up good position again and his tackling and fielding have a new edge and toughness.
Parsons’ game is interspersed with periods when he tends to fall asleep, and then to emerge with significant contributions, such as his point in the second half which brought parity for the fourth time in the match and helped spark Mayo’s second recovery.
Kieran Conroy was a big help to midfield when he came on, not in the way Seamus O’Shea assisted, but in his covering, spoiling tactics and support play.
Although each defender held his own when the Tyrone charge was at its height, a question mark still hangs over the physical adequacy of the unit as a whole. Keith Higgins and Donal Vaughan stood out. Others were patchy, but too easily dispossessed.
Indecision in possession led to players being crowded out, or dispossessed or forced into wayward delivery. No team will every entirely rid themselves of such faults. But until they are minimised no team will ever emerge fully from the shadows.
Next Sunday Galway return to the scene of their disaster for the FBD home final with Mayo.
Having reclaimed some pride with victory over Monaghan last Sunday, Joe Kernan comes back to Castlebar with renewed determination to atone for his misjudgement. What team John O’Mahony fields will be interesting.
Heaney and Nallen will both be missed
TWO performances stand out in the memory of this writer which personify the qualities that James Nallen and David Heaney brought to Gaelic football.
Last year, in what we know now to have been his second last game for his native Crossmolina, Nallen was chosen by John Maughan to start at right full-back in their championship quarter-final with then title holders Ballaghaderreen.
It was a tribute to the mettle of the man that at 35 years of age Nallen was still recognised as the one player, although out of position, who could curb the threat that Ballagh’ danger man Andy Moran posed.
The move was the single biggest factor in Crossmolina’s march to the county semi-final. If final proof were needed of his fine qualities, this man produced it in that performance in the autumn of his career.
Even when he announced his retirement last week having played 132 games with Mayo - more than any other player in the county’s history - James Nallen still had something to offer.
But being left on the bench while Mayo struggled against Meath last August portended the end. And the seeds of his decision to call it a day most likely were sown that day in Croke Park.
He measures up well to the greats of the past. And if a senior All-Ireland medal is what separates him from joining the Mayo pantheon of that privileged few, James Nallen is distinguished by other achievements ... not least his All-Ireland success with Crossmolina, nor his unassuming nature, nor indeed the unremitting spirit he brought to every contest, whether challenge or championship.
My outstanding memory of David Heaney was his performance many years ago at left-half back for Mayo in a league match at Newbridge. In his many distinguished appearances for Mayo, nothing in my opinion quite matched the heights he reached on that occasion.
As an intermediate club footballer, Heaney did not have as wide a stage as his county colleague. And his record of 108 appearances for Mayo falls short of the Crossmolina man.
But his natural ability was always seen as vital to Mayo’s chances of success even without the big club scene.
The attributes which each of those stars brought to his game will be missed by their clubs and county, and all Mayo Gaels will be saddened to see them depart the environments where they provided so much joy and entertainment.
Their experience will be welcomed in Claregalway where they now reside, and we wish them well in their new surroundings.
Just a thought …
Evolutionary is how Rules Committee chairman Seamus Woods described the new changes. But what’s evolutionary about the return of a fist pass that was scrapped fifty years ago because it slowed down the game?