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Plenty of room for improvement for Mayo

Sean Rice
Seán Rice

Plenty of room for improvement



Twenty minutes won’t win games

Seán Rice

YOU would not have banked on a Mayo victory as the countdown to half-time commenced. The four points they had registered, six behind Monaghan, was their true value. Nothing distinguished their play. It was Mayo being run ragged by tough-tackling, hard-running Monaghan.
Certain relief came with a well-constructed goal in injury time. Praiseworthy though it was, however, Donal Vaughan’s fine finish could not conceal the fragmented nature of his team’s first-half performance.
You sensed the goal was not enough. And when they fell deeper into arrears in the early minutes of the second half, fears that Monaghan were building a mountain which Mayo had not the heart to climb were taking hold.
Quite suddenly it all changed. As if someone had thrown a switch, Mayo rediscovered the winning rhythm of three victories away from home.
Their work rate increased. Persistence was having an impact, the assault on the mountain underway. And when Aidan O’Shea crashed home his first goal of the campaign, no one begrudged him the breakthrough his struggles deserved.
It has not been a happy couple of months for the Breaffy man trying to fulfill his underage promise. But perseverance ‘keeps honour bright’ and the goal he scored in the 49th minute was not only the turning point of the game, but a welcome return for the faith management has placed in him.
He will not expect one goal to sustain that faith indefinitely, but just when his confidence might have begun to drain away, it will renew his efforts in front of goal.
Of course there were other hands in that score — Liam O’Malley’s line pass set Andy Moran off on a winding run and his lofted ball was ideally arced for the full-forward to grab over the head of Dermot McArdle and tuck away in a corner of the net.
It knocked the heart out of Monaghan. For the following 23 minutes they were held scoreless as Mayo set about dismantling the lead, and moving ahead for the first time in the match.
The errors of the first half were set aside, the misplaced passes, the clumsiness, the wrong options. Ways were found around Monaghan’s big men in the central positions. Fewer free opportunities were allowed them.
Seamus O’Shea’s appetite for hard work around the field was crucial, and Tom Parsons’ fielding skills stir memories of a Morley or an O’Connell or an O’Shea. But there were occasions in the first half when he was not clued in. It’s a fault that, hopefully, will fade in time.
There will be concern in the Mayo camp about the extent of the injury to Keith Higgins which forced him to retire. And the full-back problems still exist.
But there was a lot to be admired in the grit of Liam O’Malley’s tackling, how Donal Vaughan took his scores, and in Trevor Howley and Kevin McLoughlin when they eventually got a grip on Monaghan’s strategy. David Clarke’s perceptiveness in goal was also vital on a couple of occasions.
He didn’t repeat his feat against Kerry, but Conor worked hard and indeed no one in the forward line shirked any opportunity. One gem of Conor’s genius failed to count, because of a pass infringement leading to the goal.
Against stronger sides, however, Mayo’s performance as a whole in the first half would have met with disaster. They did not want for physical commitment, but concern hung over their mental lethargy, their reluctance to fully engage in the opening period. Twenty minutes of good football will not win many matches.

Corner-back spot taken by Mayo’s famous son

THREE chosen. Just one position remains to be filled, in order to complete the full-back line. A profusion of names are in contention . . . ninety-two in all holding down that berth over the past fifty years.
Sifting through this motley list of tenants you get the impression that every emerging defender was given his first trial at left corner back. Many of those who found permanent places elsewhere were apprenticed at that slot.
The underage promise of some others died there too, and like so much of our young potential down the decades we were left to wonder years later why they failed to flower.
You think of names like Brendan Reape, Sean Vesey, Pat Warde, Padraic Cunningham, John Gallagher, Adrian Garvey, Sean Luskin, Micheál Collins, Sean Grealish, Eddie Gibbons, Anthony McGarry, Conor Dever, Ger Kirrane, PJ McGarry, Anthony McGarry, Gordon Morley and so many more, and the hopes we all had for them when they first arrived on the scene.
Michael O’Toole’s term in the corner held us in thrall for a while, and who could forget the lion-hearted Denis Kearney. Seamus Hughes, Aidan Higgins, Gary Ruane, Fergal Costello, Pat Holmes, Ray Niland and Dermot Flanagan all made the position their own. The present occupant, Keith Higgins, is also wending his way up among the favourites.
Higgins has already topped fifty appearances for the county, almost all of them in that competitive corner. If he continues to thrive there, to maintain his meteoric form, the Ballyhaunis man will eventually displace my preferred choice for that position over the past half century.
I have been tempted to plump for Kenneth Mortimer, or Kevin Cahill whom I hold in high esteem. But while the Shrule man lined out in that corner on occasions, he and Cahill shone mainly in other positions.
Thus, my choice is Dermot Flanagan.
What, if any, influence his father, the greatest corner-back of all time, had on Dermot’s development we’ll never know, but without ever mirroring his father’s prowess, Dermot’s tenure bore all the qualities of a man in full command of the situation. Strength, dexterity and self-belief were his principal attributes.
Like his father, Dermot — who along with Liam McHale were the first Mayo men to play in four All-Ireland finals  — moved around before settling in at left full-back, and he represented Mayo on 123 occasions at league and championship level . . . 71 times more than his more famous father.

MEANWHILE, in an earlier article on goalkeeping we mentioned a curious statistic plucked from Mick Byrne’s publication that Knockmore man, Eugene McHale, more notable for his score poaching skills, had lined out on two occasions in goal for Mayo.
Well, Mayo enthusiast John Cuffe in an e-mail to us is of the opinion that it was Eugene’s brother, Eddie, who stood between the posts on those couple of occasions. “I could be wrong but I am fairly sure that it was Eddie McHale who played in goal for Mayo back in 1973/74 not Eugene,” said John.
“Eddie was the Knockmore keeper at that time also. Eugene was much younger. Incidentally, Eddie later played for Leitrim outfield and scored a goal against Mayo around 1986 in championship football.”
Having jogged my own memory I am inclined to agree with John that Eddie was the man. Hope no bets were won on Eugene!
Incidentally, John’s preferred goalkeeper is Peter Burke, while a great old Mayo Gael living in Galway, who wishes to remain anonymous, would have chosen Eugene Rooney.

Just a thought …
Under the counter payment to managers is the next big issue to be tackled by the GAA. Glad to see director general Paraic Duffy calling for a debate on the practice which conflicts with the amateur ethos of the association.

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