Sligo punish our half-hearted effort
SO the back door yawns — and whatever chasm lies behind it — as Mayo trawl once again the depths of their darkness for any wisp of light.
We had cautioned about the rise of Sligo and the omens of glory which the undying optimism of many fans had read into Mayo’s defeat by Cork. We know now what the league final truly revealed.
None of the signs that had heralded Sligo into big-time football was misplaced. Drawing on the strengths that won them promotion — and the will of a nation for the underdog — they deservedly cast Mayo into the bland, unattractive play-offs.
Doggedness was at the heart of their performance. Mayo’s aversion to muscular challenge is the trump card of every opponent. Kevin Walsh had Sligo made fully aware of Mayo’s Achilles heel . . . and of the mindset in which they are habitually stuck.
You noticed it midway through the first half at midfield where Tony Taylor and Stephen Gilmartin ensured that the fine fielding art of Tom Parsons and Ronan McGarrity was given no chance to survive. They harried the Mayo pair into submission. Nothing creative came from midfield, nothing to help a struggling forward line. With no fight left in them, both midfielders were eventually replaced.
McGarrity started well, and for ten or fifteen minutes seemed set to recapture his old form, but Sligo quickly put an end to his prominence with rigorous, unsettling tactics and practical use of the ball. Parsons was what Parsons has been . . . shadow more than substance.
Why Seamus O’Shea was not moved to midfield before an end was put to his undistinguished performance at centre-forward is a mystery. Physical presence, what Parsons and McGarrity lacked, was a greater imperative at midfield than style in the confined spaces of Markievicz Park. The choice of O’Shea might have been better than the course management followed.
I’m not so sure though that any move would have concealed the awful truth about the overall performance and what it reveals about the Mayo character. Numerous chances to put the game away materialised after the resumption when they were leading by two points. And none was taken.
Having run deep into the Sligo defence, Kevin McLoughlin carved out an unobstructed chance of a point, but hesitation, caused by lack of confidence, forced him to pull the ball wide from close range.
A minute on, in his haste to put the ball in the net, a shot by Enda Varley was blocked down, Andy Moran dropped the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands, and Conor Mortimer commenced a forgettable afternoon with an attempt well off target.
Sligo had not yet raised a serious raid in the second half while, as if they had a surfeit of riches, Mayo squandered before them. They soon had reason to regret this wastage when nothing in soul or body would resist Sligo’s growing adventure.
Defenders Keelan Cawley and Charlie Harrison were at the heart of Sligo¹s upswing, and the strategic use of veteran Eamon O’Hara was inspired thinking by Walsh.
Ross Donovan, too, was a revelation. The paradox is that while he is no six-footer, Donavan was a tower of strength at corner back, and in winning a high ball from McGarrity and Parsons on the edge of the square the Sligo man encapsulated the gulf in spirit between the teams.
Chris Barrett, who cried off before the start, was missed from the Mayo defence. But the man who did most to hold a faltering backline together was Ger Cafferkey, the focus of most criticism up to now. While all in front of him were collapsing, Cafferkey stood defiant and brave. On losing sides the truest of heroes are to be found.
Corner backs Donal Vaughan and Keith Higgins coped well in the first half with danger-men David Kelly and Colm McGee. But with midfield outplayed and a paper-thin half-back line breached again and again in the second half, too much responsibility was thrust on the last line of defence in which goalkeeper David Clarke again held a steady line.
What Mayo wanted was a wider spread of the courage that drove Andy Moran whose game was all the more powerful in the face of so much negligence around him. Were he available, Alan Dillon would have prospered in the company of Moran and between them a winning formula might have been shaped.
Alan Freeman in his new role at full-forward shook Sligo’s confidence early on . . . until Kevin Walsh neutralised him by moving O’Hara to help out in defence. But Freeman showed capabilities beyond his years which too few managed on another day of sterile Mayo football. Was no antidote possible for O’Hara’s roaming game plan?
Even Alan Costello, long discarded by Mayo, had something to prove, and the Balla man thrived on Mayo’s helplessness, scoring a couple of points of a calibre never reached for his native county.
We talk of the need for leaders in Mayo. But apart from Andy Moran none was evident. Basically, the team is young and the few remaining experienced members are feeling the pinch of under-achievement. Time has begun to erode the dynamism that once flared through Trevor Mortimer’s football. The wall he would have breached once for possession is in no danger anymore.
Conor’s lack of leadership was conspicuous on Saturday, his erratic shooting the end product of frustration. And if the past is any yardstick, Alan Freeman will soon be asked to fill gaping holes elsewhere in the team thus destroying the huge potential he showed at full forward on Saturday.
But that’s Mayo.
In summing up his team’s fourth All-Ireland win on the trot last year, Kilkenny’s Brian Cody said they had earned their success in a serious way, full of strength, skill and spirit . . . “full of physicality in a great sense.
“Skill won’t do that,” he said. “Power won’t do that for you. Strength won’t do that for you. But character, pulling the whole thing together, and spirit, pulling the whole thing together . . . that did it for us.”
Now where have we gone wrong?
Those who didn’t reach the required standard of effort on Saturday ought to ask themselves now is it fair to drag supporters halfway across the country for further half-hearted endeavour in the Qualifiers?
Just a thought...
If you’d like to find out who was selected at right-corner forward on ‘My Best Mayo Team Since 1960’ turn to page 9. Only two positions left to fill so next week I’ll be revealing the full-forward.