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A slow start for Mayo

A slow start

Leitrim 0-9
Mayo 0-8

Mike Finnerty

APART from the fact that Mayo will definitely not be travelling to New York for this year’s ‘away’ FBD League Final after this defeat, there were no other major conclusions to be drawn from their season-opener in rural Leitrim last Sunday.
Just a few days after the squad returned from their jaunt to Miami, a combination of jetlag, ring-rustiness and some understandable post-holiday blues meant that James Horan’s experimental team never hit any great heights.
Leitrim, on the other hand, were highly motivated and full of purpose.
They started brightly, finished strongly, and fully deserved their first victory over Mayo in a senior competitive match since the famous 1994 Connacht SFC Final.
Was it any wonder then that the large partisan home crowd greeted the final whistle on Sunday like they had just reclaimed the Nestor Cup.
It is worth remembering though that Mayo only selected three of their All-Ireland Final starting XV last Sunday, and handed debuts to Keith Rogers and Cathal Carolan.
Tom Cunniffe was also returning from a seventeen-month hiatus while Michael Walsh, Conor O’Shea and Darren Coen were appearing with the seniors for the first time in a year.
As line-ups go this Mayo selection was as unfamiliar as it was experimental and the fact that they went more than half an hour without a score (including the first eighteen minutes) underlines one of their most obvious shortcomings.
Still, they battled gamely to recover from that pedestrian start and showed some glimpses of the pass-and-move football that James Horan likes them to play as they wiped out a five-point deficit.
Unfortunately, a lack of scoring power cost them dearly in the second half too as they struggled to make any inroads against an organised Leitrim defence.
Enda Varley (free) and Darren Coen had both notched points to level the game for only the third time on 53 minutes, and the momentum seemed to be with Mayo.
However, they failed to add to their tally down the home stretch and Leitrim captain Emlyn Mulligan landed the match-winning point from a free three minutes later.
As expected following their exertions in Florida, the visitors to North Leitrim had started slowly and they were five points behind after sixteen minutes.
The home crowd was in full voice as the aforementioned Mulligan converted three frees and Adrian Croal and Ray Cox both nipped in to hit the target from close-range.
With the exception of a trademark line-break and goalbound shot from Tom Cunniffe that was well saved by Cathal McCrann, Mayo were on the backfoot.
They finally started to get their bearings though midway through the half with the half-back line of Cunniffe, Lee Keegan and Richie Feeney pushing forward in support of their comrades.
Overlaps were created as a consequence with Seamus O’Shea and Barry Moran linking play, and Alan Freeman and Michael Conroy working in tandem in the inside line.
Their ‘wing man’ Darren Coen clipped Mayo’s first score of the season on 18 minutes when he chipped a ball on the run and popped it over.
This white flag was followed by four more in the space of six minutes as Freeman, Conroy, Keegan and Barry Moran all found their range. Now it was Leitrim who were pinned inside their own half and parity had been restored at the short whistle (0-5 apiece).
The break probably came at the worst possible time for Mayo and they never really got motoring to the same degree after the restart.
The enigmatic Alan Freeman nailed a fine score from a tight angle but Leitrim rolled their sleeves up again and had manoeuvered themselves into an 0-8 to 0-6 lead on 43 minutes as Paddy McGowan, Adrian Croal and Emlyn Mulligan all picked off scores.
Mayo did rally one last time to tie the game up but they were unable to finish the job. They did blow out some cobwebs though and that will do for now.

K O’Malley; M Walsh, S McHale, K Rogers; T Cunniffe (0-1), L Keegan, R Feeney; J Gibbons, S O’Shea; C O’Shea, E Varley (0-1, 1f), C Carolan; D Coen (0-2), A Freeman (0-2), M Conroy (0-1).
Subs used: B Moran (0-1) for Gibbons (3); C Boyle for C O’Shea (48); G Cafferkey for McHale (57).

C McCrann; A Wynne, C Egan, P Maguire; D Beck, P Brennan, C Clarke; W McKeon, P McGowan (0-1); G Hickey, E Mulligan (0-5, 4fs), K Conlon; R Cox (0-1), B McDonald, A Croal (0-2).
Subs used: S McWeeney for Egan (25); J Glancy for Conlon (h-t); C Beirne for Cox (49); R Lowe for McDonald (57).

Referee: S O’Hehir (Galway)