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Connacht semi-final will go down to the wire

Sean Rice

Sean Rice

This will go down to the wire

THERE’S a period of nineteen years in the history of their championship clashes when Mayo failed to overcome Roscommon at McHale Park.
Not a single win in their home venue for almost two decades.
That stark statistic hatched between 1964 and 1983 is not, of course, quite the pit of despair it may seem. For of their eight meetings in that period Mayo won twice in Hyde Park, but lost five at home and one in Tuam.
Three of those confrontations were Connacht finals and Roscommon won all three.
While Mayo have the advantage over the entire history of their 53 meetings since 1901 with 33 wins, the statistics reveal intervals of ascendancy when the Rossies were untouchable.
Yet, that era of gloom has not clouded the predictions of Mayo supporters in recent decades about the outcome of the confrontations between the two counties. They have always been seen as tricky opponents, but less challenging, less daunting than Galway.
To some degree that may explain why so many of Roscommon’s wins have been of the shock variety. They thrive on the element of surprise, on bringing the expectations of favourites crashing to earth. It is a distinguishing feature of their football and one from which they will be hoping to draw inspiration on Sunday.
Way back in 1952 when, having won two All-Irelands back to back, Mayo went in search of a third, confident that there was nothing in Connacht to frustrate a fifth Connacht title in a row, Roscommon dumped them out in the first round at MacHale Park.
Having bundled the new National League winners out of the championship in 1970, Roscommon went on to maintain a consistency that reaped those six wins out of eight contests with Mayo up to 1983.
It was an exceptional episode in the rivalry of the two counties, a kind of golden age that Roscommon have since failed to emulate. Everything before and since has been spasmodic.
In their sixteen intervening clashes Mayo have had the upper hand on thirteen occasions, an unprecedented spate of victories in the history of their championship contests.
The one blemish to that record was the Connacht final of 2001 which against the odds Roscommon once more pulled off. Mayo had been cruising, counting down the clock in a way, when their opponents stole up field to score the goal that turned the match on its head.
They did something similar three years ago when they caught fancied Sligo completely by surprise, an indication of the great traditional spirit of the team as acknowledged by manager John Evans during their recent league run.
Throughout almost all of the Allianz League Roscommon were forced to field without several of their best players who were on another mission . . . preparing to lead St Brigid’s to their first All-Ireland club title.
There can be no doubt the county side was hamstrung by the absence of Senan and Ian Kilbride, Karol Mannion and Pete Domican which strongly supports the assumption that with a full team they would have won promotion to Division 2.
Without those stars they still managed four wins in their third division, including success over Sligo and Monaghan, and they finished in fourth place. Compare that with Mayo who won only three games in Division 1, and got to the league semi-final.
Roscommon will not challenge for an All-Ireland title this season. But they are unpredictable and they know that Mayo, being favourites, are vulnerable. Outsiders in Sunday’s semi-final on a scale exceeding that of their Connacht final tilt with Sligo two years ago, Roscommon are not to be taken lightly. They will relish that situation, and it will feed their determination to reproduce a surprise.
Their plan is no secret. Kevin Higgins, Cathal Cregg, Michael Finneran, Karol Mannion and Senan Kilbride will run hard at the Mayo defence, a tactic which Mayo generally find hard to counter.
Cavan did it in their challenge at Ballina last Monday, and against them in the first half Mayo struggled to adapt. In fact with a strong team in action they trailed the Northerners at half-time.
A tough, early morning work-out is thought to have been the reason for the first half lethargy. They made up or that in the second half against admittedly a new and somewhat weaker Cavan side and they withstood the energy-sapping conditions admirably.
They were without David Clarke, Ger Cafferkey, Seamus O’Shea, Alan Dillon, Enda Varley, Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins and of course Cillian O’Connor.
But impressive performances by Shane McHale, Darren Coen, Jason Gibbons, Shane McHale, James Burke Alan Murphy, Andy Moran, together with the return to full fitness of Barry Moran and Jason Doherty, issues serious challenges to the places of the more permanent force.
Further exhaustive trials since the Cavan match included a challenge match win over Kildare last Friday evening and the final in-house assessment by management behind closed doors on Sunday.
Mayo correctly enter this match as favourites based mainly on league form. The experience of mixing it with top teams gives them a distinct edge. But Galway was not a challenge. Their collapse presents a danger that Mayo may have stridden too easily over their weaknesses.
Roscommon is now the hazard, and a much stiffer proposition. There’s fight in them and they will take Mayo down to the wire.

Another legend of 1951 passes away
DEATH has dug deeper into the thinning ranks of old Mayo heroes with the passing of Mick Mulderrig. He and his late brother Seán won All-Ireland medals with Mayo in 1950 and 1951. They hailed from Bangor, not far from where the brothers Pat and John McAndrew were born.
As if hewn from the unearthed oak of those Erris bogs, all four were moulded in a resilience that furthered Mayo’s bid for glory in those exciting years. Nothing fazed them. Their accomplishments were a portrait of pride for the people of an old neglected county. They were all heroic figures.
The Mulderrigs were born in Mountjubilee, but later moved to a new house near the local school where their father taught. Mick senior won several Connacht medals with Mayo during a distinguished twelve-year career up to 1933, and his influence in shaping the characters of his sons and the McAndrews was profound.
The late John Noel Carey told me once of the admiration he held for his former buddies, the McAndrews and the Mulderrigs and the McManamons, another noted football family from the same area, and how they never forgot their roots or the values that shaped them.
And he humorously recalled the morning of a Connacht final in 1953 when they made the journey to Roscommon in Mulderrigs’ old Ford Prefect with nine beautiful salmon which they had poached from the Owenmore river the night before, shimmering in the boot.
“I had been appointed salesman and sold the fish to a hotel in Roscommon town that morning,” said John Noel.
Pat McAndrew was a member of the losing All-Ireland side of 1949 but lost out on their later triumphs. John, his brother, and the Mulderrigs, however, played significant roles in carving out paths to the top.
Seán had been there from the start alongside Pat on the ’49 team. Mick came to prominence in 1950, scoring 1-3 in the Connacht final against Roscommon. Both were key members of the forward line the following year through league and championship, Seán scoring 2-2 in the championship against Sligo.
Mick played on up to Mayo’s exit from the championship following a replay with Dublin in 1955. He was only 26 when he quit having come to a decision with the few who remained after 1950 and ’51 to pass on the torch.
Now all have gone with the exception of Paddy Prendergast, Fr Peter Quinn and Padraic Carney of the first team, and Dr Mick Loftus and Willie Casey of the subs.
Mick was buried alongside his wife Jo in Mt. Venus Cemetery, Rathfarnham on Monday. May the sod rest lightly on his grave.

Just a thought …
LIMERICK’S shock win over Tipperary in the Munster hurling championship on Sunday is a timely warning for Mayo people that a team is only as good as its next performance.