Minors reclaim high ground
EARLY comers to McHale Park, Castlebar were treated to a thrilling Connacht Minor Football Championship final on Sunday last. In the end Mayo prevailed, but only just against a Roscommon side that showed tremendous fighting spirit after being hit with two exquisite goals inside the first six minutes.
In a game that was remarkably similar to their Connacht League encounter early in the season, Mayo failed to wilt when at times Roscommon threatened to overwhelm them.
Throughout this compelling match, Roscommon held the high ground at midfield where Cathal Compton and Tadhg O’Rourke were outstanding. Mayo were forced to live on scraps as the Rossies crowded the area and won most of the breaking ball. They deployed a two-man full forward line in which Diarmuid McGann and Diarmuid Murtagh were extremely dangerous.
Mayo were forced to line out without their regular full-back Seamus Cunniffe who picked up an injury in training. Seán Conlon, who replaced Cunniffe, played in the half back line and proved to be a more than adequate replacement.
Overall, the rearguard must take great credit for this win as they defended heroically. All six of them, together with goalkeeper Mark Mulligan, made some telling contributions at various stages.
The Mayo attack didn’t fire on all cylinders, but still delivered the goods with limited possession. They possess a propensity to score goals when least expected. This was exemplified four minutes into the game when Darragh Doherty found the net with a great effort after he spotted Shane Mannion off his line.
Two minutes later, Liam Irwin scored a sublime goal that he crafted out of nothing, and dummied two defenders before unleashing a pile-driver to the net.
The goals provided a cushion that sustained Mayo to half-time as they hit points from Val Roughneen (free), Stephen Coen (an inspirational score), Liam Irwin (free) and Tommy Conroy. The Rossies replied with points from Diarmuid McGann (three, including one free), and Diarmuid Murtagh (two frees). Mayo did well to restrict them to such a meagre total, as Ultan Harney hit the crossbar, and several other chances were kept out by last-ditch defending.
Mayo got a great start to the second half when Stephen Burke scored a fine point and Conor Loftus fisted a goal after Cian Hanley’s initial effort was saved. This left Mayo 3-5 to 0-5 to the good and seemingly home and hosed.
But Fergal O’Donnell’s men responded with purpose and dominated for large tracts of the half. They scored a further 1-5 with Mayo only able to add two pointed frees to their total from Liam Irwin. Mayo’s mettle was well and truly tested during the Rossies’ spell of dominance, but they answered every question asked of them with some great defending.
Roscommon were awarded a penalty with four minutes left that looked harsh, and Diarmuid Murtagh tucked it away. Mayo followers were on tenterhooks as Roscommon went in search of the winning goal. With time running out, Liam Irwin showed great character when he pointed a free from distance to leave Mayo a goal ahead.
Overall, Mayo showed great courage in winning a game that at times looked beyond them. The spirit shown in the Galway game was there again in abundance.
Having said that, spirit in itself will only take you so far. While the midfield pairing did well on occasions, they were beaten in the air by two fine fielders. Mayo will have to take remedial action in an effort to win more ball in this vital area.
Breaking ball is another issue that will have to receive attention before Mayo oppose Westmeath in the quarter final. Lake County manager Tom Carr was in attendance and will have taken notice.
Without question Enda Gilvarry’s men can play better. Winning when not at one’s best is the reason the Kilcoyne Cup now rests on Stephen Coen’s sideboard.
M Mulligan (Claremorris); M Hall (Breaffy), E Doran (Achill), D Kenny (Aghamore); R Finn (Claremorris), S Coen (Hollymount/Carramore, 0-1), S Conlon (Castlebar Mitchels); V Roughneen (Balla, 0-1, 1f), D O’Connor (Ballintubber); C Loftus (Crossmolina, 1-0), S Burke (Ballinrobe, 0-1), C Hanley (Ballaghderreen); D Doherty (Kilmaine, 1-0), L Irwin Breaffy, (1-3, 0-2f), T Conroy (Kiltane, 0-1).
Subs used: C Byrne (Moy Davitts) for D Doherty; M Plunkett (Ballintubber) for V Roughneen.
S Mannion; D Neary, S Mullooly, M Flannery; R Daly (0-1), E McGrath, S Pettitt; C Compton (0-1), T O’Rourke; N Connaughton, U Harney, J Earley; J Gannon, D McGann (0-4, 2f), D Murtagh (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-2f).
ub used: H Walsh for N Connaughton; S Farrell (0-1) for S Pettit); M Murtagh for E McGrath.
Referee: R McBrien (Leitrim)