Minors make it a double
ENDA Gilvarry’s Mayo minors are heading to an All-Ireland semi final after a blistering second-half display in O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Monday afternoon saw off a tenacious challenge from Westmeath.
On a momentous weekend for Mayo football, it sets up the prospect of the seniors and minors on the same stage on semi-final day for the first time since 1999. And all this after a performance that bore a lot of the hallmarks of what James Horan’s men have been delivering in the adult competition.
Like their senior counterparts, this minor team have an eye for goal. Eleven goals in four championship games, and like their senior counterparts, when they score, they score in flurries. A blitz of 2-4 without reply in a stunning eight-minute spell just after half time put this game to bed and dispelled any fears that the wind might be a factor in the second half.
Mayo had led by 0-9 to 0-6 at the break after a first half that lacked the drama and tempo of the westerners’ previous two outings and saw beaten Leinster finalists Westmeath fight back from a bad first 12 minutes.
Mayo scored six of the first seven points of the game, including three quick ones from play in the opening four minutes. Conor Loftus charged forward for the first, Ballaghaderreen man Cian Hanley tapped over the second, and Michael Plunkett announced his return from a hamstring injury with a brilliant effort.
Robert Hickey’s point from play broke the flow for Westmeath, but it got worse before it got better for the men in maroon. Plunkett scored another long-range belter soon after, and the St Gerald’s man was in his element at this stage. Two frees – one from Liam Irwin off the ground, the other by Val Roughneen from the hands – left Mayo 6-1 in front.
From there to half time, however, Westmeath gave as good as they got, causing the Mayo defence bother by running at them as much as possible. Their main threat, Luke Loughlin, scored five points to add to the 1-3 he managed in their six-point provincial decider defeat to Kildare.
Westmeath outscored Mayo 5-3 for the remainder of the half, Loughlin kicked three from play, Hickey kicked two difficult frees. In between, Irwin had another free for Mayo and both Conor Loftus and Tommy Conroy scored from play. The Kiltane man’s score was a peach after great work from Diarmuid O’Connor and Plunkett in the build-up.
After half time, Mayo had one worry – the wind was with their opponents. Yet a running game seems to suit this young side. The half-forward line came alive with the responsibility, as Hanley in particular played a crucial role.
The first five minutes of the second half were cagey, but once Conory hit the first point of the second half, the momentum shifted and Mayo clicked. Hanley (a brother of Aussie Rules star Pearce) burst through the defence and was hauled down by two Westmeath players in the square. He got up to slot home the penalty himself.
Irwin was fouled soon after and slotted a 35-metre free from the ground. With 19 minutes left, the game was as good as won when Hanley floated in a dangerous ball and Darragh Doherty rose high and fisted over Joe Hyland and into the Westmeath net for goal number two. Doherty and Hanley added quick points, Westmeath had Alan Hughes red-carded, and Mayo were safe.
The only small concern will be the last 15 minutes, were Mayo didn’t add another score. But it is hardly a huge issue as they were safe at that stage, allowing Gilvarry to give some game time to some key squad members, including Conor Byrne and Pádraig Prendergast. There is momentum with Mayo and they are heading for Croker.
M Mulligan; E Doran, D Kenny, M Hall; R Finn, S Coen, S Conlon; V Roughneen (0-1, 1f), D O'Connor; C Loftus (0-2), M Plunkett (0-2), C Hanley (1-2, 1-0 pen); D Doherty (1-1), L Irwin (0-3, 3f), T Conroy (0-2).
Subs used: K Jordan for Finn; B Walsh for Plunkett; H Cafferty for Conlon; P Prendergast for Loftus; C Byrne for Doherty.
J Hyland; M Darlin, I Ilunga, B O'Donoghue; A McCormack, L Barley, D Giles; C O'Brien, S Omokoro; R Cunningham, R Caffrey, K Shanley; L Loughlin (0-5), R Hickey (0-3, 3f), J Corbally.
Subs used: A Hughes for Caffrey; D Clinton for Corbally; G Murray for Giles; L Beddows for McCormack; L Cassidy for Shanley.
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)