Mayo come in from the cold
NUI, Galway 1-6
“NONE of the merry-go-rounds seem to work anymore.” So begins John Gregory Dunne’s novel ‘True Confessions’, but then that book was set in 1940s Los Angeles, long before the FBD League came into existence. The footballing carousel has been switched on again, and for the Mayo GAA faithful, it’s time to climb back on the horse.
There was a decent crowd in MacHale Park, Castlebar on Friday night, while the biting cold served as a reminder to those players just returned from the team holiday: you’re not in Dubai anymore, lads! People were still streaming in as the first half was drawing to a close – there were only a small number of gates open, and pictures of the large queue building outside circulated on social media as the action got under way.
Does the competition matter? Well, no tears would have been shed if Mayo had somehow lost a game in which they created numerous goal chances. But seven players made their senior inter-county debuts, and there were some promising displays from newcomers and returnees alike.
Conditions were heavy underfoot, and what looks like being Mayo’s only floodlit home game of 2014 was no thing of beauty. But the late Páidí Ó Sé’s description of January as ‘the time to be blowing out the dirty petrol’ is worth remembering.
There was certainly plenty of dirty petrol about. We waited ten minutes for the opening score, Darren Coen popping over a free won by Tom King. Both players had goal chances either side of that score – King saw his shot saved by Donal O’Sullivan after John Reilly’s long-range effort came off the post, while Coen was denied by Garrymore’s Caolan Crowe after being played in by birthday boy Diarmuid O’Connor.
Points from Sligo’s Cristóir Davey and Louisburgh’s Kevin Gibbons (free) gave a disappointing NUI, Galway side the lead, which lasted exactly three minutes. Then Aghamore’s Brendan Harrison popped up with a decent Mayo point following a move that began with a Kevin Keane interception and involved Adam Gallagher (who was covering a lot of ground) and Darren Coen. Keane and Eoghan O’Reilly were both solid in a defence that wasn’t over-worked by the students.
King put Mayo back in front after a pass from Kiltane midfielder Reilly. Ballaghaderreen’s Keith Rogers chipped in with a fine score from left of centre. Mikie Sweney made it 5-2 with Jason Gibbons involved in the build-up.
The visitors, managed by Tommy Joyce and Martin McNamara, closed the gap to one with points from Sligo’s Johnny Kelly and Leitrim’s Shane Moran (the latter a fine score under pressure). But after Diarmuid O’Connor’s shot was kept out by O’Sullivan, captain for the night Rob Hennelly popped the resultant ’45 over. It was 0-6 to 0-4 after 30 minutes.
The lack-lustre third quarter produced three scores – an early Coen free, another Hennelly ’45, and Davey’s second point at the other end. King was off target with his second goal chance, and Mayo’s wide count mounted (it eventually reached ten). Shane Moran’s second point cut the deficit to two, so two splendid scores in a minute from Darren Coen were warmly welcomed.
The first came from the right after a move involving Coen’s cousin Stephen (another debutant, who came on as a second-half sub), the second was a shot on the turn that underlined the Hollymount/Carramore man’s ability. But with five minutes left, NUIG centre forward Seán Moran found the net after Hennelly failed to deal with a high ball. The gap was down to one, and suddenly it was ‘game on’.
Brian Gallagher won a free which Darren Coen converted to steady the ship. Seán Kelly of Moy Davitts (another Mayo debutant) picked up the game’s only black card in the closing stages, but his replacement, Michael Conroy, sealed the deal with a late point, tipped over by O’Sullivan.
We’ll take that for starters. The main course is a long way off yet.
R Hennelly (0-2, 2 ’45s); K Rogers (0-1), K Keane, E O’Reilly; B Harrison (0-1), S McHale, D Drake; J Gibbons, J Reilly; A Gallagher, C Freeman, D O’Connor; T King (0-1), D Coen (0-5, 3f), M Sweeney (0-1).
Subs used: S Coen for Harrison (40 mins); B Gallagher for O’Connor (40 mins); A Moran for M Sweeney (48 mins); S Kelly for Gallagher (52 mins); C Boyle for K Keane (56 mins, inj); M Conroy (0-1) for Kelly (60 mins, black card).
D O’Sullivan; C Ó Domhnaill, C Crowe, L Cullen; S Driscoll, J McManus, A Nolan; E Ó hEochaidh, C Guckian; K Gibbons (0-1, 1f), Seán Moran (1-0), J Kelly (0-1); I Galvin, Shane Moran (0-2), C Davey (0-2).
Subs used: D Gavin for Gibbons (43 mins); K O’Mahony for Shane Moran (51 mins); N Freeman for Ó Domhnaill (58 mins).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)