STUCK IN THE MIDDLE?Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin tries to escape the clutches of Derry’s Benny Heron, left, and Kevin Johnston during Sunday’s National League match at Celtic Park.?Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo find a way
WHEN the books are balanced at the end of this league campaign, all that will truly matter is the results that made or broke Mayo’s ambitions of making the knock-out stages for the fourth time in five seasons.
Last Sunday the team that Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes are reshaping and revitalising emerged from a thorough test of their credentials with a third win from four matches.
Goals from Mark Ronaldson and sub Mikie Sweeney in the 29th and 70th minutes turned out to be crucial in the end as Mayo held out for a fully-deserved victory.
Having led by five points with twenty minutes to play, Mayo were then reeled back in by a determined Derry as James Kielt swung over four points, three from frees, to level the match by the 59th minute.
Playing with the strong wind, and dominant around the middle sector, Derry were attacking in droves and Mayo needed to rally again to get what they came for.
Kevin McLoughlin then picked the right time to cut his way through the mass Derry defence, and flash over an inspirational lead score.
A few minutes later he converted a free after Colm Boyle was fouled doing what he does best, driving through the Derry back line, and Mayo were 1-12 to 0-13 clear.
Mikie Sweeney had come into the match after the outstanding Mark Ronaldson was black-carded, and once more the Kiltane sharpshooter left his calling card — smacking the ball to the Derry net after Barry Moran’s run and pass.
Game over, or so we thought.
Instead, inside 60 seconds, Derry came roaring back downfield and Brian Óg McGilligan just beat Emmett McGuckin to the ball to bundle in a goal after Mayo’s defence failed to deal with a high delivery from the wing.
In the final, frantic seconds, Derry came in search of a match-winning goal and it took some good defensive work, and a fine ‘steal’ from Seamie O’Shea, for Mayo to hold out.
A late smash-and-grab goal from Derry at that stage would have been rough justice on Mayo, but they can also thank Kenneth O’Malley for an earlier fine double save, and the crossbar for coming to the rescue just before half-time.
Playing with the wind in the first half, Mayo had to work hard to engineer a 1-7 to 0-6 lead by the break.
They were 0-6 to 0-5 up after almost 30 minutes as some bad shooting hampered their efforts, and they tried valiantly to break down Derry’s well-organised defensive screen.
Cillian O’Connor popped over two frees, and shot a point from play, with Jason Doherty, Mark Ronaldson and Aidan O’Shea also hitting the target as Mayo’s full-court-press approach paid dividends.
At the other end, Derry relied on frees from Mark Lynch and Benny Heron to keep the scoreboard moving, while Mark Craig and Brian Óg McAlary also got forward to score from play.
Things were very finely-balanced though heading into the 29th minute when a 45 from Cillian O’Connor came off the post, and Mark Ronaldson reacted quickest to divert the ball to the net with his right knee.
It was a huge moment in the game, and an inspirational score from Seamie O’Shea on the stroke of half-time sent the visitors in ahead by four points — with everything still to play for.
By the end of the third quarter, Mayo’s lead was out to five points — against the strong breeze — as Aidan O’Shea, Mark Ronaldson and Cillian O’Connor (free) put some daylight between the teams.
But Derry stuck to their game-plan and rattled off five points in six minutes to draw level for the third time.
All bets were off with the sides deadlocked.
But, as they so often do, Mayo found a way to win and stay at the top of the Division 1 table.
K O'Malley; G Cafferkey, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan, T Cunniffe, C Boyle; S O'Shea, D Kirby; M Forde, K McLoughlin (0-2, 1f), J Doherty (0-1); M Ronaldson (1-2), A O'Shea (0-3), C O'Connor (0-4, 3fs).
Subs used: A Dillon for Forde (48); B Moran for Kirby (55); A Freeman for O'Connor (61); D Drake for Cafferky (61); M Sweeney (1-0) for Ronaldson (black card, 65).
E McNicholl; O Duffy, N Holly, D McBride; B Óg McAlary (0-1), K Johnston, SL McGoldrick; M Craig (0-1), B Óg McGilligan (1-0); C McWilliams, M Lynch (0-2, 2fs), E Lynn; D McKinless, B Heron (0-4, 2fs, ‘45), A McAlynn.
Subs used: M McIver for McAlynn (31); J Kielt (0-4, 3fs) for McKinless (HT); E McGuckin for McAlary (48); T O'Brien (0-1) for McWilliams (57); S Brady for Kielt (black card, 68).
Referee: C Branagan (Down)