YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS Mayo’s Conor Mortimer pulls a face as referee John Bannon books him during last Sunday’s Connacht SFC semi-final at McHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Michael Donnelly
All too easy as Sligo surrender
ONCE again Mayo and Galway will do battle in the provincial showpiece. It is a Connacht championship that must be rated as one of the most low-key campaigns of recent times but the traditional pairing has emerged, unscathed and I suppose, to a large degree, untested. All the better perhaps as they can set about a root and branch examination of each other come throw in time on July 13 in McHale Park.
This second semi-final was a most disappointing match and the finger must immediately be pointed at the performance of Sligo. They were simply appalling. On a day when Mayo had to line out without their best forward Alan Dillon and the classy defender Trevor Howley, both laid low by injury, it was set up for a Sligo charge.
In the absence of a form line, the mood in Mayo before the match was sombre enough. As reigning Connacht champions, the Sligo public, their former stars, and indeed some of their high profile present day players, were rather bullish about their prospects.
It now appears the league form of the Sligo footballers did not lie and they are, as they stand, Tommy Murphy Cup material. My notes indicate they scored one point from play in one particular segment of play that lasted for 51 minutes. Enough said.
My own sense was of a Sligo team that was at odds with itself and got completely wound up about how this Mayo team might perceive them. There was pre-match focus on inferiority complexes and such rubbish; lads, the pitch is green, the ball is round and the posts are where they always are — get on with it.
Sligo appeared hell bent on a negative posture, as if they decided to abandon all attempts at football and went instead for an attritional day of pulling and dragging and negative tactics. Where was the constant running and attacking play we witnessed in last year’s final?
Sligo’s marquee player Eamon O’Hara failed to tog at all and seemed more interested in marking referee John Bannon. Sometimes you wonder why officials allow this constant questioning of their decisions by players but O’Hara is bringing matters to a new level altogether. From the word go he chased the ref’ down and allowed himself lose focus on what really matters when you are playing. Which is actually playing!
What of Mayo? Whatever patterns we attempt to analyse this morning and whatever conclusions we might reach about this Mayo win, they are predicated on an obvious statement — Sligo were shocking.
But don’t blame Mayo for the poor fare on offer; they played what was put in front of them and actually played them off the park. A 13 point win in the championship is a great scoreline any day of the week and from a Mayo perspective, one must be delighted with that type of a total.
If you contrast this score amassed with the players missing from last year, it puts the effort in context. As noted above Alan Dillon is in dry dock, Pearse Hanley is Down Under and, of course, Ciaran McDonald is Up Over...in Crossmolina. So, life goes on after all.
If you throw in the three goals scored in a row (Pat Harte penalty, Trevor Mortimer poke and a real team effort and beautiful finish from Aidan Kilcoyne) then you get an idea of just how dominant Mayo were.
Indeed, it is fair to say the game was over once the penalty was converted. Sligo can argue the call should never have arisen and they would be correct; Andy Moran took the Mayo free-kick well away from where the original foul occurred and so it should have been a throw-in ball.
The penalty award itself was dubious as Conor Mortimer went left on to his strongest foot instead of going right where the gap was. Was he fouled? ‘Twas a handy one is as much as we could say. Zero marks to the Sligo goalkeeper who went early to his left. There is no requirement for a keeper to do this in Gaelic football. If he had stood still and waited his time the ball would have hit his mid-riff.
The penalty finished proceedings and after that it was a case of keeping her lit as Mayo sauntered to the finish. But in fairness the application levels never dropped and it looked very like a team fine-tuning for the Connacht final.
David Clarke was very solid in goal once again and was fronted by a keen and energetic defence. Why did Sligo allow a debutant like Kieran Conroy the opportunity to move away from the full-back position? Surely they needed a nervous first timer in around a key area to test him out?
But the backs were tight and enthusiastic and I thought Keith Higgins was superb throughout.
The Sligo midfielders came with a big reputation but were blitzed by the Mayo pairing. As I mentioned last week, I feel the Mayo pairing can hold their own with any in the country and the display by Tom Parsons complemented a very fine effort from Ronan McGarrity. Parsons rowed in with two points also so it was a very satisfying day for him.
Conor Mortimer had perhaps one of his very best days in a Mayo jersey. He was busy and looked really up for it as ball after ball came his way. He scored some fine points and his running off the ball was greatly improved.
There is one small ‘but’ with his fine display. Just before half-time he received a yellow card from referee John Bannon for holding/fouling his opponent. Conor is a lucky boy the ref’ did not decide to deal with his verbal outburst at that time.
Abusive language to an official is a RED card offence and the GAA are on the warpath when it comes to respect for the officials. And rightly so.
Young Mortimer is not so young any more and really should know better; he has some form in this area and so should reflect on last Sunday as a day when he got lucky. Matters down Kerry way should have alerted him to the possibilities but apparently not. We’ll leave it at that because his football was the highlight of his personal performance.
I felt Pat Harte had a really good day out too and if he keeps complete concentration can only improve. He worked really hard, linked the play and got forward at every opportunity. You would have to say the same for Austin O’Malley and Trevor Mortimer too. And Andy Moran never stopped grinding either.
So, we ended up where everybody said we would; Mayo at home in a Connacht final and revenge on their mind.
We will have plenty of time and space to look at how that might pan out but right now you feel even if Galway are favourites to win the title (and I am not sure they are) Mayo this morning are in a good place.