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Final reflections

Kevin McStay
conor mortimor
IT’S TOUGH AT THE TOP Criticism of Mayo’s Conor Mortimer has been unfair in the wake of the Connacht final defeat. Pic: Sportsfile

Some Connacht final reflections

Kevin McStayKevin McStay
MORE than a week on from the disappointment of losing the 2008 Connacht final and time allows for a more informed reflection. In the immediate hours after a close defeat, one can point out so many accidents and incidents that might on their own have swung the game in favour of the Mayo men. The missed frees, the crucial turnovers, the dreadful wides and so many other slips and trips contributed but the losing result is of course an amalgam of the seventy minutes football.
We lost Trevor Mortimer, Galway lost Matthew Clancy. The winners missed goals, spurned frees, kicked wides and had their share of turnovers too. Maybe not as galling as ours but these things tend to balance themselves out in the end. All in all we come to realise that if we had slipped through following our second half comeback we might be oblivious to the repair work that is needed.
Consider the number of cracks that a win might have concealed. Now, in the cold light of day, we can examine clinically each performance and make the correct decisions. There will be personnel changes and there will be positional changes.
Perhaps Trevor Howley will be fully recovered but obviously not match-fit and so it is doubtful he can be started. Another Trevor is now a serious injury concern and his career continues to be blighted by hamstring problems. Will he have fully recovered and can you take a chance with such an injury?
And despite the health bulletin being so-so, there must remain a rationale to the changes. After all, we argued last week that a one point defeat to a Galway team that is fancied to kick on from the Connacht final win, can hardly mean we are falling to the bottom of the pile.
To many observers the best performing selection was the one that actually finished the game and this might well be expected given the original selection was not tested in the rout of Sligo. It is the oldest of truisms when selecting teams: the longer you stay in the championship and the more games you play, the better the opportunity to observe individuals in battle and tweak selection accordingly.
It is most disappointing to report that Conor Mortimer is coming in for the brunt of supporter’s disapproval. Of course he made a few mistakes; name me a Mayo forward over the decades that didn’t. But personalised comment is not helpful and the whole squad, players and management, must share in the recriminations.
People should recall his winning point, from a free and from a difficult angle, to win the title in 2006. Or his performances in Croke Park that same year when Laois and Dublin defenders found him too hot to handle. But I really would prefer to see him take his frees from the floor (Michael Meehan kicks this way) for a simple reason: he was once excellent at this form and with a bit of practice, can be again. Most club observers will remember his nonchalant pointing of ‘wet-ball-50s’ in his youth.
The defeat in Connacht heaps pressure now on the management and players to get things right for their next ‘real’ championship game (as in, lose and they really are out of the race to Croke Park) and it is true to say the set-up will be vulnerable. That is the way of the Qualifiers, at least until you actually get back up on the horse and win a few matches.
And one win will put us in the Round 3 winners bowl where we might well draw Galway in Croke Park in the All Ireland quarter final. Hardly a daunting prospect? But first up we must get the ‘Big W’ over the August weekend.
Before I leave Connacht final day, there are a few other subjects worth reflecting on. As it was the last big game to be held in the old McHale Park, how fitting that a massive crowd and a super game book-ended the history of the stadium. Of course it was a pity we did not get the fairytale ending of a Mayo win but sure, this county just refuses to do fairy tales.
I played in three Connacht finals in McHale Park and could win none of them. Those sort of numbers hardly describe a fortress. But it was a lovely pitch and a grand atmosphere and when it is refurbished, the hope must be it will be the equal of any other provincial ground.
Certainly the access and egress of a modern road infrastructure is hard to beat, and in the new stadium patrons will have a seat, many of them covered, and of course the dressing-room deficit will finally be addressed.
But I cannot leave McHale Park without a fond farewell to the ‘Bouncy Castle’, otherwise the home of the Fourth Estate on big match days. The twin towers will probably crumble as part of the demolition process and if there is a certain nostalgia attached to the landmark, we’ll get over that in the interests of progress!
I had the co-commentator gig for the 2008 final and we had a ball recording proceedings for The Sunday Game night time programme. Surrounded by stalwart members of the local print media, and struggling to co-exist in the same building as Mick Rocke on the PA and SBB in the RnaG booth, we lashed it out as best we could. Gentlemen, it was an experience.
I got a few e-mails asking for my opinion on the performance of referee Dave Coldrick. It is fair to say he got all the major footballing calls correct during the course of the game. And it is reasonable to conclude he might have dealt with both Barry Cullinane and Ronan McGarrity differently. But in an overall sense he had a good game.
On the technical side, however, he got one aspect of his duties completely wrong. Time-keeping is often a controversial subject in Gaelic football matches and this year’s final was certainly short-changed when it came to playing out the allotted time.
The fourth official displayed ‘at least four minutes of added time’ at the end of the first half. The referee played 2 minutes and 59 seconds. The second half time-keeping was well off the mark also. A quick race trough the tape gave me five minutes plus for the injuries sustained and that did not allow for time lost with substitutions. The fourth official displayed ‘at least two minutes of added time’ at the end of the second half.
The referee called full time at 73 minutes and 11 seconds, a good bit shy of what the added time should have been. Anyway, not to worry, sure the extra time might have allowed those Galway feckers more time to win the game convincingly.
Before I close the front door on the day let’s congratulate the minors on a hard-earned win, our first since 2001. They will hardly need to be reminded they under-performed and that Roscommon could strongly debate why they should have won.
But a strong finish by the Mayo boys made the difference and Roscommon will know how it feels, just like the Galway minors did in Tuam a few weeks ago, to be the better team on the day but fail to bring home the bacon.
Both outfits have potential and I believe Mayo’s athleticism and players like Hennelly, Freeman and O’Shea will make a strong case for advancement. Roscommon will, as ever, give it their all and frighten a few teams left in the championship.