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A lot done, still more to do

Kevin McStay
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Mayo's Aidan O Shea

A lot done, still more to do



Kevin McStayKevin McStay

LAST Saturday, on a day borrowed from Heaven, this great GAA life found us in Tremane, a hurling stronghold a few miles outside Roscommon town. Stop laughing in the back.
We spent the afternoon watching and encouraging the girls as they played out their under-12 championship preliminary to an exciting conclusion, but with the All-Ireland finals less than 24 hours away, we still found time to turn our attentions to Croke Park.
The locals take a keen interest in this minor grade since their historic win in 2006 gave them the chance to dream again. And in the intervening two years, Ros’ have been very competitive in this championship, reaching All-Ireland quarter-finals each year. Indeed, it was Tyrone that ended their participation in this year’s championship.
All present were hoping for a Mayo win so that the Connacht ‘three-in-a-row’ might be the story of the weekend. An experienced observer suggested Mayo minors were heading into the encounter in the perfect position: as underdogs and with nothing to lose. In our company was the great Seamus Hayden, and almost in unison, we both raised our eyebrows. We knew a little bit about having nothing to lose when it comes to major finals and agreed there really is no such situation.
Certainly we remember those defeats on a regular basis, and with some regret too. And of course, we all have our pride and ego, so your reputation is always at stake in these encounters. No, these matches are for winning, and that is, at the end of the day, the only result that really counts. Which is different, of course, to insisting you can do whatever it takes to get that win. There is a level of sportsmanship we must all believe in.
Well, well, well … Mayo minors did everything humanly possible to bring the national title home, and with only seconds remaining it looked a certainty. But readers of this column will know we never do things the easy way in Mayo and thus, must do it all over again next Saturday.
There is much work to be attended to in the interim. While Mayo might look back and rue the conclusion, the truth is they got out of jail on a few occasions too. Let’s have a closer look at the game and put that to bed before we project forward to what is sure to be a thrilling replay.
The Tyrone management allowed their team walk into this final blindfolded. I was flabbergasted to see the number of newspaper articles their players featured in, and Kyle Coney was permitted to lose the run of himself. Their team was set up for the classical fall. And Tyrone played much of this game waiting for things to happen.
Mayo ploughed into the opening quarter, and on two occasions in that first half, held four-point leads. The opening point from Raymond Geraghty could/should have been a goal and the rising shot was to reflect the type of day this young man had. He will be a major influence in the replay, because he is a really good player, but this drawn final passed him by. Watch next Saturday’s effort as he comes in under the radar.
Cathal Freeman and Aidan O’Shea were superb in this half and the defence had matters pretty much under control – except for one key feature. As a unit they struggled really badly to keep with the movement of the Tyrone attackers, and had to surrender possession in the first instance. They tackled brilliantly thereafter, but conceding the initial pass without putting pressure on the ball and man as he races for it will lead to the unit being overrun.
But John Broderick, Eoin Reilly and Shane Nally excelled and just kept doing the simple things. Nally hit a beauty over the bar, yet having hit a couple of wides, never let the head drop. That is a very encouraging sign for the team.
O’Shea maintained his form in the second half and would eventually win the MOTM award from the brilliant Tyrone full forward Paddy McNeice – it was a tight call but O’Shea was simply superb.
Aidan Walsh will contrast a brilliant strike off the ground in the final minutes with his missed free from 13 metres. Those frees from close range can be tricky and coming on his wrong side, perhaps a ciotóg (O’Shea?) might be best employed. These are the inches we talk about most weeks but the important thing is to kick on despite the setback – he certainly did that.
Overall it was a mighty game of football, a really high standard of team play, some excellent individual performances and so, everything to play for again the next day.
I am not sure if John Carney will be available but Mayo management will get another chance to tweak their lineout and get the best formation on the grass. As Mickey Harte so ably demonstrated in the senior match, the team dynamic and the positional balance is vital.
Mayo has the experience of a replay and can live with the notion of a game many feel was left behind. Remember few gave the county much prospect of beating Kerry in the semi-final replay and so, it is an opportunity.
The game will be played away from Croke Park, and the tighter confines might well suit Mayo. But we must remember the cup is still on offer to the team that wants it the most. The atmosphere will be terrific and so attendance is a must. Make sure you travel.
But why did the GAA choose Longford as the venue? Perhaps I am misjudging the interest both counties will show, but surely there will be more than 10,000 in attendance at the replay. I was at the 2006 minor replay between Kerry and Roscommon in Ennis and such was the crowd (approximately 25,000), it was midnight before we got home to Roscommon.
With Mayo supporters taking this team to their hearts and Tyrone looking to complete the double, Longford town will come to a standstill on Saturday. Maybe there will be a change of plan before the week is out, but park her for home well out the Strokestown Road or it might be Sunday before you get home! But it will have been worth it …