SWINGING IN THE RAIN Mayo’s Conor Mortimer tries to evade Donegal’s Karl Lacey during last Sunday’s Allianz NFL game at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo lose momentum
SELDOM have a Mayo team invested so much effort and energy into a game of football and left with so little to show for it.
That was the overwhelming feeling at the end of a rip-roaring seventy-seven minutes at McCumhaill Park last Sunday as the homeside snatched two vital league points.
The teams were level on 63 minutes and the match was there for the taking. Unfortunately, Mayo were unable to go on and take it; instead three late points without reply from Donegal saw them snatch a fully deserved victory.
Not for the first time in recent history it was a series of problems in the forward division that blighted Mayo’s best efforts. Four of the starting sextet were withdrawn and just one point from play in the second half speaks volumes for the shortcomings in front of goal.
The attack lacked both guile and a focal point for long spells, particularly in the second half, and far too often Austin O’Malley found himself isolated in the inside line. Conor Mortimer was also out of sorts while for all their perspiration, Trevor Mortimer, Alan Dillon and Kevin O’Neill all failed to score from play.
The pace of the match was relentless all through, and there was a championship-like intensity from start to finish. This was a true test of Mayo’s intentions as Donegal asked questions of both their aptitude and attitude.
Some players came through with flying colours. Liam O’Malley did a fine job on Brendan Devenney after being moved to full-back midway through the first half while Keith Higgins restricted Donegal’s boy wonder, Kevin McMenamin to just one point from play.
Billy Padden also had his moments in the pivotal centre-back spot while David Brady produced a man of the match performance at midfield. Pat Harte, Andy Moran, Trevor Mortimer and Austin O’Malley also worked tirelessly, but often without an end product.
Donegal foot-passed the ball crisply all through and they remain high-class exponents of the counter-attack. They are also both stubborn and confident at this ground and started brightly.
By the 23rd minute they led by 0-6 to 0-3 and some of their approach work was nothing short of superb. Brendan Devenney gave James Kilcullen a torrid time in that first quarter and engineered a couple of frees as well as nailing an excellent score from play.
Ciaran Bonner then found space to curl a point from the right wing while Christy Toye made inroads on the opposite flank and also fired over in style.
Mayo’s heads were spinning.
Conor Mortimer shipped a couple of big hits early on but showed good composure to keep showing for ball, and he landed three points (two frees) to keep Mayo in touch.
Andy Moran’s verve was central to the renaissance too and he made a score for Austin O’Malley before kicking one himself from 35 yards out in the 26th minute. Alan Dillon was then fouled and tapped over the resultant free to level the match for the first time (0-6 apiece).
With Pat Harte and David Brady now in complete control at midfield, possession was ferried downfield relentlessly. It therefore came as no surprise when Austin O’Malley nailed the lead score in the 36th minute to send Mayo in ahead at half-time by 0-7 to 0-6.
Both teams had flagged noticeably in the closing stages of the opening half but the third quarter saw their second winds kick in.
Pat Harte and Barry Dunnion traded points early on before Conor Mortimer and Kevin McMenamin did likewise from frees to leave Mayo in front by the minimum on 44 minutes.
One of many important moments then arrived as Donegal took the initiative in style. There seemed little danger when Christy Toye’s speculative lob arrived in the Mayo goalmouth but David Clarke failed to hold the ball and Ryan Bradley reacted quickest to stab it to the net from close range.
A two point advantage was doubled within minutes as Ciaran Bonner and Brendan Devenney tacked on scores to propel Donegal into a 1-10 to 0-9 lead.
There were twenty minutes of normal time left at this juncture and John O’Mahony made some changes in an effort to stem the tide.
Of the substitutes brought in James Nallen and Mark Ronaldson made most impact but all the team could muster was a pointed free from Alan Dillon in the 56th minute.
Mayo’s attack was looking toothless and scores had dried up completely. It came as some relief then when David Brady’s long delivery somehow ended up in the Donegal net in the 63rd minute.
It seemed to arrive there amidst a comedy of errors via the head of Barry Monaghan and the knee-cap of Neil Gallagher. But fortune favours the brave and Mayo were level.
Parity lasted for a full five minutes but Donegal’s greater strength in depth and cutting edge stood them in good stead.
Kevin McMenamin slipped away from Keith Higgins to nick the lead score in the 68th minute before pointing a free in injury-time. The coup de grâce was applied by sub’ Colm McFadden and the game was gone.
This result may yet prove a watershed in Mayo’s season; but only if lessons are learned.
D Clarke; L O’Malley, J Kilcullen, K Higgins; D Heaney, B Padden, P Gardiner; D Brady, P Harte (0-1); A Moran (0-1), T Mortimer, A Dillon (0-2, 2fs); C Mortimer (0-4, 3fs), A O’Malley (0-2), K O’Neill. Subs used: J Nallen for Heaney; M McNicholas for O’Neill; G Brady for Moran; M Ronaldson for A O’Malley; A Campbell for Mortimer.
P Durcan; T Donoghue, P Campbell, K Lacey; E McGee, B Monaghan, B Dunnion (0-1); K Cassidy, N Gallagher (1-0, og); C Toye (0-1), C Bonner (0-2), B Roper; K McMenamin (0-4, 3fs), B Devenney (0-4, 3fs), R Bradley (1-0). Subs used: P McConagley for McGee; F McGlynn for Donoghue; A Sweeney for Toye (inj); C McFadden (0-1) for Roper.
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)
David Brady’s display
BEGINNING his tenth National League campaign but showed all the enthusiasm of a debutant last Sunday.
Commanded the midfield area with authority and used all his experience and strength for the benefit of the team. Also pulled down a few kick-outs spectacularly.
Was Mayo’s man of the match.
Conor Mortimer’s form
ONE point from play in two matches tells its own story.
It hasn’t been the best of starts to the NFL for the All-Star and water-tight marking from Killian Young and Karl Lacey in successive weeks haven’t helped.
Tried hard to get motoring on Sunday but was replaced in the dying minutes.
John O’Mahony’s substitutions
REPLACED four of his starting forwards before the end in an effort to get Mayo’s attack moving.
The manager admitted afterwards that “fluency” was a problem and the arrival of Marty McNicholas and Ger Brady didn’t really help in that regard. However, Mark Ronaldson looked lively on his senior debut.
Joe McQuillan’s refereeing
NOT quite in the same category as last week’s referee in terms of handing out cards but started like he was chasing a world record.
Seemed to give Donegal the benefit of the doubt with a few 50-50 decisions, and didn’t endear himself to forwards.