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Complacency is not an option

Sport

Complacency is not an option

AFTER London comes Leitrim . . . and again nobody expects anything but victory. Not without some difficulty, however, were London shrugged off. The challenge of Leitrim is also fraught with peril. Complacency in Carrick-on-Shannon is the trap that must be avoided . . . by players and followers.
Little respect was offered Leitrim in 1994 when Mayo travelled to Hyde Park to take on the Western minnows in the Connacht final. It was a foregone conclusion. You have only to remind yourself of the experience of losing to a side who had not won a Connacht title for well over sixty years to realise the disappointment that seared every Mayo mind. This was their fourth final in a row, and Leitrim’s first in 27 years.
When the feelings of superiority take hold complacency is the insidious side effect. Little attention was paid by Mayo to the success Leitrim enjoyed in the run-up to that final. Under the guidance of John O’Mahony they had beaten Roscommon and Galway in a replay. Their sudden upturn of form had caused ripples of excitement throughout the country. The good wishes that always greets counties emerging from the shadows had willed them on.
For all that, their progress was expected to come to an end in the final. Their wins over Roscommon and Galway would have Mayo prepared, it was felt. Jack O’Shea was then in charge and a loss to Leitrim was unthinkable. Only when the final whistle was blown and all around ecstatic Leitrim fans were pouring onto Hyde Park to savour a rare day in the history of Leitrim football did Mayo fully realise the enormity of the shock.
The country also basked in the unpredicted rise of the minnows. The sight of a Leitrim team running onto Croke Park in an All-Ireland semi-final added flavour to the championship. Their gallant run stopped there, but the memory is still fresh in the minds of Leitrim people.
Kevin O’Neill and Ciaran McDonald will remember that Connacht final for reasons other than the defeat. O’Neill scored 1-1 while McDonald, a teenager, was introduced as a sub and bagged a couple of points. They are the only links with that Mayo team of 1994. Following years in the wilderness O’Neill was reintroduced to Mayo football by Mickey Moran a few months back. McDonald is still a linchpin in his lineout.
On Sunday Leitrim are hoping to draw inspiration for a similar result. They have met once in the championship since that heady day in Hyde Park. Leitrim travelled to MacHale Park in June of 1997 for the semi-final. They were still a handful, but Mayo had seven points to spare in the end.
McDonald, James Nallen and David Heaney shared in that victory. McDonald, playing at corner forward, scored four points, Nallen from midfield, had one. Heaney replaced Liam McHale during the course of the match.
The two counties have met in the championship on 27 occasions. Mayo have won 21 times, Leitrim 3 and there were three draws. While their paths have not crossed in the past seven years Mayo’s progress has been far more impressive, coming close to All-Ireland titles on a few occasions. A defeat on Sunday would, therefore, create one of the shocks of the championship.
Leitrim’s progress has been far more modest. You can’t expect miracles from a population of around 25,000. Yet they produced a couple of shocks in the league and have taken heart from the new counties who have appeared on the scene over the last decade . . . the likes of Laois, Wexford and Westmeath as well as the northern sides.
Sunday’s will be their first of the championship. They have been keeping low . . . out of sight, out of mind. They will have been dismissed by most people. But they will be no push over. Before Mayo leave Carrick-on-Shannon they will have trembled a little.
They, too, have kept a low profile. The condition of the team, how they have been performing, whether they have been hit by injury, whether they have learned anything from their London performance or indeed from their defeat by Galway in the league semi-final, have been kept under wraps. Not a word has emanated from the camp.
Will they persist with Liam O’Malley at full-back, with David Heaney at midfield and Ciaran McDonald at full-forward? A report on their recent challenge with Limerick revealed experimentation with Barry Moran at full-forward. To tinker with his natural midfield leanings is to flirt with the danger of undermining his confidence, as appears to have been done with Billy Joe Padden.
They have a choice of midfielders in Ronan McGarrity, David Brady, James Gill, Pat Harte, Billy Joe Padden, Barry Moran . . . and David Heaney who did not quite reach the required standard in Ruislip. In the absence of a more suitable full-back, Heaney remains the most reliable.
A rich list of forwards is also available to the manager and his selectors. Trevor Mortimer, Michael Conroy, Barry Regan, Kevin O’Neill and Stephen Carolan are all in contention for places together with the London lineout of Andy Moran, Ger Brady, Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer, Ciaran McDonald and Austin O’Malley.
Moran is less blessed with his back-up for defence. John Healy, Liam O’Malley, Dermot Geraghty, Keith Higgins, Pat Kelly, James Nallen, Peadar Gardiner and, surely, David Heaney are the principal performers with maybe Trevor Howley and Aidan Higgins also fighting for places. He is, however, rather scarce in reserve material for defence. Most of his bench is taken up with midfielders and forwards.
He will need his strongest selection for Sunday’s match. Mayo really are heading into the unknown. Their opponents will have a better knowledge of Mayo’s ability than they of Leitrim. What they can expect is a side fully determined to knock the visitors out of their normal stride, to tackle them, upset them, frustrate them. Mayo should survive by a couple of points, but their nerve will be fully tested before the end.
Maughan’s men deliver warning
THE standing ovation which supporters gave Roscommon as they emerged for the second half of Sunday’s Connacht final was a spontaneous reaction to a first half of unexpected superiority. This new look, young Roscommon side had brought delight to their supporters in outplaying rejuvenated Galway who are hotly tipped to retain the Connacht final.
You could not help sharing the delight of their supporters at the interval at the extent of Roscommon’s mastery, the brilliant performances of Sean McDermott, David Casey and Paddy O’Connor in the full-back line, the high fielding of Seamus O’Neill at midfield and the probing of Karol Mannion and Michael Finneran.
Galway had been out of touch, bewildered, struggled in vain to find their customary flowing football. Confined to a controversial single point in the first half you began to wonder was this western giant about to tumble to defeat. Were we in for the shock of the season?
Inside nine seconds of the resumption the answer became clear, their response swift and crushing. A goal by Sean Armstrong unleashed a tidal wave of attacks, and the raw immaturity of their young opponents was suddenly and cruelly exposed. In less than two minutes, Galway had rifled two goals and a point, and a fleeting glimpse of a shock victory was dashed.
The vital change came at half-time when Galway moved Michael Donnellan to midfield in place of Paul Geraghty. Into the left half-forward position they drafted substitute Damien Dunleavy, and suddenly they were transformed.
Donnellan won no high ball at midfield, yet was able to orchestrate Galway’s victory with intelligent reading of the play and impeccable distribution. They crowded midfield, allowed Seamus O’Neill no room to repeat his aerial dominance of the first half. No clean possession was possible. They pounced on the breaking ball with catlike determination. Suddenly the poetry was back . . . and as a spectacle the game was over.
Donnellan was superb. Michael Meehan broke from the shackles of Paddy O’Connor, and the rest is familiar. Galway were on track once more.
John Maughan need not despair. He has assembled a young, potentially brilliant side, a big team that will be a force in Connacht football in a couple of years.

email: seanrice@mayonews.ie

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