Leitrim push Mayo to the brink
IF the end does indeed justify the means then there is very little to worry about. The match was won, a place in the Connacht Final was secured, and we can all go about our business.
However, if you are in the habit of analysing games in any detail then this one point victory at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada last Sunday will have you more than a little concerned.
No score of any sort for the last 30 minutes, an eight point lead almost completely erased by the homeside who seemed driven on by some primal energy during an absorbing second half, an unravelling of the game-plan as the finish-line loomed, and an array of doubts circling in the summer breeze.
Mickey Moran, Mayo’s pragmatic manager, put his own words on his emotions afterwards.
“We’re not happy with the performance and there’s a lot of work to do before a Connacht Final,” he admitted. “We’ll regroup now. The lads were both relieved and disappointed afterwards. If we’d been beaten by a point it would have been the end of the world and we’d have been slaughtered. But when we hold out and win by a point….
“I’m delighted to get to a Connacht Final. It’s something to look forward to but we’re under no illusions. That performance wouldn’t be good enough to beat Galway.”
That last statement was made without fear of contradiction; everything else is open to debate. Mayo’s second half capitulation was marked by its sudden, sweeping effect. From the moment Pat Harte was sent off in the 42nd minute after receiving his second yellow card, Mayo’s afternoon began to go horribly wrong. Leitrim upped the ante, used the extra man here and there, and began to chip away at a lead that seemed more precarious with every passing second.
It was a funny game, that started at a hectic pace. The sides were level after a quarter of an hour with early points from Alan Dillon (free), Conor Mortimer and the lively Andy Moran cancelled out by Shane Foley, Michael Foley and David McHugh.
Then Mayo strung together some neat moves and stitched on points from Ciaran McDonald, Conor Mortimer (free) and Pat Harte, a long-range beauty, to lead by 0-6 to 0-3 after 23 minutes.
Dermot Geraghty and Keith Higgins were prowling their corners vigilantly at this juncture, providing Liam O’Malley with the cover he needed to police the troublesome Donal Brennan. David Heaney was also pushing on regularly while Pat Harte’s strong-running style was opening up gaps. Mayo were settling nicely.
They hit the open road smoothly after half an hour when James Nallen’s foot-pass found Alan Dillon and the play-maker popped a flat-pass to the speeding Ger Brady. The centre-forward drifted in and out of the match until he was replaced but his fierce 21 yard shot cannoned off the hand of Leitrim defender Michael McGuinness and looped into the net. A goal. A five point lead (1-6 to 0-4) and some daylight.
Conor Mortimer then danced away from his marker to leave Mayo seven clear at the break and the murmurs at half-time concerned the winning margin. There were fears of a tepid second half. We need not have worried.
Still, the concerns looked well-founded when sub’ Aidan Kilcoyne (on for the concussed Alan Dillon) nailed a point and Ciaran McDonald fisted an inspirational score to push Mayo eight clear. A Conor Mortimer free in the 44th minute maintained that cushion; and then the fun started.
Leitrim put together a run that yielded 1-5 in 30 minutes. Ciaran Duignan tapped over a free and still nobody suspected anything. Then a 45’ from Michael Foley came back off the post in the 52nd minute and Chris Carroll, the 6’3” midfielder, reacted quicker than half a dozen Mayo players to stab the ball to the net. 1-10 to 1-5. Game on? Yes.
Colin Regan dashed in to point, Michael Foley landed two frees, and then Donal Brennan swung over a score that had the old ground rocking a minute into injury-time. The locals sensed history, Leitrim sensed blood, but Mayo held out.
Sheer hard work, grit, determination and a survival instinct saved them in the end. That and the quality of man of the match Keith Higgins, the graft of Ciaran McDonald and the battling of the likes of Dermot Geraghty and Andy Moran. But it was too close for comfort.
Won clean 3
Won after Breakdown 8
Lost clean 1
Lost after Breakdown 5
Inside own half 84
Inside opposition half 61
Inside own half 11
Inside Opposition half 43
Attacks inside 45
Attacks Inside 45 38
J Healy; D Geraghty, L O’Malley, P Higgins; D Heaney, J Nallen, P Gardiner; R McGarrity, P Harte (0-1); BJ Padden, G Brady (1-0), A Dillon (0-1, 1f); C McDonald (0-2), C Mortimer (0-4, 2fs), A Moran (0-1). Subs used: A Kilcoyne (0-1, 1f) for Dillon (inj); P Kelly for Heaney (inj); J Gill for Kilcoyne; B Moran for Brady.
C McCrann; D Reynolds, J McKeon, M McGuinness; D McHugh (0-1), B McWeeney, S Foley (0-1); G McCloskey, C Carroll (1-0); B Prior, M Foley (0-3, 3fs), C Regan (0-1); D Duignan (0-1), D Brennan (0-1), C Duignan (0-1). Subs used: M Greene for McHugh; J Goldrick for D Duignan; D Maxwell for C Duignan; F Holohan for C Regan; D Beck for S Foley.
Referee: T Quigley (Wexford)