Facing up to their fears
Mayo’s Ciaran MacDonald takes on Laois’ Billy Sheehan, right, and Chris Conway during last Sunday’s Bank of Ireland All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo manage to hold Laois
but question marks remain
THERE are few if any dull moments in the life of Mayo football and when Conor Mortimer clipped over the equalising free a minute into injury-time last Sunday, he guaranteed us at least one more glimpse of the team that Mickey Moran built this season.
Next weekend’s replay will also allow Mayo an opportunity to improve dramatically on this performance. Admittedly there was much to admire about their composure, strong finish and mental fortitude – digging out a draw despite trailing by two points with five minutes to go – but this display left as many questions as answers.
The formation of the attack, in particular, seemed unbalanced with the absence of a regular focal point in the full-forward line depriving the play-makers of a destination.
Yet again it was left to Conor Mortimer to improvise and use his natural instincts. He did this to superb effect in the second half, after an indifferent opening period, and ended the match with six points, four from play.
The verve and vigour of second-half subs Andy Moran and Aidan Kilcoyne also played instrumental roles in Mayo’s late revival and both landed crucial points in the final quarter.
Mayo’s defence was stretched to breaking point on occasion and Dermot Geraghty, James Nallen and Aidan Higgins all endured anxious moments.
On the flip-side, Keith Higgins was outstanding in the full-back line until he was replaced in the closing stages due to fatigue, while David Heaney revelled in the open spaces when Noel Garvan went roaming. However, the Laois utility-man also landed three points from play and was in the thick of everything.
Elsewhere, Pat Harte showed an insatiable appetite for work as did Ciaran McDonald and Alan Dillon; but all three worked primarily as fetchers-and-carriers and often their approach work was spoiled by the absence of a primary ball-winner close to goal.
The story of the game itself is not easily told. There was no shortage of endeavour and perspiration but there was also a distinct lack of intensity, tempo, cut and thrust for long spells.
Numbers and positions seemed to matter little and this combination of fluidity, and a plethora of tactical innovations, meant that structure and shape was often lacking, resulting in a smorgasbord spread across the canvas.
Mayo started confidently with Conor Mortimer and Alan Dillon drilling points inside the first four minutes. The latter could have possibly rippled the net but it was enough to be going on with and settled the nerves.
Those same nerves were jangling by the 22nd minute after Laois reeled off six points without reply and Mayo struggled to just keep up. Noel Garvan left David Heaney trailing in his wake to kick two stunning scores, Chris Conway blazed past James Nallen to add a couple more, and Ross Munnelly also swung over a brace of points, one from play.
Laois were attacking in little clusters, smuggling the ball accurately with the hand, and scoring for fun. But, as was this game’s wont, the next passage of play swung to the opposition. With Keith Higgins delivering an assured performance at corner-back, and no shortage of brio and dynamism being offered by Dillon, McDonald and Kevin O’Neill, Mayo got back into contention. They outscored Laois by 0-5 to 0-2 during the second quarter with Dillon, the inventive O’Neill, Conor Mortimer and Billy Padden all on target. Padden could have had a couple of goals were it not for Fergal Byron’s smart save and a rising shot.
Laois went in at half-time ahead by 0-8 to 0-7 thanks to two Chris Conway points as the centre-forward started to pull the strings from the ‘forty’.
Conor Mortimer remains Mayo’s attacking diamond and he fired over a classy equaliser 15 seconds after the resumption before lobbing a free that gave his team the lead.
From there to the finish it was fast and furious. The teams shared 13 points in the last half an hour and were level four times during that period.
Laois sub’ Donie Brennan came off the bench at half-time and gunned three points from play in an inspired performance. These scores, augmented by some polished defending and creativity in the final third, left Laois ahead by 0-12 to 0-10 after 52 minutes.
Mayo had lost Ronan McGarrity by that juncture to a leg injury and needed to carve points from the wandering David Heaney and the irrepressible Conor Mortimer to level the match yet again.
The lead score in the 59th minute was worth waiting for; Andy Moran arriving from the dugout to lash over a point from 45 yards to nudge Mayo in front.
It also doubled as the moment when Mayo’s large band of travelling support found their voices, and we steeled ourselves for the home stretch.
Laois, always looking comfortable in their surroundings, levelled and then kicked for home again with two points in as many minutes. First, Chris Conway tacked on a free from close range before Noel Garvan strode upfield to toss over his third point in the 65th minute.
It was 0-15 to 0-13 and Mayo seemed out of ideas. Ironically, their redemption came from the most unlikely of sources with Aidan Higgins’ tenacity releasing impressive sub’ Aidan Kilcoyne on the right wing. The U-21 starlet showed maturity beyond his years to take on – and beat – his man before curling over an audacious point from the right wing.
We were left with a one point game in stoppage-time when the nerveless Trevor Howley delivered a booming clearance into Conor Mortimer’s corner. The blonde ball of fire won possession, drew the foul, and chipped the resulting free over the bar.
And so the adventure continues.
J Healy; D Geraghty, D Heaney (0-1), K Higgins; A Higgins, J Nallen, P Gardiner; R McGarrity, P Harte; B Padden (0-1), G Brady, A Dillon (0-2); C Mortimer (0-6, 4fs), K O’Neill (0-1), C McDonald (0-1, ’45). Subs used: A Kilcoyne (0-2) for O’Neill; B Moran for Brady; A Moran (0-1) for McGarrity (inj); T Howley for Nallen; P Kelly for K Higgins.
F Byron; A Fennelly, D Rooney, J Higgins; P McDonald, T Kelly, P McMahon; P Clancy, B Quigley; R Munnelly (0-2, 1f), C Conway (0-6, 3fs), B McCormack; B McDonald (0-1), N Garvan (0-3), B Sheehan. Subs used: D Brennan (0-3) for McCormack; P O’Leary for P McDonald; G Kavanagh for B McDonald.
Referee: P McEneaney (Monaghan)