Mayo earn their date with Hill
ONCE again the result failed to match their vision. If that final despairing lunge by Noel Garvan had been a foot closer Mick O’Dwyer’s valedictory might have been put on hold. From somewhere deep in their desolation Laois might have unearthed that one winning nugget, and Garvan’s fist would have reached all the way to our solar plexus.
Mayo’s dominance was ultimately rewarded, but their lead had never been irrevocable. A five-point margin was whittled away to three, and for the final twelve minutes they failed to score. It was not an outcome commensurate with the quality of their play or the extent of their possession, and it left you wishing for someone with a knack for burying the ball in the net and taking us out of our suspense.
Laois had not looked capable of rescuing the game. But Garvan’s fisted effort a minute before the end of normal time was a warning signal, a rebuke for a couple of wild, wasted chances by Mayo after Ronan McGarrity scored their final point in the 60th minute.
Doubts about their greater competence never arose. Symptoms of inferiority were not an issue. Mayo were by far the better side in terms of skill and conviction. Not everything was ideal, however. They got away with imperfections for which Dublin would not be so forgiving. Failure to release the ball promptly on a few occasions, the concession of a few unnecessary frees, and some faulty shooting trickled into their play.
Wastage was not so pronounced on this occasion. But by the 13th minute they should still have been farther ahead than the two points which Billy Joe Padden and Ger Brady had posted. Ciaran McDonald, Conor Mortimer, Alan Dillon and Michael Conroy had all been guilty of feeble attempts.
The general performance of the four, was not, however, affected by that initial inaccuracy. Conroy, who filled the berth left vacant by the selectors had begun to impress when injury unfortunately forced him out of the game. Mortimer’s agility was testing the nerve of Joe Higgins to full effect, Dillon was having a storming game and McDonald was . . . well, McDonald.
That implies usage of the full gamut of his skills collection . . . with one or two notable lapses. Widespread evaluation of his performance the previous week had concluded that to be more effective McDonald ought to play closer to the forward line. He did curb his inclination to fall back towards the defence and in the early stages of the game it was evident that Mick O’Dwyer had detailed Billy Sheehan and one or two more to clamp down on that lethal left foot.
They did not always succeed, but in his endeavours to outfox the Laois men, McDonald overused the ball on many occasions, failed to release it to his support men and slowed the game to Laois’s satisfaction. He was thus out of rhythm in some attacks with the rest of the team, and out of character with a few of his attempts at goal. His customary admirable attributes were also of course on view.
Dillon on the other hand was quite magnificent . . . in his ball control, his weaving runs, his indefatigable work rate. He, Keith Higgins and Ronan McGarrity were in close contention for the man of the match award. The conviction with which Higgins contested the ball, his powerful running and his ability to take a score were invaluable assets in the Mayo defence.
McGarrity was back to a performance on par with that of the Connacht final. He started slowly but in the second half frequently won possession in the air, eclipsing the reputation of Laois man Padraig Clancy. Of the three I had favoured Dillon for the award for his unremitting commitment throughout the entire match. But few could have any complaints about the honour going to the Ballina man.
It was a tribute to the Mayo defence in general that Laois did not have their first score until the 16th minute. Like Mayo in the drawn game they had some bad wides early on from which, unlike Mayo, they never fully recovered. There had been calls for changes in the defence, but the selectors refused to be swayed.
Back they came with the same six backs, content in the belief that none would have suffered any erosion of confidence. None had. Only goalkeeper John Healy was left out, and when Laois tested David Clarke early on with that high ball which bounced out of his grasp, you wondered had the selectors erred.
Clarke went on to repay his selection with one brilliant save and his performance in general was dependable. Dermot Geraghty, who had come in for some severe criticism for his performance in the drawn game, confounded his critics with a rock-like performance.
David Heaney got the measure of Noel Garvan with almost contemptuous ease . . . except for that last fisted effort by the Laois full-forward. The half-back line of Aidan Higgins, James Nallen and Peadar Gardiner played Ross Munnelly, Chris Conway and Brian McCormack intelligently, shadowing them, denying them the freedom to build dangerously. That one shot from Brendan Quigley which brought a daring save from Clarke was as near as they came apart from Garvan’s fisted effort.
Pat Harte provided the ideal midfield support for McGarrity. His partner may have taken the kudos for midfield superiority but without the hard work of Harte that would not have been possible. The fact that Brendan Quigley was replaced is proof of Hart’s effectiveness.
Kevin O’Neill replaced the injured Conroy and had some nice early touches. Ger Brady’s strength was vital in the first half, and Andy Moran, who replaced him after the break, was also effective. Aidan Kilcoyne impressed when introduced for Billy Joe Padden and Barry Regan, who took over from O’Neill, was not overawed by the occasion. But Conor Mortimer was the key man in front of goal. How he has grown in strength and resolve!
Mayo must play ball and stay cool
SO now it’s Dublin. From the relatively moderate climate of two sparring rounds with Laois, Mayo dive headlong into the crucible of a semi-final with Dublin. No time to mull over the intimidating tactics of some of their players and followers that constitutes the lifeline of their football. Not enough time really to chart a meaningful strategy.In fairness, Paul Caffrey has built a good side over the past two years. He has coached and tempered a team of novices into a side that offers a genuine challenge for Sam Maguire glory.
We’ll have a fair idea on Sunday evening whether they are good enough. No one has given Mayo a chance. No one sees in them a side worthy to be considered in the same class. They have not met Dublin in the championship since 1985. Sunday’s is the coming of age of that meeting when Mayo, managed by Liam O’Neill, guided them to a semi-final replay which they lost narrowly.
We have a fair idea of their worth, however. For the past two years Mayo and Dublin have met in Division 1A of the Allianz League at Parnell Park on Saturday evenings under lights. Mayo lost the first of those by a point, and the second, last March, by a mega margin. The previous year in the same competition, when they were managed by Tommy Lyons, Mayo dished out a ten-point drubbing to the Dubs in Castlebar.
So they have come a long way in terms of technique, and muscle and conviction. And on Sunday their arrogant hordes expect nothing less than the humiliation of the team they hammered in March. The fact that they walloped Laois by fourteen points on their way to the semi-final gives certain credence to their expectations.
But Dublin are not invincible. A two-point win over Longford, and easy victories over Laois, Offaly and Westmeath are not convincing evidence, despite the opinion of the eastern sages, that they are ready to steamroll Mayo to one side.
I don’t believe for one moment that Ciaran Whelan and Shane Ryan will clean out Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte. They might have physical strength on their side, but most of the midfield challenges will end in breaks and Mayo must remain alert to that facet of the game. Ryan is particularly strong and verbally abusive, and when in full flight is difficult to stop. Harte and McGarrity will be hard pressed to hold their composure in the face of such intimidation. It is essential that they concentrate on football.
Jason Sherlock was the hardest working of the Dublin forwards against Offaly, but he’ll find nothing soft in Keith Higgins. Nor will Kevin Bonner in Peadar Gardiner, nor Tomas Quinn in Dermot Geraghty. Or Conal Keaney in David Heaney . . . or indeed Alan Brogan in James Nallen.
Caffrey and company will have been watching Mayo closely on Sunday. They’ll have plans to counter Ciaran McDonald, Conor Mortimer and Alan Dillon. Bryan Cullen and Paul Casey and Barry Cahill will try to muscle the Mayo trio out of their stride. If Mayo could curb their wastefulness Dublin might find more than they had bargained for in the Mayo forward line and their attack-conscious back line.
TAKING IT ON THE CHIN
Mayo captain David Heaney has a cut on his chin attended to by Dr Fergal Ruane near the end of Sunday’s game.