Kept in suspense
Mayo’s Conor Mortimer goes flying through the air ahead of Laois’ Billy Sheehan during last Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final replay at Croke Park
Mayo take second chance
NOW it’s getting interesting. Five games played, no defeats, and a semi-final date next Sunday against the most glamourous team in the country. That is the current state of affairs for a Mayo team that never ceases to amaze and entertain in equal measure.
Almost three months to the day since they left Ruislip in London with their first championship win – after an uncertain performance – Mayo will now face Dublin next weekend to decide who is left standing opposite Kerry in the All-Ireland Final.
There are now just three teams left in the race for Sam Maguire and Mayo are one of them. They have progressed slowly, steadily, and without fanfare. But they are there, on merit. And they have nothing to lose and all to gain after last Sunday’s workmanlike win over a Laois side that finally ran out of steam.
Mayo were full value for their three point victory. Their defence was almost unrecognisable in terms of application from last weekend’s draw and Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte enjoyed a pronounced advantage at midfield all through.
The forward-line, for the most part, was much more structured too with Ciaran McDonald orchestrating affairs from centre-forward and Alan Dillon providing a capable ally alongside him.
Conor Mortimer did not cut loose the way he is capable of doing but still finished with five points in brackets beside his name while Michael Conroy, Aidan Kilcoyne, Ger Brady and Barry Regan all had their moments of ingenuity when on the field.
Laois were a pale shadow of the team that threatened a resurgence last month. There were definite signs of lethargy after four games in five weeks, and Mayo’s pace and movement caused them real problems from start to finish.
And yet they could easily have taken something from a game that was as scrappy as it was open. Chances were created and missed by both teams, and Laois will reflect on two goal chances in the second half that got away. However, had either gone in – and denied Mayo a victory in the process – it would have been a travesty. This was Mayo’s game to win from the early stages.
An impressive opening 30 minutes saw Mickey Moran’s team throw the ball around with confidence and kick seven points, four from play. Ciaran McDonald sprayed passes with his customary flair and Billy Padden, Ger Brady, Alan Dillon (free), Conor Mortimer, Keith Higgins and Mortimer (two frees) all rattled off points.
Higgins’ score in the 21st minute – after Ronan McGarrity had fielded superbly and popped a pass to the corner-back on the run – encapsulated Mayo’s direct running and enthusiasm for work. Laois were 0-7 to 0-2 down by the time Mayo’s spell in the ascendancy tapered off and only a couple of late scores from Beano McDonald, his second from play, and Ross Munnelly (free) took the gloss off Mayo’s efforts.
A three point cushion at half-time was scant reward for the eventual winners’ industry and endeavour; a cluster of wides and shots that dropped short late on in the half also spoiled some neat approach work.
Analysis at the break centred on Mayo’s failure to convert their possession and territorial dominance into scores. Those concerns seemed unfounded inside the opening minutes of the second half as Ciaran McDonald swung over an incredible point from the left wing and Conor Mortimer nailed a right-footed score moments later.
It was 0-9 to 0-4 and Mayo’s tactic of running at the porous Laois backline was working perfectly.
But for all Laois’ problems they held things together. They continued to play their laboured, short-passing game throughout and managed to shoot as many points as Mayo during the second period. The majority of these scores came from frees but they were a reflection of Laois’ never-say-die spirit and meant that Dermot Geraghty, David Heaney and Aidan Higgins were constantly required to sweep up around the scoring zone in front of David Clarke.
Ross Munnelly (free) and sub’ Donie Brennan landed points in the 41st and 44th minutes to cancel out Mayo’s early scores and reduce the margin to three (0-9 to 0-6). Again, Peadar Gardiner, Pat Harte and Alan Dillon upped the ante by driving at Laois repeatedly, with Ronan McGarrity winning a plethora of primary possession at midfield.
By the 61st minute their efforts had helped Mayo into a 0-14 to 0-9 lead. Some of the build-up play was of the highest order as the points were taken; Aidan Higgins, Conor Mortimer (free), Aidan Kilcoyne, Alan Dillon and Ronan McGarrity all registering scores in a dazzling 15 minute spell that was full of vigour and verve.
Mickey Moran will be slightly concerned that his team failed to score in the final 12 minutes. During that time Conor Mortimer spurned a couple of chances and Laois managed to get a little too close for comfort courtesy of frees from the tightly-marked Chris Conway and Ross Munnelly.
There was even time for a late flutter of Mayo hearts when Noel Garvan, a peripheral figure all afternoon, fisted wide from close range after a centre dropped dangerously in front of David Clarke’s goal.
Had it flown into the net, who knows what would have happened. But it didn’t, and Mayo live to fight another day.
D Clarke; A Higgins (0-1), D Heaney, K Higgins (0-1); D Geraghty, J Nallen, P Gardiner; R McGarrity (0-1), P Harte; B Padden (0-1), G Brady (0-1), A Dillon (0-2, 1f); C Mortimer (0-5, 3fs), C McDonald (0-1), M Conroy. Subs used: A Kilcoyne (0-1) for Padden; K O’Neill for Conroy; B Regan for O’Neill; A Moran for G Brady.
F Byron; A Fennelly, D Rooney, J Higgins; P O Leary, T Kelly, P McMahon; P Clancy (0-1), B Quigley; R Munnelly (0-5, 4fs), C Conway (0-2, 2fs), B McCormack; B McDonald (0-2), N Garvan, B Sheehan. Subs used: D Brennan (0-1) for McCormack; I Fitzgerald for Begley; G Kavanagh for Sheehan.
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)