TOWER OF STRENGTH Killala’s Noel Ryan looks to make progress during last Sunday’s All-Ireland JFC semi-final. Pic: Michael Donnelly
Mayo clubs crash out
NORTHERN teams dominated the All-Ireland club semi-finals on Sunday and two from Mayo joined St Brigid’s of Roscommon in crashing out of their respective championships.
Having dominated their intermediate clash with Coleraine for long periods Tourmakeady fell victim to a heartbreak point with the last kick of the game at Breffni Park. The match looked set for extra time, but the last-gap point denied them the opportunity to make amends for their erratic shooting in the first half especially.
Still, Tourmakeady can feel proud of their unprecedented success in Connacht and look back on a year in which they were magnificent ambassadors for their county.
Killala, too, suffered a four-point defeat at the hands of Greencastle (Tyrone) at Sligo. They were up against a side that contained a few players close on six-and-a-half feet tall in vital positions, and that was the primary difference in the end.
We watched the Mayo men gallantly counterbalance the disadvantage in the first half when they had the help of the wind. Guts and craft were their principal weapons.
Unable to match the fielding ability of Enda Clarke and Patrick Keenan, they either boxed the ball or smothered the play of the big men. Marcus Hannick and Noel Ryan were sharper and more cutting in possession, and Rory Hannick won everything that was fired his way.
It looked good then for the Mayo men. Against the wind Greencastle were intimidating as they swept up field and from a free planted the ball between the posts.
But soon their confidence took a dip as Killala, boosted by the only goal of the hour, took the game to Greencastle in spirited fashion. A point by Marcus Hannick was followed, in the 4th minute, by Lorcan Brennan’s cool, confident strike.
The finish, in reality, was no more than a tap in. It was the insight of the left half-back in anticipating the opportunity that left you breathless. The ball came in high from Rory Hannick. Backs and forwards were nowhere near the goal as it clipped off the crossbar back into play. Only Lorcan Brennan perceived the possibility, and with the goalkeeper surprised and off his line, the half-back, the only player to have followed up, tapped the ball into the empty net.
For the remainder of the half Greencastle struggled to get back into the game. Great performances also by the Doohers, Karl and Micheal, Brendan Garvan, Kevin White and Martin Farrell kept Killala’s hopes alive, and at half-time that goal stood between them.
Unfortunately, they failed to raise another flag. And fifteen minutes into the second half, when Barry Tracey whipped Greencastle into the lead for the first time since the opening minute, they never looked back.
The Northerners crowded out Killala. Against the wind accurate kicking was difficult. To get the ball to any colleague by whatever means forced the Mayo men into uncharacteristic errors. Big Enda Clarke moved to the Northerners’ defence for most of the second half and he was almost impassible. And because clearances from the Killala defence were laboured and slow, their forwards got few enough chances to stir a recovery.
For all that, Killala can hold their heads high. They played with all of their old fire and no little skill. What they lacked was the physical strength to match the big men of Greencastle in the second half.
ANDY MORAN is not as well established on the Mayo team as people like James Nallen or Trevor Mortimer or Ciaran McDonald, or David Heaney. But a permanent slot might soon be found for the Ballaghaderreen man after some heady performances for Mayo and his Sligo IT College team.
Last Autumn Andy scored a vital goal against Laois, having been just sprung from the bench by Mickey Moran. He was one of the most consistent college players against Mayo in their FBD joust. He was perhaps Mayo’s best forward in the opening half of their match with Donegal. And last Sunday against Galway in the FBD home final he was instrumental in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Galway looked to have retained the Connacht League when Moran planted the ball in the net from a free from his hands, and followed up with three great points from play to provide the college with their first FBD title and a visit to New York for the final proper later in the year. Other Mayo men to contribute to that victory were Alan Costello and Barry Regan.
Mayo Second string get their chance
STILL searching for the mould of player he needs to fill a couple of pivotal positions, John O’Mahony and his selectors sent out a new side to play Clare at Ballinrobe on Saturday night.
It was new in the sense that none of them started against Donegal in their league clash at Ballybofey a week earlier. Some, such as Dermot Geraghty, Ger Brady, Aiden Higgins, Ronan McGarrity and Aidan Kilcoyne, were not without more than a smathering of senior experience.
Some others have had fewer outings: Ger Cafferkey, Enda Devenney, Tom Cunniffe, Mickie Mullins, Aidan Campbell, Marty McNicholas, Barry Regan and Mark Ronaldson. Two were newcomers . . . Kenneth O’Malley from Ballinrobe in goal and Aghamore’s Colm Forde who partnered Ronan McGarrity in the middle of the field.
A six-point winning margin over a Clare side that had many of their first choice players in action is an indication of the superiority of makeshift Mayo. Yet, few of them were impressive enough to oust those who started against Donegal.
Enda Devenney was one of the few exceptions. Playing at right-half back Devenney hit surges of speed that at times left opponents floundering in his wake. The Ballina man has had a troubled time with injury. Now that he is recovering full fitness his speed could have the same electrifying effect as that of Peadar Gardiner on the other wing.
Ger Brady, operating in a new role at centre-half back, did reasonably well, but scarcely well enough to oust Billy Joe Padden in the immediate future, while the rest of the defence were so-so. But none of them should be allowed forget the manner in which corner forward Rory Donnelly cut from the right wing to the centre before unleashing a curling shot that whizzed into the net under the angle of the crossbar and post. Poor defensive work provided Clare with that soft goal.
Kenneth O’Malley in his first serious outing was not at fault for the score. In fact, the Ballinrobe man had a successful outing between the posts and made one magnificent deflection over the bar in the second half from Clare’s best forward, Des Molohan.
Mark Ronaldson at left corner forward is among the teeming numbers of Mayo forwards one would wish had a little more height and weight. But the Shrule man has loads of ability and, given quality ball like that delivered into his path by Marty McNicholas for Mayo’s goal, he has the poise and the self-confidence to convert opportunities. He did, however, fail to tuck the ball away from a penalty in the second half which does nothing to restore our confidence in Mayo penalty-takers.
Newcomer Colm Forde in his first outing played sensibly in the middle of the field while Aidan Campbell and Aidan Kilcoyne proved that they are worthy replacement choices for John O’Mahony’s best selection.
The big problem for the manager and his selectors is that the talents available to him, are in general of similar quality . . . all of a high standard, a few way better than others, but none yet distinctively gifted to meet his requirements for some central positions.
At half-time on Saturday the selectors provided Sean Ryder, Trevor Howley, Pat Navin, Gary Mullins, Michael Conroy, Ed Barrett and Seamus O’Shea with opportunities to mount claims for consideration. All performed as well as those they replaced, and some have the potential to make a serious challenge for selection. But the characteristics so essential for the central positions remain elusive. For those the search goes on.
Mayo are at home to Limerick in next Sunday’s third round of the league, and victory is essential if they are to entertain any hope of finishing in the top four in order to qualify for Div 1 football in next season’s restructured competition.
They’ll find nothing soft in a Limerick side that ran Dublin to a point, and who are impressing people under the management of Micky Ned O’Sullivan. Having lost to Donegal, a further slip-up could decide Mayo’s league fate.
When you measure that defeat against Donegal’s woeful performance in the McKenna Cup final with Tyrone last weekend, you get the feeling that there is much room for improvement.