LITTLE AND LARGE Fermanagh’s Mark Little is dwarfed by Mayo’s Liam O’Malley at Clones last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo refuse to be blown off course
IT was far from pretty, and at times you wondered were Mayo engaged in the football equivalent of hara-kiri, but in the end the desired result was achieved. Victory over a side desperate to get away from the trap door of relegation was accomplished. Early fears had been erased and two valuable points garnered.
Those fears were real throughout the opening thirteen minutes as Mayo struggled to contain a Fermanagh side intent on grabbing their first victory of the competition.
They were fired up and came at Mayo from every direction. Attacks rained on the defence like cluster missiles. In the soggy conditions the ball, like a blob of soap, squirted aimlessly from groping hands. Control was difficult, yet Fermanagh managed to go four points ahead inside the first eleven minutes.
Battling to counterbalance the flow of attacks, Mayo eventually got a feel of the game, got to probe for Fermanagh weaknesses, hauled themselves back to safety, and in the final minutes defended their tenuous lead with every fibre of their make-up.
Victory was never assured, however, until the final whistle. In the dreadful conditions any quirk of fate was possible. The deceptive whims of the ball, skidding off the soggy Clones pitch, demanded extraordinary degrees of vigilance and composure. Amid many scary situations the Mayo defence, more often that not, were equal to the demands of the conditions.
There was no doubt about the merits of Mayo’s win. For effort none was found wanting. The ball played tricks on them at times, they slid and skidded as the ceaseless rain beat down; turning was difficult, passes were intercepted, wrong options taken, but no head dropped.
You would be angry that the ball was given away too easily, that the likes of Andy Moran, who had two good chances of consolidating their lead in the last five minutes, kicked wide when others were in better positions to score. You were aware that their overall performance would not be good enough against Cork or Tyrone or Dublin. Yet, to have hacked out a win was a praiseworthy achievement.
To the defence, then, first and foremost, go the kudos for their brave-hearted resistance, sometimes risking serious injury with timely interceptions. Liam O’Malley, James Kilcullen and Keith Higgins, all excellent, survived many awkward situations through their coolness and nerve.
Behind them, Kenneth O’Malley was excellent in goal and his prodigious kicks-out invaluable in the heavy conditions. Nor did the half-back line lack anything in spirit or resolve. In the first half, as Mayo tried to find a way back, Billy Joe Padden was a steadying influence, solid and inspirational.
Wing-halves Peadar Gardiner and Enda Devenney drove forward zealously, and were involved in the best score of the game a few minutes into the second half, Devenney leaving half the field for dead before placing Ger Brady for their ninth point. Gardiner’s interceptions were also crucial in the second half.
Midfield was not won. But neither was it lost. The physical strength of David Brady and the height of Ronan McGarrity were missed. In both traits, James Nallen was somewhat deficient. But apart from the opening quarter his contribution was still immense . . . as a linkman and facilitator.
Like the rest, he made a few passing errors, understandable in the conditions. At the same time, he refused to allow Fermanagh dictate midfield. Beside him, Pat Harte started impressively, but faded, as if in need of a greater degree of fitness.
Trevor Mortimer’s appetite for work was once again a feature of the forward line. The Shrule man never fails to give a hundred percent. You’ll find him on any wing, in any corner, always available. His brother Conor, having been rested for a game or two, was equally incisive. He scored seven points, four of them from frees.
Andy Moran played a crucial role in Mayo’s recovery from a disastrous start by moving out from the corner and relieving the pressure on midfield. Ger Brady’s strength was valuable in the heavy conditions, Aidan Campbell improves with every outing, and Alan Dillon confirmed once more that he is at his most effective at wing forward, having moved out to make room for Austin O’Malley.
Fermanagh’s fade-out was inexplicable. They had begun in determined fashion to claw their way back from the abyss. They must have had high hopes after Barry Owens, their full-back, found himself dashing through the heart of the Mayo defence to score the only goal of the game. They were four points ahead and running strongly.
Three minutes later that lead was reduced to one. The Mortimer brothers and Aidan Campbell had found the posts, and the damage done by that early northern charge looked less severe. Mayo’s experience was critical in such moments of crisis. A further three points were flung over, two by Conor from frees, the other by Alan Dillon.
After that early Fermanagh blast, they didn’t score again for almost forty minutes, and in the end they were still prostrate on the trap door. Their plunge to Division 3 is inevitable.
Mayo’s recovery was at times wobbly, yet persistent and methodical. Against the worst team in the division, victory was eventually shaped with difficulty. More will be demanded from them to beat the better teams.
McGarrity illness offers perspective
THE shock news of Ronan McGarrity’s illness continues to resound around the county. A groundswell of support and good wishes for his full recovery have been foremost in the minds of his friends and followers as the news of his withdrawal from the Mayo team spread far and wide.
His illness puts things in perspective. Football is not now a priority for the Ballina man. His health is paramount, and in openly confronting and confirming his illness to his football and basketball colleagues, Ronan will have taken the first steps towards his restoration to full health.
He will take heart, too, from the successful return to sport of other high-profile sportsmen – Dermot Earley of Kildare and Cork hurler Joe Deane – following completion of their course of treatment.
We wish him well in his treatment and hope to see the Ballina man back in action for his county later this year.
His absence creates a void in the Mayo team that John O’Mahony will find difficulty in filling. He has been our best bet in canceling out the danger that a profusion of big midfielders have been posing for Mayo.
We don’t have a replacement of his catching calibre. David Brady and Pat Harte, the other midfield contenders, are comparative pigmies when measured with their club colleague. Harte and James Nallen filled the positions against Fermanagh on Sunday at Clones. Allowing for the boggy conditions of the pitch, the Crossmolina man performed creditably, fisting down the balls he could not catch, but essentially, and intelligently, making himself available to players under pressure.
Those, however, who remember the performance of McGarrity in the Connacht final last season when he dominated the middle of the field with majestic, high catching against the likes Niall Coleman, Michael Donnellan, and Barry Cullinane will understand the extent of his loss this summer.
McGarrity has been sharing his time throughout the winter seasons between basketball, at which he also excels, and Gaelic football. Both are demanding sports, and as a consequence his winter football rarely measured up to his summer standard.
His most recent game was against Limerick a couple of weeks back when up against John Galvin, bigger and stronger than himself. He did not quite match the Limerick man in the air, but you could be satisfied that come midsummer he would have re-established his superiority.
In any case, his contribution to the game in other ways was significant. His support for the defence was crucial in the final minutes against resurgent Limerick. His availability to players in moments of crisis, and his clearances, sensibly delivered, more than compensated for Mayo’s midfield deficit. He has the eye for the quick pass, and the intuition to be in the right place at the right time. We need him back.