SEEING RED Mayo’s Pat Harte checks to see the colour of the card after being sent off by referee Joe McQuillan last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile
Time to start all over again
AN incident ten minutes into the second half encapsulated Mayo’s nightmare.
They were trailing by seven points, and searching every soul for the spark of leadership that would ignite a recovery.
Ciaran McDonald was their last great hope, and the lusty roar that greeted the entry of a man, not seen in a Mayo jersey since the All-Ireland final last September, exemplified the craving of the crowd for someone to rescue their battered expectations.
Neither McDonald nor his admirers were prepared, however, for the welcome Galway had in store for the Crossmolina man, and when he went flying through the air from a tackle by Damien Burke, the inspiration Mayo had sought assumed the reverse effect. Galway were not for turning.
That in a nutshell symbolised Mayo’s powerless performance on a day that may be remembered only as a defining moment in the county careers of many of the team. If ever a game registered the call of time for the current make-up of a side that has flattered to deceive too often, this was it.
Built around the fading ambitions of a few long, loyal servants, the time has come for re-assessment of standards and aspirations . . . for John O’Mahony to build his own team. The biggest casualty on Sunday was the conviction that had been sprouting throughout the league.
Nothing was right about the line-up from the beginning. The published selection had fooled nobody. It was evident all along that David Heaney was designated to fill the full-back role on the basis of his success in previous encounters with Padraig Joyce. Nobody expected Billy Joe Padden to have become a full-back star over night.
Unexpected also was the man-to-man marking philosophy which prompted the uprooting of a defence that had served reasonably well in the league, but which this time failed to produce the desired effect. The wholesale changes had Keith Higgins placed a centre-half back in pursuit of Michael Meehan, Billy Joe Padden at left half on Jarlath Fallon, and Peadar Gardiner at corner back on Derek Savage, in addition to Heaney at full.
When the Galway forwards moved around the place, the Mayo backs followed, and eventually nobody quite knew who was policing whom. Their plight was compounded by the dominance of Joe Bergin at midfield from the throw-in, and the waves of attacks he created. Within minutes, Galway had drilled holes in a defence unaccustomed to their new positions. Whatever conviction they held before the game was quickly eroded.
Two minutes was all it took for Cormac Bane to direct the ball between two converging defenders, and into the Mayo net. Eighteen minutes later the Caherlistrane man found himself blissfully alone to take, unchallenged, a pass from Michael Meehan and drill the ball competently past Kenneth O’Malley in the Mayo goal.
Trailing by six points, Mayo were groping for straws. For a few minutes after that first goal they had begun to settle, but nothing had them prepared for the second missile from Bane, and nothing they tried afterwards convinced anyone that they had the measure of Galway, a Galway that hit hard and effectively, and grew in confidence with every tackle and every score.
The absence of Mayo leadership on the field was never more glaring. There was no one to lift them, to piece together their fragmented play. Some of the more experienced players were the least effective.
The introduction of David Brady brought an improvement to midfield play for a few minutes. His experience was counted on to make a difference. But the influence of the Ballina man, still very much short of the required match fitness, diminished as the game progressed. His passing, always suspect, was telegraphed too easily. He should have left frees in his own half of the field to a defender, and he and Conor Mortimer should have been aware of the rules of free-taking.
His clubmate Pat Harte was guilty of poor judgement in directing the ball from a free kick over the sideline … and from which Galway, with a point by Niall Coleman, benefited directly. Twelve minutes into the second half Harte was unable to resist a tackle off the ball on Michael Meehan that earned him a and dismissal. It came at a time when Mayo were on the attack, trying to find the key to open up the Galway defence and when the last thing they needed was the calamity of a dismissal.
None of these incidents was the stuff of cool heads, or discipline, or effective leadership on the field. Instead they combined to feed Galway’s sense of superiority, and afforded them the passion to tackle hard, knowing how easily Mayo’s rhythm could be disrupted. These are among the complexities with which John O’Mahony is faced as he attempts to build a team of the future.
James Nallen, who had been selected at centre-half back moved to midfield for the start, but neither he nor Pat Harte made any impression on the high-fielding Joe Bergin and the leathery Niall Coleman. Both Galwaymen were the masters of the midfield duels. Once or twice Brady grabbed possession from them, but not enough to lessen their authority. The absence of Ronan McGarrity was sorely felt.
With the advent of Brady, James Nallen moved to right-half back, and in fairness to the defence they did prevent Galway from scoring a third goal, despite the handicap of a player short.
David Heaney’s success against Padraig Joyce continued. The work of the Galway full-forward was in many ways obscured by the triumvirate of Cormac Bane, Nicholas Joyce and Michael Meehan who jointly dismantled the Mayo defence. But Heaney did handle Joyce competently. The Swinford man later moved outfield, but even his powers of persuasion were not sufficient to shape any recovery in demoralised Mayo.
Still, the choice of this writer all along for the full-back position is the man with which they started the league, James Kilcullen. The young man has, as I’ve said on other occasions, all the necessary qualities for the position. He had some very good moments in the earlier part of the league, and what mistakes he made sprung mostly from inexperience.
He’s young enough not to have his confidence undermined by being replaced and dropped and, in the absence of any other suitable candidate for the position, the selectors ought to re-consider re-employing the Ballaghaderreen man.
One brief flicker of hope flared for Mayo at the start of the second half when Conor Mortimer won a high ball sent in by Kevin O’Neill. For once the corner forward slipped the clutches of Damien Burke and when he was a couple of yards from the goal Morimer looked certain to score, but his rising shot rebounded off the upright, and with it went the possibility of a resurgence.
So Mayo must wait for close on seven weeks for their back door attempt on the championship. To rebuild some sort of self-belief in his team is the task now facing John O’Mahony. He has done it before successfully … although with a greater repository of talent. On this occasion there appears to be a sense of inevitability about this team. Soon, a side of his own grooming will be unavoidable.