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Case for defence

Sean Rice
john m

Mayo’s case for defence not good

Sean RiceSean Rice

WHILE the probability of goals existed for them Cavan’s dream lived longer than they might have expected. In the end they conceded to a far superior side . . . but one whose defensive blunders a six-point win could not cover up.
At no stage did Cavan look like winning . . . even when they took the lead half way through the second half with their second goal, by Jason Reilly. But the ease with which they found gaps in the defence wiped some of the gloss of Mayo’s enterprise elsewhere.
We came to McHale Park somewhat excited about this new Mayo venture. The Galway debacle had signalled the need for a shake-up, and after numerous tests in the seven-week interval management unveiled their new team. No overnight miracles were expected from the freshness the changes brought. But it was intriguing because it had a touch of the master’s hand about it. It was a courageous selection and it was risky.
And when Pierce Hanley charged through the heart of the Cavan defence on an electrifying run in the opening minutes, you knew that the selectors had chosen well. Hanley, still in his teens, showed skill, composure and above all breathtaking speed.
The Ballaghaderreen man scored Mayo’s second point in the sixth minute, and had another in the second half. But there was more to his performance than those two points, a lot more. There was a readiness for work, maturity in his decisions, and a mental toughness in taking on the opposition.
The other newcomer was Hanley’s clubmate, David Kilcullen, who has impressed the selectors in trial matches. In that onerous centre-half back position, the young man played reasonably well, but it seemed the pace of the game was more than he expected. As a result his actions looked a bit casual, his off-loading a bit more sluggish than at club level. Still, Anthony Forde failed to thrive on him. He’ll be learning.
In addition to the new comers, some of the switches also had the desired effect. It took Barry Moran a while to settle at full-forward, but his agility opened new avenues for his forwards, especially in he second half. He scored Mayo’s only goal, and prized open the Cavan defence with a pass to Andy Moran which the Ballagh’ man screwed wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. He was also unlucky with a fisted effort in the first half.
The novel move of Trevor Mortimer to the half-back line had immediate effect, and in one of his customary runs the Shrule man bagged Mayo’s opening score. He made the occasional raid after that but not with the same effect, his work mainly concerned with keeping Ray Cullivan and Mark McKeever in check.
Being outsiders, Cavan were expected to present difficulties to Mayo, and at midfield the challenge was marked where Dermot McCabe and Nicholas Walsh had the early edge. Primary possession was rare by either side, but Cavan won more of the spilling ball.
David Heaney and David Brady struggled there, and the huge welcome that greeted Ronan McGarrity’s introduction in the first half was testimony not only of his courage in fighting his illness, but of how he was missed over the past few months.
He came on in place of team captain Peadar Gardiner who had, uncharacteristically, received a yellow card. Heaney moved to defence to make way for McGarrity and while certain rustiness had set in, the Ballina man’s midfield instincts had immediate effect.
Mayo led by nine points to six at the interval, and when Alan Dillon grabbed a further point seconds into the second half, Mayo’s victory seemed assured. But three minutes later Cavan had their first goal from a penalty by Dermot McCabe after Sean Brady was fouled in the square.
Neither that goal nor the two that followed were unforeseen. For Mayo’s defence was vulnerable from the opening minute. Too much has been asked of Liam O’Malley, whose defensive qualities have been well established at corner back, to shoulder the responsibility for the full-back position for which he does not have the fundamentals.
The Burrishoole man did, however, keep Brady scoreless even if it took a brilliant rescue operation by Trevor Howley who smothered the shot of the fullforward when a goal seemed certain in the first half. To his credit, O’Malley did not shirk the task and he did much better on Dermot McCabe when the midfielder moved to full-forward during the final quarter.
James Nallen brought more stability to the defence when he replaced David Brady, allowing David Heaney back to midfield where he moved with greater menace. Nallen’s deliveries were true and telling, and Tom Cunniffe worked well with him when he came on in the final quarter.
Mayo’s capacity to pull away was due in no small measure to the outstanding performance of Alan Dillon. After a period of indifference, the Ballintubber man was back to his creative best with an intelligent performance, and the exclusion of his trademark jink that sometimes costs him scores.
Mayo were always able to compensate up front for the weaknesses of their defence with Conor Mortimer, Andy and Barry Moran, Pierce Hanley, Alan Dillon, and Ger Brady when he came on, all capable of scoring.
Andy Moran’s miss in the 45th minute was unlike him. The opportunity, a scooped pass by Barry Moran as he lay on the ground, sent Andy heading for goal with only the keeper to beat, but in his attempt to find the corner of the net, his shot screwed off his foot and horribly wide.

Derry air might
just suit Mayo

GAINST Derry at Celtic Park next weekend Mayo could not afford a miss of the nature of Andy Moran’s. Nor indeed will they survive if they fail to plug the gaps in defence so readily exposed by Cavan. It is a tough assignment for Mayo against the side that knocked Armagh, one of the All-Ireland favourites, out of the championship last weekend.
They have never met at senior championship level, and not in the league for five years. But from 1996 to 2002 they encountered each other on six occasions, Mayo winning three times on home ground.
Derry had eight points to spare in their spring National League semi-final at Croke Park in 1996 a few months before John Maughan led Mayo to the All-Ireland final. They met in the quarter-final of the same league at Sligo two years later and Derry had two points to spare.
In November of that same year they met again in the league at Charlestown which Mayo won by four points, a historic meeting at which the red and yellow cards were introduced for the first time, and the fisted pass re-introduced to the play.
Their only clash on Derry soil in that eleven-year span has been in Celtic Park in 1999 when Mayo lost by four points. It was Pat Holmes’ first game as manager, and they have not been back since. But their two most recent meetings – at Charlestown in 2000 and at Crossmolina two years later – ended in wins for the home county.
It is a mammoth task for Mayo to go to Celtic Park and win. Buoyed by their unexpected triumph over Armagh, Derry will be expected to keep their championship hopes alive, and they will if the Mayo defence leaks as badly as it did last Saturday.
That will be cured only by a determined effort to weld their work into a cohesive unit. Changes are unlikely to be made in the full-back line at this stage and no player needs to be reminded of Saturday’s performance. That alone ought to be the cue for the improvements that are needed.

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