Mayo make experience count
YOU would find it hard to believe that Kerry lost for want of experience. But that’s the story from MacHale Park as the Munster men rebuild in the face of injury and retirements.
Fielding their strongest team so far and complementing it with timely replacements from the bench, Mayo streaked ahead in the final 20 minutes, through the channel of their All-Ireland experience.
Kerry against the wind had been dominating the first 15 minutes of the second half. Wing forward Stephen O’Brien had shot them ahead, and a bright save from Robert Hennelly denied them a second goal.
Other Kerry teams would have pressed home that advantage. But if clawing at the summit these past three years has taught Mayo anything, it is how not to panic. Within a couple of minutes, Alan Freeman reflected that composure with two successive points. It set a trend and Kerry were finally squeezed out.
Urgent league points were at stake and the game had a ring of championship fervour. Wind advantage for Kerry seemed no advantage when Freeman, with a delicate feint, stuck the ball in their net less that a minute after the start. It was vintage Freeman. Given the time and the freedom to play his own game, he left his mark on the outcome.
But in striking back, Kerry had their own lesson for Mayo in terms of agility and accuracy up front from all angles. James Donoghue, Barry John Keane and Stephen O’Brien were a huge test for a Mayo defence that had not performed to its potential in the opening games. On this occasion they were in full harmony.
Kevin Keane had cried off before the start and James Horan was forced to restore Keith Higgins to his original defensive position. They were pulled here and there by the flying Kerry forwards, but they never lost their shape.
Crucially, Lee Keegan was again inspirational at right wing back, wiping out the threat Donnchadh Walsh posed, dispossessing him at will and raising the benchmark for the side as a whole.
At centre back Shane McHale had an impressive opening half, surging forward powerfully and laying on the final pass to Jason Doherty for Mayo’s second goal on the stroke of half time. Before that the Knockmore man was rounded easily, however, and almost conceded a goal to Daithí Casey. But there’s a lot to be said for his attacking flair.
Donal Vaughan, back for the first time this season after injury, eventually replaced McHale, and proceeded to incur the wrath of another referee. It is a frequent occurrence and you wonder why?
It was good to see Colm Boyle back in his own berth and performing accordingly, and to see Ger Cafferkey restore his reputation as the most under-rated of full-backs. Beside the Ballina man was relative newcomer Brendan Harrison, whose speed and fielding ability at corner back – especially in the last quarter, when Kerry were pressing – were eye-catching.
Robert Hennelly saved the day with his fine intervention in thwarting Barry John Keane, but he will not be remembered for his four missed opportunities from frees. Freeman denied him a fifth opportunity by confidently slamming a 45’ over the bar during the last quarter.
There was little or no clean fielding in the middle of the field. The stature of the antagonists saw to that. But Mayo were much more alert to the breaks, particularly in the second half. Jason Gibbons did little wrong and, although not quite reaching his customary ebullient form, Aidan O’Shea seemed to find a new gear when his brother Seamus joined him for the last 20 minutes.
Freeman led the attack in style and as a whole the forwards were impressive in swarming round Kerry defenders, forcing hasty and often inaccurate clearances. Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty, Andy Moran and Michael Conroy linked well and Doherty’s goal was a gem. Enda Varley brightened up the attack when he replaced Adam Gallagher.
But that old malady of overuse of the ball continues to blemish their creative talents. Kerry showed them how to take points in the first half. It’s not too late to learn.
Westmeath will not go quietly on home ground
MAYO have a busy schedule for the coming two weeks with an away game to Westmeath next Sunday before hosting Cork the following week at MacHale Park.
While their performance in defeating Kerry showed considerable improvement on their opening two results, it is no guarantee of success against Westmeath.
To be sure they are an unlikely side to surrender to complacency, but it’s a potential banana skin and full power will be demanded in Cusack Park to defeat a side anchored to the bottom of the table, and struggling desperately for some sort of inspirational spark.
The crushing defeat of the midlanders last Sunday by Derry will have doubled their determination to dig out the type of performance that troubled Dublin in the first round. At home they are not without hope, and it could be a bumpy ride for Mayo.
Big plans in Islandeady
TUGGED from both sides by the social attractions of two large towns, Islandeady, squeezed between them has still managed to secure its roots and maintain its sense of pride of place.
It might long ago have yielded to the pressures of Castlebar and Westport but for the selfless voluntary work of the local Community Council and GAA Club. In their separate ways, both organisations have worked tirelessly at underpinning the distinctiveness of the parish in the face of unremitting social change.
The motto of the Community Council is ‘A Caring Community Moving in Unity’, a slogan that resonated enthusiastically in their announcement of a shared development plan drawn up together to enhance facilities for the community at large, their children and children yet to be born.
For a fiver a week, they intend to develop newly purchased property, provide a new community centre, revamp dressing rooms and fashion a new community walk, etc. It’s a commendable ten-year project, and when fully implemented will ensure that irrespective of developments by their big neighbours, Islandeady will remain a vibrant, caring community in which to live.
A fiver a week is not a lot to pay for the privilege.
Sweet dreams for Castlebar
OVER the coming weeks in Castlebar, the past will be a regular visitor as old Mitchels men reminisce. The high-flying fifties, when they won seven titles in ten years, will dominate the memories.
Off the field, the sweeps of earlier years as a fund-raising event will figure large among those still with us, when raffle tickets found their way to Mayo people all over the world.
Included in each envelope was a sprig of heather from the Reek with the advice that if kept under the pillow, happy dreams of home were assured.
Just a thought …
GALWAY’S sad collapse against Laois will set the alarm bells ringing about the inability of Alan Mulholland to ignite the old Galway fire. Meanwhile, Roscommon – topping Division 3 – are building steadily.