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Graph rising slowly

Sean Rice
 Martin Carney, John O’Mahony, Tommy Lyons and Kieran Gallagher watch the action unfold during Sunday’s FBD Connacht League match in Charlestown. Pic: Michael Donnelly

Graph starts to rise slowly

Sean RiceSean Rice
AN improvement in quality and application earned Mayo a well-deserved win on Sunday. But the performance must be measured against opposition that was far short of the attributes of IT Sligo teams of the past, or of those displayed by NUIG the previous week.
To be frank, the opposition was pretty poor, and the Mayo performance must, therefore, be weighed against the relevant circumstances. One aspect of their play, however, clearly pleased the few hundred followers who turned up at Charlestown. It was the manner in which they tackled their opponents.
The diligence with which they confronted them, engaged them and challenged them drew most of the applause. There was an aggressiveness to their play that has not always been evident in Mayo football.
Whether it has anything to do with instructions or with the awareness of the players that they are under close scrutiny, that every ball they catch and deliver, every tackle they make is a tick for or against their remaining on the panel for the coming season, time only will tell.  Of one thing there is no doubt, all of them are doing their best to impress.
The overall standard of play left a lot to be desired, but it is early days yet. Players are not in settled positions and mistakes are, therefore, inevitable. Still, John O’Mahony and his selectors will surely have been pleased with the determination of his recruits to make an impact, and the result of some of his choices in the various positions.
In his second outing at full-back Billy Joe Padden played with authority and style. It is a measure of his versatility that the Belmullet man has begun to fit in smoothly into one of the few positions in which he has not been tested. He has not yet come up against the cream of full-forwards ,which will be the litmus test of his ability, but neither of his two opponents thus far has made any impression. In pursuit of full-forward Enda Kenny, Padden also managed not only to subdue the Roscommon man, but to score Mayo’s sixth point just before the interval.
To Trevor Howley was given the crucial role of centre half-back, and to say that the Knockmore man was a success is to put it mildly. His physical strength, his fearlessness in the tackle and his ability to make incursions into his opponents’ half were some of the features of his performance.
In that position he was much more effective than in the corner spot allotted to him in the previous game. It must, of course, be taken into account in assessing his role that neither Alan Costello nor Jamie Murphy of the Sligo college side presented serious opposition.  The real worth of Howley – who has not yet been found wanting – can only be judged against top class centre half-forwards, but the Knockmore man has the potential to adequately fill that position for Mayo.
It was not his first appearance, but Seamus O’Shea, at midfield,  presented O’Mahony with the possibility of his selection as partner to Ronan McGarrity at midfield. Barring some mishap, McGarrity will be a permanent midfield fixture this season, and O’Shea, both in the quality of his tackling and his overall workrate, laid down a marker for any other rivals for that position.
Following his success at midfield the previous week Peadar Gardiner was again handed the No 8 jersey, and more than held his own again. But somehow one cannot visualise the Crossmolina man holding down that position permanently, and it is likely that he will revert to his customary half-back berth for the national league.
O’Shea will be challenged by the likes of Tom Parsons, who lined out with IT Sligo on Sunday with some degree of success, and James Kilcullen who was given a run and must be also in contention. Of the three, the Breaffy man was the most impressive, but all have midfield potential and  together with the likes of Barry Moran will be vying for the role in the coming weeks.
Another slot filled with more than a fair degree of success was the position normally manned by Conor Mortimer. In his absence, Michael Mullins was a capable substitute. He played a roving role and showed courage in the tackle and conviction in his shooting.
In his two performances so far, the Claremorris man would seem to be at his best in the half forward line, and the fire he brings to his game together with an ability to dispossess opponents may well have nailed down for him a place on the national league side.
Brian Benson continues to impress at left corner forward, and Austin O’Malley brought more conviction to his game at centre half-forward, and might be even more productive if he were less hesitant in striking for a score.
James Gill was less conspicuous than the previous Sunday, but not less industrious, and David Geraghty of Shrule/Glencorrib and Knockmore’s John Brogan did enough to continue to be kept under surveillance by the selection team.
Having lined out for the Mayo hurlers in their league match in dreadful conditions at Dangan the previous day, Keith Higgins (left) still managed to turn in an impressive display at left half-back on Sunday. But you wonder whether he can sustain his commitment to both games and produce top quality performances. His namesake Aidan Higgins also played well at corner back.
All this might tend to suggest that Mayo had it easy against the Sligo students. They did have the upperhand, but only in the final ten minutes did they put the game beyond the reach of the opposition.
Alan Dillon, at full-forward, was slow to get into his rhythm, but he did eventually make his mark.
Benson’s goal came from the penalty spot  and was tucked away with the coolness of a professional. The run by Mullins cannot pass without mention, the ball set up for him by O’Shea.
It put Mayo ahead by six points six minutes into the second half and should have ended the IT challenge. But a rather fortuitous goal renewed their interest ten minutes later.
Next Sunday is Mayo’s final FBD outing when they take on John Maughan’s Roscommon at Ballinlough. NUIG who meet IT Sligo are the likely winners of the group, and with Galway almost certain to emerge from the other group both Galway sides will meet in the final.
Mayo then set their sights for their first round match of the Allianz League against Derry at Celtic Park. If the performances of the key players against IT Sligo – those of Padden, Howley, O’Shea, Mullins etc — are repeated next Sunday, the team to face Derry will have an interesting look . . . especially  if the Ballina contingent , in training for the All-Ireland semi-final, are absent.

3011 MPU

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