NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE John O’Mahony has a word with David Heaney as Tom Cunniffe watches on during Mayo’s match against Derry at Celtic Park on Saturday night. Pic: Margaret McLaughlin
All is not lost despite defeat
THEIR performance, if not the outcome, met with our wishes. But if Mayo returned from Derry pointless, their visit was not fruitless.
Expectations had not been high on a night in which heavy rain and high winds lashed Celtic Park. But their pride in wearing the jersey was reflected in Mayo’s spirited recovery after Derry¹s delivery of a solar plexus punch nineteen minutes into the second half.
In the end the difference between victory and defeat lay in millimetres . . . whatever width there was between the spot on the crossbar, hit by the ball, and the roof of the net. It came that close on two occasions in the final six minutes, once when a shot by Peadar Gardiner deserved better, and nearer to the final whistle when Andy Moran¹s drive was similarly fated.
What might have been ought not, however, to be used as a lament for another piece of Mayo misfortune. What’s important is what this relatively new side will have learned from defeat on the same ground that held murky memories of their previous visit last July.
In the conditions on Saturday night you wouldn’t have let a dog out. A rainstorm rinsed the stadium, and Mayo faced it in the first half.
Up on the terraces a few hundred people huddled together, among them the usual smattering of ardent Mayo fans from distances as far away as Belmullet and Ballintubber and Westport. No shelter was available to them for, shamelessly, the ground is still without a covered stand, a facility that the smallest club in Mayo has provided for their supporters.
Mayo did their best to make it a worthwhile journey for those faithfuls, but in contending with a ball as whimsical as a balloon in the wind good football was impossible. Yet although Derry attacked and defended in droves, Mayo progressed the only way open to them . . .by short snapping passing movements. The long ball was not an option.
For more than thirteen minutes they held their own with some notable performances. Peadar Gardiner and Seamus O’Shea commanded the early midfield exchanges and the half-back line of Chris Barrett, Trevor Howley and Keith Higgins dug in determinedly.
It was difficult to get the ball to the forwards and the wind fairly reflected the gruelling nature of their task when Conor Mortimer failed to score from close range.
Enda Muldoon and Paddy Bradley were provided with easier chances and Derry held that two-point advantage until Andy Moran had Mayo’s first in the 13th minute, the horse-work done by Mortimer and Gardiner. The Crossmolina man was highly influential in Mayo’s tight-knit performance, and his astute re-adaptation by the selectors has given him a new direction and renewed enthusiasm.
It was inevitable, however, that concentration would slip and Mayo paid the price for failing to cover Ciarán Mullan in the 14th minute. The corner forward was left blissfully alone when a dream pass found him inside the defence on the left wing. Mullan had enough time to exploit the gap and provide Colin Devlin with the present.
That put greater pressure on Mayo, and although they maintained their grim struggle, the goal settled Derry and encouraged them to make better use of the conditions, to embark on long range kicking and at this they were accurate, even from acute angles.
Seven points followed from them, four of them from frees, in the final fifteen minutes. It was becoming harder on Mayo to resist Derry’s swarming attacks. But Austin O’Malley clawed back a point with the help of Alan Dillon and Gardiner, and David Clarke denied Paddy Bradley who for once escaped the clutches of Billy Joe Padden.
Bradley’s total of four points were all from frees and that’s to the credit of Padden who left few opportunities to Derry’s prominent full-forward. The Belmullet man did retire through injury midway through the second half and it is to be hoped it will not prevent his selection for Mayo’s next game with Donegal.
The full-back vacancy was filled by David Heaney who had replaced James Gill at the interval and took up a position at midfield with Gardiner moving to the forward line. His transfer was a chance for Gardiner to adjust to what is now clearly the intention of John O¹Mahony and his selectors . . . to have the Crossmolina man fitted into the half-forward line when Ronan McGarrity returns to action. In his new position Gardiner’s performance did not suffer.
With Heaney back in his more familiar role, the selectors made room for Tom Parsons to join Seamus O’Shea in the middle of the field, and the young Charlestown man did not disappoint them.
There was also room for hope in the debut performance of Chris Barrett at right-half back. Against the reputation of Enda Muldoon his was an unenviable challenge. To have succeeded in confining a man, who played such a significant role in dismissing Mayo from the championship last season, to a single point and virtual obscurity afterwards, was John O¹Mahony’s award for putting their faith in him.
Equally, the selectors also replaced Conor Moran at the interval by Tom Cunniffe, a rebuke for leaving goal-maker Mullan unmarked. But Moran is a resilient defender and he will continue to challenge seriously for a place in the defence. In the other corner, Liam O’Malley was a success foil for Devlin.
The half-time changes brought more fibre to Mayo’s efforts after the break and they reduced the lead to five points by the 50th minute. No longer in short supply, the ball peppered the forwards, but control was difficult in the tricky wind and their efforts were laboured.
Their morale took a knock when Mark Lynch was allowed to link with Devlin, to take the return pass and beat David Clarke with a low missile. You could see the panic in the defence as Lynch closed in unchallenged. And the goal dug deep into their conviction. How to counteract such a charge is a task for the future.
Without the re-action of the more experienced players, the game would have ended there and then. And it was an experienced boot that brought them back into contention. A long high centre from the hard-working Dillon dropped in front of the goal. It evaded grabbling hands, fell to the ground and was hacked about before Conor Mortimer poked it into the net.
The Shrule/Glencorrib man reduced the lead further with a point, Parsons making it possible. And a minute later Gardiner sped towards the goal, changed direction slightly at full speed, steadied his run and from thirty yards let fly. Derry stood relieved, Mayo stunned as the ball cracked off the crossbar.
Bradley did ease the pressure on Derry from a free, their only point of the second half, and while Mayo resumed the onslaught, which yielded points by Chris Barrett and Michael Mullins, the crossbar also denied Andy Moran the chance to cap an otherwise fine performance.
You can’t ask much more from a team weakened by absenteeism than that they give their best. Only those present can imagine how difficult it was for this experimental side to perform in such dreadful conditions. A share of the spoils would not have been undeserved.