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A point from the heart

Sean Rice
TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE The faces of Mayo ladies manager Michael Ryder (left) and Jimmy Corbett tell the story of last Sunday’s NFL defeat to Armagh at McHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Mayo make point from the heart

Sean Rice

A POINT salvaged, their first of the campaign, and fashioned by a common feature of all of Mayo’s performances so far this season . . . heart. You can have all the style in the world, but without heart it amounts to nothing. Graft and perseverance — attributes not always associated with Mayo football — were at the core of their draw with Laois on Saturday.
In Portlaoise, both had come looking for the result that would lift them off the bottom of the table. In the end both were still on the bottom, but having produced a thriller, having dug deep into their reserves of nerve to share the spoils, neither should feel despondent.
Laois might claim to have been smitten by a sliver of the misfortune that dogged Mayo in their two previous outings when Kevin Meaney’s hasty first-timer curled wide of the posts from close range. But on reflection they will be glad of Michael Tierney’s accuracy in grabbing the equaliser, from a free harshly awarded against Mayo, seconds earlier.
It would have been rough justice on Mayo if Meaney’s kick had been on target seconds before the final whistle when you take into account some poor decisions made against them by referee Rory Hickey . . . as if he were attempting to compensate somehow for a penalty he awarded against Laois earlier in the half.
You could also argue that Mayo need not have been in that position so close to the final minutes. They did not repeat their wastage against Donegal, but they will look back on some of their vain attempts to score goals throughout the seventy minutes when points would have been a more profitable option.
It can’t be easy to choose the correct option when you are at full stretch, and the exchanges throbbing with excitement. But there were moments when cooler heads were demanded in front of goal, when a little more composure might have paid richer dividends.
Mayo started as they had done against Donegal, in a whirlwind of pace and confidence. And barely five seconds had elapsed when Austin O¹Malley claimed first strike with a lovely left-footer. They could have made better use of those opening moments of ascendancy when Laois seemed stunned by Mayo’s fleetness and were let off the hook for at least one goal.
Before long, however, it became clear that Mayo were once more underperforming at midfield. Nobody could match Padraig Clancy in the air and, like Donegal, the home side were also more alert to the break. Whatever advantage Mayo’s whirlwind start had generated was soon wiped out by their inadequacy at midfield, and it became a contest in which only a kick of the ball separated them.
Mayo lost Alan Dillon through injury halfway through the first half, and although it took his replacement Trevor Mortimer some time to adjust to the rhythm of his colleagues, he did eventually rediscover his old aggressive form and played a major part in Mayo’s second half recovery.
Dillon, one of Mayo’s hardest workers throughout the campaign, did have a chance of rocketing Mayo into an early comfortable lead when Andy Moran opened up a path to goal for him.
As the defence funnelled in on him, Dillon careered goalwards with one purpose in mind. Other options were open to him than the one he chose, however, but we’ll never know if a cross to two inrushing colleagues would have produced a better result than his fruitless blast straight at goalkeeper Michael Nolan.
Because he has the capacity to recover from missed chances, and because nobody is quite as accurate from the left wing, the Ballintubber man was missed and his loss sorely felt in attack.
Goal chances were also attempted by Andy Moran and Trevor Mortimer when points were more readily available.
When Laois did gain parity in play, their long deliveries towards their big and skilful full-forward Brendan Quigley caused jitters in the Mayo defence. For much of the first half Billy Joe Padden handled the Laois man reasonably well. But when Quigley grabbed the ball over his head and rammed it into the net five minutes from the end of the half, the decline in Padden’s confidence was perceptible.
Late in the second half, an injury forced Billy Joe to retire and Mayo’s dearth of full-back talent can be gauged from the selectors’ decision to replace him with Kieran Conroy, Shrule’s customary midfielder. Conroy did quite well in the time remaining to him. But the damage done to Padden’s confidence may be irreversible  . . . an enormous price for the versatility of an honest and hard-working footballer.
It was not for want of help from Liam O’Malley that Padden was under pressure. The Burrishoole man worked extremely hard in shoring up the flagging full-back line in which Tom Cunniffe also had his problems and may not have fully redeemed himself by a bright final ten minutes.
Keith Higgins although suffering from ‘flu and Trevor Howley did quite well, and the defence was strengthened when David Heaney moved to right-half back in place of Conor Moran to make way for the introduction of Ronan McGarrity to midfield.
Those changes, made just before the interval, were vital to Mayo’s recovery and McGarrity was the catalyst.
You could see in his performance how deeply Mayo missed him in their two previous matches. It is not his fielding ability alone that makes McGarrity the ideal midfielder. It is his reading of the game, how he makes himself available to his backs and forwards. His introduction was the biggest single influence on the outcome.
Mayo’s goal came ten minutes into the second half from a penalty well struck by Andy Moran. From that moment on the teams were neck and neck . . . all square on five occasions in the remaining twenty-five minutes, all of it breathtaking in its speed and enterprise.
A notable feature of Mayo’s performance was the equal distribution of scores in which eight of the team shared compared with five for Laois.
There was also a noteworthy improvement in the performance of Austin O’Malley and, although confined to two points, Conor Mortimer was particularly effective in the first half when Mayo delivered long and ample ball to the wings. Peadar Gardiner got little chance to display his speed, but played well nevertheless, and Andy Moran, hovering around he edge of the square, was always dangerous.

THERE was nothing inspiring about the Mayo ladies performance against Armagh on Sunday. Drained of the old sources of power, Mayo’s new faces reflected too little maturity against an Armagh team bubbling with flair and confidence.
You could not fault the efforts of Lisa Cafferkey, who played her heart out, or Deirdre Doherty or Sarah Tyrell or the experienced Marcella Heffernan, but their combined efforts were not enough to raise the morale of a team hit by defections and the consequences of the administrative strife of recent months.
Imperfections were not confined to the players. The team sheet handed out to members of the press and the handful of spectators bore no relation to the side fielded and, with a few exceptions, no relation to either number or position.
Shoddy organisation can lead to all sorts of shortcomings, not least inaccurate reporting. Hopefully the coverage given to last Sunday’s league match is a true account of the players’ endeavours. In the circumstances we make no apology for wrong names.
One of Mayo’s best players, Fiona McHale, was forced to cry off with an injury sustained in the pre-match workout. But even without their influential midfielder it is unlikely they would have overcome the serious challenge Armagh provided.
And starring in the No 5 jersey — although playing at left half — for the Northerners, was Rhona O’Mahony, daughter of Mayo manager John O’Mahony.

3011 MPU

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