SUPERMARK Mayo’s Mark Ronaldson goes flying through the air over the head of IT Sligo’s Kevin Smullen in Ballina last Sunday. Pic: Ciara Buckley/MemoriesThruALens
IT Sligo 0-8
THE famous James Stephens Park in Ballina doesn’t get to host big Mayo games these days, but the famous Stephenites club has never forgotten how to roll out the red carpet.
Last Sunday they pulled out all the stops again to welcome the new Mayo manager and his team to town, as well as more than 2,000 partisan home supporters.
Nothing was left to chance, everything ran like clockwork, and the host club even decided to sell hot soup to the grateful and freezing fans. It sold like. . well, hot soup!
The sight of the scoreboard operator standing valiantly at his elevated post, sticking up the numbers as the points rained over, was a real throwback to bygone days.
The whole occasion was a welcome reminder that it’s the grassroots volunteers of clubs like Ballina Stephenites that makes the GAA tick, and underlined just how important it is to bring the Mayo team ‘around the county’ every so often.
Unfortunately, for those of us hoping for a game to match the occasion, IT Sligo ‘failed to turn up’.
As a result this FBD League fixture turned out to be nothing more than an hour-long training session for Mayo’s squad of battle-hardened warriors and fresh-faced novices.
Debutant Mayo goalkeeper, Matthew Flanagan, will seldom have a quieter day between the sticks, Ger Cafferkey (captain for the day) played from memory on his first start of the year, while Mark Ronaldson ran the show from centre-forward, pulling strings and kicking points for fun.
The only question to be answered from an early stage was the margin of victory as IT Sligo’s lack of quality was all too apparent, and they failed to put Mayo under any sort of pressure.
Stephen Rochford’s stated preference for moving the ball at pace (especially by use of the boot) was also carried out to the letter by his players, and this put IT Sligo on the backfoot for practically the entire game.
Mayo made six changes to the team that beat NUI, Galway a week earlier with debuts for the aforementioned Flanagan and promising defender David Kenny.
We also got a first look this year at Lee Keegan and Donie Vaughan, who both came off the bench, while rookies Caolan Crowe and Andrew Farrell were handed an opportunity to impress the new management team.
As things transpired, IT Sligo were unable to make a game of it at any stage so lessons learned were in short supply.
Mayo led at half-time by 0-7 to 0-3, and they were seven points clear with ten minutes to go when Kevin McLoughlin sidefooted the only goal of the game from close range.
McLoughlin’s Knockmore team-mate, Keith Ruttledge, certainly made quite an impression one week on from his debut appearance.
The crafty corner-forward helped himself to three points over the hour and showed that he was more than capable of winning his own ball.
IT Sligo’s only scores in the first half came from free-taker, Adam Traynor (2) and corner-back Lee Carr, who landed a spectacular effort from long-range.
The predictable nature of the contest continued after half-time as Mayo pulled away courtesy of points from Jason Doherty (free), the elusive Mark Ronaldson and Darren McHale.
They did lose Shane Nally to a black card for a hand trip on 45 minutes, but IT Sligo were far too reliant on Adam Traynor for scores to make any real headway.
Kevin McLoughlin grabbed his second goal in seven days with a close-range finish after a defensive lapse by an over-worked college defence, and subs Tom Parsons and Conor Loftus both tagged on well-taken points to finish the job.
Next Sunday’s third round tie against Roscommon will be a very different affair as Mayo leave the comfort of home behind for the first time this year.
M Flanagan; D Kenny, G Cafferkey, B Harrison; K Higgins, S McHale, S Nally; J Gibbons, C Crowe; K McLoughlin (1-2), M Ronaldson (0-4), A Farrell (0-1); D McHale (0-1), J Doherty (0-3, 2fs), K Ruttledge (0-3).
Subs used: L Keegan for Higgins; C Boyle for Nally (black card); D Vaughan for McHale; P O’Hora for Harrison; T Parsons (0-1) for Gibbons; C Loftus (0-1) for Ruttledge.
J Daly; D McConnon, R Gallagher, L Carr (0-1); C Surlis, E McGrath, K Donoghue; D McCormack, R Connolly; C Clinton, C McGettigan (0-1), C Kenny; K Smullen, N Walsh, A Traynor (0-6, 4fs).
Subs used: R McGullion for McConnon (inj); D O’Reilly for Smullen (inj); M Rock for Clinton; K Tighe for McGettigan.
Referee: S Hehir (Galway)