MIDFIELD MAESTROS Mayo’s Matthew Ruane jumps for the ball with Leitrim’s Pearse Dolan during last Saturday evening’s Connacht U-21 FC semi-final in Carrick-on-Shannon.
THERE was a palpable sense of relief when the final whistle sounded at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada on Saturday evening. Relief that Mayo had overcome a gritty Leitrim side that was competitive to the death, and also that they surmounted a potential banana skin.
By their very nature, first-round encounters are fraught with danger, as form on the training ground is replaced by the cut and thrust of competitive fare. Despite some hairy moments, particularly early on, Mayo improved as the game progressed, and were worthy winners at the end.
Overall, Mayo manager Michael Solan will be happy that his young charges did enough to reach the final against Roscommon on Saturday, April 2.
“Any time you win a championship match by nine or ten points you have to be happy,” the Ballaghaderreen man told The Mayo News. “Having said that, there’s plenty to work on before the final.”
Mayo were slow to get into their rhythm and could have easily conceded at least two goals early on due to defensive frailties, particularly in the full-back line. As it was, Leitrim had rattled off three unanswered points from Pearse Dolan, Conor Gaffney and Kenny Cox before the visitors launched their first attack.
When Mayo got going, they looked quite impressive, as they combined well with some intricate play. During a five-minute spell, they kicked four unanswered points from Brian Reape, Conor Loftus (a free), Fergal Boland and Fionán Duffy.
Mayo introduced Breaffy’s Matthew Ruane for Val Roughneen after 20 minutes in an effort to bolster midfield, and immediately there was a greater share of quality ball going in the direction of the hosts’ goal.
The quality inherent in the attacking sextet began to manifest itself as they began to display their ability. A strong attack on the right hand side of the ground initiated by an impressive Fergal Boland, and carried on by Stephen Coen, led to Brian Reape fisting to the net.
Two minutes later, Fionán Duffy bore down on goal, but as he was about to shoot he was upended, leading to a penalty. Once again Diarmuid O’Connor was equal to the task, as his low effort found the net.
A Pearse Dolan point for Shane Ward’s men left the score at the break 2-5 to 0-7 in favour of Solan’s men. When Mayo emerged after half-time Shairoze Akram had replaced James Kelly at left half-back. Akram’s entry coincided with Mayo’s most productive and impressive period of the game.
The green and red added an additional 2-5 without reply. The first of those goale came from Fionán Duffy after Brian Reape sent him clear, and the second from the Moy Davitts marksman with Diarmuid O’Connor the provider. This left Mayo ahead by 4-10 to 0-7.
Leitrim didn’t surrender easily and kicked three unanswered points from Conor Gaffney.
Fionán Duffy and Fergal Boland bolstered the winners with points, but worryingly for the green and red Leitrim owned the ball in the closing stages leading to Conor Gaffney kicking three pointed frees, and Pearse Dolan closing the curtain on the scoring with a point.
Overall, Mayo will have to tighten up considerably in defence, particularly with marksmen of the calibre of Diarmuid Murtagh and Cathal Callinan in the Roscommon ranks. Midfield will need to be more consistent to thwart the twin threat of Tadhg O’Rourke and Cathal Compton.
The Mayo attack has the potential to prise open any defence, particularly if Liam Irwin is fit to start. For now, the important thing is Mayo is exactly where they want to be.
M Ruane; E Doran, S Cunniffe, C Harrison; D Kenny, M Hall, J Kelly; V Roughneen, S Coen; F Boland (0-2), C Loftus (0-4, 1f), D O’Connor (1-0, pen); M Plunkett, B Reape (2-3), F Duffy (1-2).
Subs used: M Ruane (0-1) for V Roughneen; E O’Donoghue for S Cunniffe (temp); S Cunniffe for O’Donoghue; S Akram for J Kelly; TJ Byrne for D O’Connor; J Lyons for C Loftus; M Murray for S Coen.
D McKiernan; K McHugh, E Fowley, J Mitchell; C Cullen, F McTague; K Keegan; D McGovern, P Dolan (0-3); K Cox (0-1), C Gaffney (0-7, 6f), D Farrell (0-2); R O’Rourke (0-1), C McCauley, J Heslin (0-1).
Subs used: C Dolan for C McCauley; O Madden for C Cullen; L Ryan for J Mitchell; D Byrne for D Farrell.
Referee: J Gilmartin (Sligo)