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Penalty shoot-out finish misses the point


WEATHERING THE STORM Galway’s Alan Greene tries to get away from Mayo’s Aaron McDonnell (5) and Ciarán Gavin during Saturday’s Connacht Under-20 championship preliminary round clash. Pic: Michael Donnelly

Ger Flanagan

YOU really had to be in MacHale Park last Saturday afternoon to appreciate just how bad the conditions were for Mayo and Galway.
Everyone in MacHale Park felt the full force of ‘Storm Ciara’ — which swept across the county and impacted on everything from the style and standard of football to the overall attendance, which was quite poor.
So bad were the weather conditions that had the game been scheduled to start an hour later than its 2pm throw-in time, it probably wouldn’t have gone ahead. At that stage, the players were more likely to get a bounce from a wet face cloth than the O’Neill’s in their hands.
In many ways, the penalty shoot-out was the only safe conclusion the game could have taken on the day, because it would have been against all measures of player welfare to ask the 30 players to take to the field and go again for another period of extra-time.
Mayo’s Oisin Mullin even resorted to putting on a jumper before taking his spot-kick, no doubt causing havoc for the local radio commentators on the airwaves.
But that’s about the only positive thing you could say about the penalty shoot-out.
Since it was integrated into Gaelic football, the idea of penalties to settle games has really split opinion — none moreso than last Saturday.
You can only imagine the devastation in the Mayo dressing-room, having put in such effort over the 80 plus minutes (and in the three months previous).
The look on the faces of team manager Mike Solan and coach Andy Moran outside the dressing-room afterwards spoke a thousand words of how they were feeling.
You would have to feel sorry for them too, particularly given that despite all the uncontrollables, Mayo, and indeed Galway, had served up a cracking match.
Yes, there were countless over-hit passes when the gale force wind was behind either team, and the bar of soap that was the football cumulated in record levels of turnovers.
But in between there were plenty of moments of quality that would have pleased the few thousand who made the effort to attend.
There was nothing between the sides throughout. Mayo won the first half 0-8 to 0-2, Galway won the second half on the same scoreline. When against the gale, blowing directly towards the Bacon Factory end, Galway managed only three shots at goal, scoring two in the first half. After the switch of ends, Mayo managed four shots, converting 50 percent of them.
Mayo goalkeeper Jamie McNicholas took only two kick-outs in the first half while roving Galway ‘keeper Conor Flaherty had only three when Mayo were against the wind in the second period.
When Galway’s Matthew Tierney goaled in the last minute of first half extra-time, the consensus was that Mayo were now a beaten docket.
But they never threw in the towel.
Spurred on by the sensational Paul Towey, they fought back and earned a draw.
The Charlestown attacked produced an individual performance as good as MacHale Park has seen in some time.
He hit nine points (six from play), including a number of sensational efforts, none better than his point to send the game to a penalty shoot-out. Towey was all of 55 yards out (maybe more) and about ten yards in from the sideline on the MacHale Road side when he let loose his right boot. The ball hung in the air for an eternity before dissecting the posts.
His only mistake throughout the game occured a minute before that, when he got a crossfield pass directly in front of goal on the 13 metre line and signalled a mark, but in the madness, didn’t spot that the pass had been kicked to him from inside the ‘45.
At the time it looked significant, that Mayo might not get as good a chance to level the game again. However, history will prove that they did — before the penalty drama unfolded.

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