A STEP AHEAD Mayo’s Rory Brickenden gets the ball away ahead of Clare’s Darragh Bohannon during last Sunday’s National League Division 2 play-off at Cusack Park in Ennis. Pic: Conor McKeown
We tracked the progress of three Mayo players on Sunday
AFTER Darren McHale’s impressive display against Meath, it wasn’t a surprise to see him named in Mayo’s starting XV for last Sunday’s game. However, it was another Knockmore man, Kevin McLoughlin, who started in McHale’s place and who took up the centre-forward position against Clare.
McLoughlin ended up producing a typically action-packed display and James Horan’s ‘cloak and dagger’ tactics of naming dummy teams and chopping and changing paid off.
McLoughlin was probably a little unfortunate not to pick up the man of the match award, pipped on the line by the sensational Oisin Mullin.
The Knockmore veteran operated across the half-forward line and ticked all the boxes of what that role entails: winning breaks, linking ball to the inside line, getting scores and breaking the line.
The Rice College Westport teacher also intercepted the kick-out that led to Mayo’s first half penalty, dispatched by Cillian O’Connor, and he played a part in a Tommy Conroy point before assisting Bryan Walsh and Stephen Coen for scores.
He then almost set up Mattie Ruane for a goal before pointing a sensational effort off his right foot. McLoughlin finished the half with a yellow card, but his long direct runs down the heart of the Banner defence were causing havoc.
While a lot of Mayo’s ball winners went missing in the second half from the pressure of the Clare attack, McLoughlin had some big plays when his team needed them.
He plucked a spectacular mark from a Rob Hennelly kick-out in the 55th minute to put Mayo on the attack after a sustained period of Clare pressure.
Prior to that, he held the play up patiently waiting for the run of Rory Brickenden to slot over a fine score before assisting the aforementioned Darren McHale, who had come on, with close to ten minutes left.
McLoughlin ran himself into the ground so much that he pulled up with cramp in the final few minutes and, had Mayo not used all their substitutes, would have been taken off.
Westport’s Rory Brickenden was making his second start of this league campaign, again at wing-back, a position he is not overly familiar with.
Last year’s Mayo Under-20 defender found the game passing him by in the opening half and struggled to get on any ball, with his first real play of the game not coming until past the 20th minute when he intercepted a stray Clare pass. That possession gave him a boost of confidence and he won his first kick-out five minutes later and found himself in some decent attacking positions but never really threatened inside the Clare 45’.
He started the second half superbly and scored an excellent point before the water-break, collecting a pass off his former teacher, Mr McLoughlin, to fire over from an acute angle.
It was Brickenden’s first score in senior inter-county football and will do wonders for his confidence as he continues to find his feet.
Enda gets the start
ANOTHER youngster testing similar waters is corner-back Enda Hession.
The Garrymore teenager was making his second start for the Mayo seniors and looked even more impressive this time around.
His pace coming out from defence gives Mayo a huge platform to start attacks and he made numerous escapades up the middle of the field. His style really complements the likes of Paddy Durcan, Oisin Mullin and Lee Keegan, who possess similar athleticism.
Hession got stuck in early on and never took a step back until he was subbed in the 52nd minute in what was an insurance move more than anything, after he picked up a yellow card.
In the first half he won kick-outs, a good turnover on his marker, Gavin Cooney, and he was part of the rapid break up the field that finished with Oisin Mullin scoring a top quality goal.
He started the second half with a turnover, but came under increasing pressure as Clare launched attack after attack.
To his credit he handled it well, despite the lack of cover inside the Mayo 45’.
His only mistake was getting involved in a pushing and shoving match with Cooney after a Clare goal that saw him earn the yellow that would eventually see him taken off as he was treading a fine line with the referee.
But Hession can be happy with a really promising display, one that could see him earn his first championship start in the coming weeks.