POINT BREAK Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea, Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy walk the pitch before last year’s All-Ireland Final against Tyrone. Pic: Sportsfile
Injuries have robbed Mayo of their top marksmen
IT’S hard to believe that a year has passed since Cillian O’Connor, Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy last played together for Mayo.
The team’s most talented and highest-scoring forwards all lined out on a balmy June Sunday in Ennis against Clare and the trio were combining well and continuing to build a better understanding between them.
On the sideline, James Horan and Ciaran McDonald must have felt the team’s attacking plan was taking shape nicely.
That was until O’Connor suffered an Achilles tendon injury that day just before half-time, and the course of Mayo’s season changed.
Little did we know at the time, but that innocuous-looking incident would sideline the championship’s all-time leading scorer for 10 months and 12 matches, including an All-Ireland Final defeat to Tyrone.
In O’Connor’s absence, O’Donoghue stepped up to lead the attack, kick the frees, and his consistent excellence won him an All Star.
Cillian made his long-awaited return to action in the closing stages of Mayo’s landslide defeat to Kerry in the National League Final 11 weeks ago, and is slowly and surely trying to rediscover his best form and get up to match sharpness.
He has scored three points from play in the championship so far.
The next major misfortune to befall James Horan’s squad came on February 1 this year when news came through that Tommy Conroy had suffered a cruciate ligament injury while on Sigerson Cup duty with NUI Galway on a bad winter’s night in Dangan.
The fastest forward in Horan’s team, who had been nominated for an All Star last season, underwent surgery on March 1 last and is currently on the rehab road to recovery.
By all accounts Conroy is making great strides, but he will be conspicuous by his absence again next Sunday and Mayo will miss his energy, pace and scoring threat.
The Neale sharpshooter racked up 1-12 from play in five championship games last season.
So with O’Connor and Conroy both sidelined earlier this spring, James Horan again turned to Ryan O’Donoghue for inspiration and perspiration. Not to mention scores.
The new and improved ‘Bullet from Belmullet’ didn’t disappoint either, shooting 2-37 over the course of eight league matches; 0-29 of that total coming from frees with three marks thrown in for good measure.
He picked up where he’d left off against Galway in the first round of the Connacht championship, nailing three points from play and a mark.
Interestingly, despite his excellent free-taking figures from the National League, O’Donoghue was relieved of free-taking duties that day in Castlebar with Cillian O’Connor taking on that job on his first start for some 10 months.
In any event, Mayo were pipped by Galway and all eyes turned to the Qualifiers.
But it wasn’t long until rumours began to circulate that O’Donoghue was struggling with a groin injury and he hasn’t featured with Mayo since.
There has been no official confirmation of the nature of his injury, or indeed any update on his fitness or otherwise for weeks now, so we are left to speculate on whether or not he will feature against Kerry after missing the wins over Monaghan and Kildare.
In his absence, Mayo’s starting forward-lines have scored the sum total of seven points from play in those last two matches.
They came from Cillian O’Connor (0-3), Jack Carney (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1) and Conor Loftus (0-1). Impact forward subs like Darren McHale (0-2) and Fergal Boland (0-2) have also chipped in with scores from play.
But everything else has come from defenders, Lee Keegan (0-3), Eoghan McLaughlin (0-3), Oisin Mullin (1-0), Paddy Durcan (0-1); along with midfielders, Jordan Flynn (1-0) and Mattie Ruane (0-1).
Attackers like Bryan Walsh, Aidan Orme, James Carr, Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty have all been held scoreless during their recent appearances against Monaghan and Kildare.
Overall, both ideas and scores have been in short supply from Mayo’s forwards.
In fact, if you were to leave aside Jordan Flynn’s last-gasp fortuitous goal the last day at Croke Park, Mayo have averaged exactly 1-13 (or 0-16) in each of their last three games.
The last time they hit more than 16 scores in a 70-minute championship match was in last summer’s Connacht semi-final cakewalk against Leitrim.
Mayo put 5-20 on the scoreboard that day. The 2-14 they racked up a few weeks later against Galway at Croke Park is the biggest championship tally they have managed since.
And yet, they are still standing in Championship 2022.
Their resilience, drive, determination and sheer willpower kept them in the hunt when all seemed all lost against Kildare and backs like Oisin Mullin, Lee Keegan and Eoghan McLaughlin came forward to kick the all-important scores.
How different things might be were Messrs Conroy, O’Connor and O’Donoghue all fully fit and at the peak of their powers?
Time will tell if Mayo can manage to survive for much longer without all of them on duty.