DOWN ON THEIR LUCK Mayo’s Paul Gilmore is pictured after his side’s defeat in the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship Final at Dr Hyde Park last Friday evening. Pic: Sportsfile
PERHAPS there were signs of what we saw in Friday’s All-Ireland Minor Final defeat for Mayo in their semi-final win over Kerry.
The Connacht champions looked flat, lethargic and sloppy in too much of their play in Hyde Park against Galway.
There has been plenty of talk since about the psychological edge Galway had and their better tactical display. These are points of merit, but the overarching cause for the defeat, for me, was how weary Mayo looked.
In earlier rounds we saw them hopping along the ground like greyhounds; constant support for the man in possession; and excellent decision-making by the man in possession.
While Galway came with a tactical masterclass, no amount of whiteboard work could create a situation where Mayo — who had kept Galway to 11 points across their two earlier games — could easily have lost by twice the six-point margin that separated the teams on Friday.
Think back to the semi-final. In the opening half, Mayo looked very unsettled and not near as fluid as we had become accustomed to seeing.
That day it was an extremely harsh black card for Donagh O’Sullivan 24 minutes in which transformed that game. Kerry led by 0-6 to 1-1 and Mayo were struggling to create scoring chances. That all changes with the black card and the impetus Mayo took from the extra man was huge. They hit four unanswered points to lead by two at the break and never trailed again.
Their opening was similar on Friday night, but two chances to settle and put Galway on the back foot went a-begging. Inside a minute Niall Hurley’s pace got him in on goal but he drilled his shot at the chest of Kyle Gilmore when a low finish or squaring to one of two team-mates might have been better advised.
Ronan Clarke created a goal chance from nothing but when the rebound from his first shot sat up for him, he couldn’t direct it at goal.
Mayo needed something to spark them because they were flat. If either or both goal chances go in and it might be different but there are no guarantees either.
Galway’s set-up defensively was very good and Gilmore’s kick-outs were excellent. They reduced the space in front of Hurley and Clarke for first phase attacks and then, when they had more bodies back, made it very difficult for Mayo to break them down.
But Mayo’s ponderous play in possession on second phase attacks didn’t help, nor did the lack of strong running support play. James Maheady and Ronan Clarke both kicked a couple of great long range points but that Mayo were relying on such scores was telling. At the other end, Galway were able to create shooting chances in much higher percentage positions. Mayo, who had defended so superbly all summer, were a bit easier to prise apart on Friday.
Across the full hour, that told.
We cannot avoid the question of did the occasion and Mayo’s record in All-Ireland Finals at all grades have an impact.
It’s worth considering the track record. From 1989 on Mayo have played in 13 All-Ireland senior finals, losing 11 and drawing two. Since 1985, Mayo have played in nine Minor finals, winning one, drawing one and losing seven. Since 1983, Mayo have played in nine Under-21 finals, winning two, drawing one and losing six.
That’s three All-Ireland titles from 31 finals, a less than 10 percent strike rate.
It is a return we cannot ignore on a wider level.
But while there are overarching issues, there are individual reasons too for each defeat.
It’s not fair to lump a group of 17, 16 and 15 year olds into a county’s sorrowful mystery unless you are certain. The flat semi-final display leaves enough doubt. How far back can these teenagers’ minds go? We’re not convinced they are burdened by the past.
It’s easy to complain too about beating Galway twice and having to beat them a third time. But that’s the quirks of the round-robin provincial series. Straight knockout last year saw Mayo get one game. This system is much fairer overall. You can learn more in defeat than victory and Galway certainly did.
We will complain about the refereeing though. We do so making it clear, as we have, that the best team won.
But Niall Cullen’s officiating was very frustrating. Mayo’s James Maheady was lucky not to get at least a yellow card, if not more, in the opening stages but over the full hour Galway definitely got the benefit of some questionable decisions.
We recall him in charge of the Mayo v Dublin Under-21 semi-final in 2016 and after giving Mayo very little all day, he balanced the books in a frantic five minutes.
‘Bad for both sides’ is not good enough; it is worse when poor officiating benefits one team over the other.
Not the difference between the teams, but the standard has to be better.