KICKING ON Mayo’s Shauna Howley, who scored six points against Cork, is pictured at the launch of the 2023 Lidl Ladies National Football Leagues last week. Pic: Sportsfile
AFTER losing All-Ireland semi-finals in each of the last two seasons, Michael Moyles has made no secret of the fact that the Mayo team he is building need to do things differently this year if they’re make the leap from ‘nearly women’ to All-Ireland winners.
So it was interesting to hear the Mayo manager talk about that ‘different approach’ mindset in the wake of last Sunday’s narrow defeat to Cork on the opening weekend of the National League.
This was a typical early season game that took on a life of its own, but Mayo left themselves with just too much to do after a lacklustre first half performance and Cork took full advantage.
The former undisputed queens of ladies football are embarking on a rebuilding project themselves this season, and lined out with just six of the team that started last July’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo.
But Shane Ronayne’s new-look team hit the ground running, built up an eight-points lead early in the second half, and despite being reeled in down the home straight, were streetwise enough to close the game out with a Katie Quirke goal in added-time.
There were still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Mayo’s season though on the basis of their second half performance; they looked good when they moved the ball quickly, they created and converted some excellent scores through the likes of Shauna Howley and Lisa Cafferky, while league debutant Maria Cannon from Burrishoole didn’t look out of place.
They also created three goal chances for Rachel Kearns, Hannah Reape and Tara Needham that were all well saved by Meabh O’Sullivan in the Cork goal.
But the less said about Mayo’s first half display the better; they scored two points, conceded 1-6, and looked very one-dimensional.
Cork came flying out of the blocks and early points from Abigail Ring (2), Aoife Healy (2) and Libby Coppinger put them in the driving seat after 18 minutes.
Mayo finally opened their account on two minutes later through Tara Needham, but they were finding it extremely difficult to break down Cork’s well-organised defence.
At the other end, a goal from Melissa Duggan and a point from Daire Kiely left Mayo trailing with their second score of the half coming from Rachel Kearns in the 28th minute.
“We kind of got stuck in the mud in at the start, very similar to the Galway game in the championship last year,” said Michael Moyles afterwards.
“We weren’t doing enough hard yards coming out, our kick-out options let us down sometimes, there was a lot of things in the first half you wouldn’t be happy with.
“Our shot selection, we only had two scores, our transition was poor, and our attacking play was too one-dimensional. But we spoke about it at half-time and the girls addressed it, and the second half was much better.”
There was a lot to like about Mayo’s second half display as impact sub’ Lisa Cafferky, All Star forward Shauna Howley and experienced heads like Fiona McHale and Clodagh McManamon led the revival.
Six points (including three frees) from Howley and two from the aforementioned Cafferky had Mayo supporters dreaming of a famous comeback in the dying minutes, but Cork showed plenty of ‘smarts’ to hold possession and create the game-sealing goal.
“The league is about finding out a way to play to win your All-Ireland,” mused Michael Moyles afterwards. “Unfortunately, this league is so tight that you’re trying to pick up points at the same time.
“We have to take a slightly different approach because we’ve reached two semi-finals, so we have to do something different or we’ll get the same results,” he added.
“I think a lot of teams are doing it similarly and we just have to be better at it.
“It’s not natural to us, but the girls are getting there and they’re very open to learning.”
The learning process will continue next Saturday against Kerry, the team that beat Mayo in last summer’s All-Ireland semi-final.
L Brennan; É Ronayne, R Flynn, D Caldwell; C Needham, F McHale, K Sullivan; C McManamon, H Reape; E Reape, S Cafferky, S Howley (0-6, 3fs); M Cannon (0-2, 2fs), T Needham (0-1), R Kearns (0-1).
Subs ued: L Cafferky (0-2) for E Reape (HT), S Tierney for H Reape (50), L Wallace for C Needham (50); M Reilly for T Needham (58).
M O’Sullivan; S Kelly, E Meaney, D Kiniry; A Healy (0-2), H Looney (0-1), M Duggan (1-0); S Leahy, E O’Shea; E Cleary, R Leahy (0-1), D Kiely (0-2); L Coppinger (0-1), E Kiely, A Ring (0-2, 1f).
Subs used: L O’Mahony (0-1) for S Leahy (HT), A O’Mahony for D Kiely (37), K Quirke (1-1) for E Kiely (45) A Ryan for M Duggan, S McGoldrick for Cleary (55), E Jack for O’Shea (55), B O’Sullivan for Ring (55), O Cahalane for Coppinger (56).
Referee: S Curley (Galway)