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A win for mind over matter

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

A win for mind over matter

EYEBALL to eyeball they faced the princes… and for once the princes blinked. When Richie Feeney swung over the final, winning point, the geometry wasn’t the only thing that had come right. Mayo had put their talent on the table, and Kerry were left with the crumbs.
A week before, Bryan Sheehan grabbed the equalising point of their tussle in Tralee. On Sunday a similar opportunity was offered the star midfielder from a ’45 and the ball drifted wide. The unerring foot was human after all.
More than that, the wayward shot epitomised the impact Mayo’s courage had on Kerry’s psyche. When the chips were down in those riveting moments of extra time, Mayo dug deep into their own hearts and fought back… and Kerry were found wanting.
Their sterling recovery has hoisted Mayo into a league final that seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago. A ruddy glow has now replaced those pallid performances against Down and Cork and Donegal.
No one could have predicted the outcome, especially when news broke that Aidan O’Shea, the fulcrum of Mayo’s draw in Tralee, would not be starting. Even the official GAA website had the League final fixed for April 29… between Kerry and Cork/Down.
That’s how Mayo’s chances stood in the eyes of the general public as they faced the wind and an over-confident Kerry who have so often trampled on their dreams.
James Horan won the first tactical move in choosing Ger Cafferkey to clamp down on the Kingdom’s pivotal corner forward Colm Cooper. Not for the first time has the Ballina man plugged a gap in the Mayo defence, and his handling of the Kerry ace was a big factor in confining the kingdom to seven points, two behind Mayo, at the interval.
The best chance of a goal in that half fell to Andy Moran, who took advantage of a fumble by Paul Galvin to slam the ball over the bar with the path to goal opening up for him.
Moran is never cowed by Kerry and in winning primary ball he set out his stall early. Conor Mortimer always had the measure of Killian Young, using all his experience to manufacture and grab six of Mayo’s nine first-half points. This was the Shrule man at the top of his game.
To everyone’s surprise Mayo were holding their own by half-time, availing of some uncharacteristically shoddy football by Kerry, and gradually building their own confidence.
Midfield without O’Shea had not functioned as well as other areas, although Jason Gibbons continues to improve. The lights were shining elsewhere, however, and Mayo were a bit unfortunate not to get some return from a brave piece of combination involving Gibbons, Mortimer, Michael Conroy and Andy Moran all working a clever pattern boldly through the Kerry defence.
The Munster men were not put off however, and we were contemplating an embrace with another moral victory after substitute James O’Donoghue just pipped David Clarke to the run for what had appeared a harmless ball rolling across the face of the goal… which he lashed it to the net.
The favourites had begun to exert pressure and just before that goal Clarke was forced into a big save from Darran O’Sullivan. The score put five points between them and with Kieran Donaghy and Galvin covering acres of ground Kerry looked set to roll on.
One Mayo man stood defiant, however. Colm Boyle at wing-back had shown remarkable tenacity from the beginning, and now in a moment of crisis his refusal to bow was a model of conviction to many of his colleagues.
His point in the 60th minute spurted Mayo back into an attacking mentality that had helped reduce the deficit to four points. And when the hard-working Alan Dillon intercepted a bungled pass by Donaghy, and was fouled in the box, Pat Harte, who had replaced Jason Doherty, made no mistake by blazing the ball into the corner of the net.
That ignited the exchanges and Boyle indelibly marked his performance in one catalytic moment with the heart that we have so often craved in Mayo performances.
His goal five minutes into the second half of extra-time killed Kerry’s challenge. No so much the score itself or the way it was worked up field by Danny Geraghty, the irrepressible Dillon, Donal Vaughan and Andy Moran, but the determination of the Davitts man in somehow working the ball into the net, almost engulfed as he was by an avalanche of Kerry defenders.
That’s the fundamental quality that victory demands. And although there were intermittent moments of the old Mayo when passes went astray and ball was turned over, their refusal to concede tends to suggest new steel in their character.
To have curbed the likes of Darran O’Sullivan, Colm Cooper, and the roving problems posed by Donaghy and Paul Galvin is a notable achievement. It may be no more than a dent in Kerry’s winning culture, but the win is a step up in Mayo’s mental approach to old, persistent difficulties.
The hard work of Keith Higgins, who took over at full-back for much of the game, Kevin Keane, Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan, together with Boyle created a resilient defence.
Pat Harte stabilised midfield somewhat, Kevin McLoughlin spared no effort in probing the Kerry defence and Michael Conroy, Danny Geraghty, Cillian O’Connor, Richie Feeney, and Enda Varley lent themselves enthusiastically to the win.
But Cork is another kettle of fish.

Liam Lyons archive brings back memories
ANYONE with an interest in Gaelic football in this county could do worse than make the trip to the County Library in Castlebar on Wednesday, April 25, where Liam Lyons is showing an assorted selection from his magnificent library of photographs taken circa 1965 to 1968.
This is a pictorial memoir of football played over forty years ago, a stunning archive of teams and action photographs, by a master craftsman, of footballers who paraded the pitches of Mayo.
Liam travelled the county to club games, and followed Mayo’s fortunes all over Ireland, working exclusively for the Connaught Telegraph, but only a minute fraction of his work appeared in the newspaper. Over three hundred of the thousands of pictures never published are among this miscellany of shots.
The selection in black and white is taken from all grades of games — senior, junior and intermediate played in ever corner of Mayo over those five years.
They were taken in all sorts of grounds and in all sorts of weather conditions, and the detail in faces of players in action is strikingly evocative.
It will stir memories of great days for some players from every division of the county, and poignantly of some of those no longer with us. A host of household names in action is featured including John Morley, Ray Prendergast and Mick Ruane, who have passed on, as well as top players from many clubs.
But the collection will also be of interest to present-day players who can measure in many of the photographs the conditions and the facilities available to footballers of these years alongside those they enjoy today.
A remarkable feature of the collection is that Liam Lyons managed to capture such fine detail with cameras far less sophisticated and more difficult to operate than modern equipment. Telephoto lenses were unheard of. Digital cameras and computers were for another age.
You could not refer to an LCD monitor to view the quality of your shot. After every assignment Liam Lyons returned to the dark room of his studio, to spend hours developing the photographs, drying them and selecting the most suitable for publication.
Every picture was treated with the same sensitive touch that reflected his award-winning work in general, of which sport was a small but essential part.
That’s the miracle of this collection. Despite the many drawbacks the photographer manages in a way to thrust the faces at you, and every nuance, twist, grin and all sorts of contortions are visible . . . even many faces among the attendances at some of the games.
Liam Lyons retired a good many years ago, but his archives will be compelling viewing for generations to come. This is one chance to get a peep of the ethereal work of a consummate artist.

Just a thought …
Have heard nothing about the tackle in football from Congress or the way this most controversial rule is being inconsistently interpreted by referees. The square ball will solve one problem. But the tackle is ruining football.

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