Eugene McGee: Dismal efforts in Connacht final make you wonder what teams do in training
IT is hard to describe just how awful the scoring attempts were in the first half by both teams in the Connacht final yesterday. For, let us remember, these teams have been doing intensive training and preparation for at least seven months.
So, what exactly do they spend their time at during all those training sessions, with all the discipline and dedication that we are told is standard procedure today?
They must not be practising their kicking or else Sligo would not have been directing big, high kicks into their small full-forwards -- especially David Kelly -- most of which came to nothing.
And despite all that preparation, Mayo did not look like a side confident in their own ability to score points from relatively easy chances -- be they kicks from 30 metres, which they rarely even attempted, or worse still, their ability to fist the ball unchallenged within 10 metres of the Sligo goal.
Astonishing is the only description of this sort of ineptitude in near-perfect weather and ground conditions for top-class football.
And it was hardly as if both teams did not know each other's style of play; Mayo, in particular, must have known exactly how the Sligo defence would approach this match.
Kevin Walsh has developed an extremely well-disciplined defensive system, based on ferocious application to tight marking, aided by extra defenders, yet Mayo forwards seemed to walk right into this situation like flies drawn into a spider's web.
More direct play, with long balls spreading out those Sligo backs to the wings, would have opened doors for people like Andy Moran to create damage, but that never happened in the first half.
Cillian O'Connor's failure to convert easy frees in the first half was another example of the Mayo malaise.
But, of course, games are not won in the first half and it was not surprising that Mayo, accustomed to playing at a higher level every year, would produce something extra after the break.
They managed to score nine points in the second half to Sligo's five, and they deserved to be Connacht champions again.
The game was decided by a substitution when Mayo eventually saw the light and introduced young prodigy Aidan O'Shea in the 38th minute.
A player of class in what seemed previously to have been a sea of mediocrity, it was not that the Breaffy man started to dominate the midfield area, but rather that he brought a sense of organisation and football brains to it.
He did, of course, catch some high balls and gradually ensured that Mayo had more possession from there on.
His presence on the field settled what had previously been a very nervous collection of Mayo forwards, who had only managed to score one point from play in the opening period; after O'Shea arrived, they played a bit better. However, it should be pointed out that the winning margin of two points was ensured only by the critical point by O'Shea which levelled the game at 0-9 each, from which Mayo never fell behind again.
So the Mayo forwards do not have much to crow about.
Big games are essentially about winning the contest, not about the manner of the victory, and in that regard James Horan and his players can feel very satisfied because they did achieve their ambition.
They can go forward to new challenges with a fair amount of confidence because of the fact that they will not be playing a team like Sligo again, with that particular clinging style of defence -- unless, of course, they come up against Donegal.
Sligo will feel disappointed at losing such a tight contest, but the bottom line is they actually kicked the game away in the first half when their forwards had several bad wides and lacked the initiative to even attempt goal chances.
Their inability to get more good ball to Kelly and Adrian Marren also proved costly as a couple more scores in the first half would have put enormous pressure on Mayo -- and that could have made the difference.
Many neutrals watching this game will not be very impressed with what they saw from Mayo but it is too soon to make such a conclusion about their All-Ireland prospects.
Provincial finals are a law unto themselves and Mayo versus Sligo championship games seem to have taken on a life of their own.
The way Mayo performed yesterday will not get them anywhere near Croke Park in September but the All-Ireland race only starts now in earnest and, depending on the reaction in the Mayo camp, this game can disappear into memory very quickly as thoughts turn to more attractive options in the quarter-finals.
Wonderful professionalism from our amateur players
Because Gaelic football is such an intrinsic part of Irish life, aspects of its culture can often be taken for granted. The accessibility of county footballers to the general public is one of the distinctive hallmarks of the game -- and we had a good example of that yesterday.
Half an hour after yesterday's game had ended, there were a couple of hundred Mayo supporters still on the field meeting the players.
In particular, the players spent a long time giving autographs to young boys and girls for ages without a note of impatience.
I wonder how many other sports people of similar stature would be be so friendly and considerate in a situation like that.
It is something the GAA should be proud of -- the availability of its biggest stars to the followers.