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Mayo's chaotic journey takes a detour

Ros waste explosive start but fight back for replay


Mayo’s Andy Moran reacts after kicking a wide under pressure from Roscommon’s David Murray during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mayo’s Andy Moran reacts after kicking a wide under pressure from Roscommon’s David Murray during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mayo’s Andy Moran reacts after kicking a wide under pressure from Roscommon’s David Murray during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

As if you didn't know it already, Mayo are the most predictable team out there. You always know what's coming next ...

Namely carnage and chaos. Followed by redemption. Then tantalising victory, snatched from their grasp.

Roll on to the next day. Which just so happens to be next Monday, back in Croke Park for Battle of the Western Front - the Sequel.

When it was all over and after 30 exhausted players had trudged off the slippery turf, both managers were keen to accentuate the replay positives. "I know the boys will be buzzing to go," insisted Mayo's Stephen Rochford, whose battle-hardened (weary?) troops had already endured two periods of extra-time on their scenic route to the last-eight.

"They're a bit tired there now but that's the reality of putting in a really long slog for over 80 minutes."


Meanwhile, even as Roscommon's Kevin McStay mulled over the loss of an early seven-point lead, fuelled by sloppy concentration and too many turnovers, he remained defiantly upbeat.

"Mayo had an awful lot to lose whether they are playing Roscommon or Kerry or Dublin," he pointed out, "because they are at a certain stage in their evolution. We are at a certain stage in ours and there is big gap in terms of that.

"Do you think we don't have much to lose? We wanted to win here - no Roscommon team has won here in 37 years, we so wanted that badge today. We nearly got here but it wasn't to be."

A sober dissection of yesterday's edge-of-the-seat second quarter-final leads you to the conclusion that, whoever prevails in the replay, the winner won't be lifting Sam in September. Our Mayo bravehearts are clinging on by their fingernails; it's too early for the Rossies ... so goes the theory.

And it's hard to disagree. And yet how could you not be entranced by the mayhem of it all, watched on by an incredible crowd of 65,746?

If the replay proves half as entertaining as this, then bring it on. Mayo may be on their last legs (that consensus view bolstered by yesterday's often ragged evidence) but their continual rage against the dying of the light captivates like no other GAA melodrama.

And don't forget the Rossies. The surprise Connacht champions were expected, by most, to abide by the 'up-and-coming but not quite ready' underdog script on their return to Croker.

Clearly they weren't listening: they opened in a blizzard of inventive movement and found themselves seven clear (2-2 to 0-1) inside 11 minutes.

Fintan Cregg's ninth minute dink over a flailing David Clarke (did he really mean that audacious looping sidefoot?) had their team four up. A little over two minutes later, the Mayo defence was ripped asunder again, with Diarmuid Murtagh's pop pass to his his brother Ciarán putting the Ros skipper one-on-one with the All Star 'keeper.

His low finish squeezed under Clarke and the Rossies we seven up and in dreamland.

So much so that they were dreaming from Mayo's quickfire restart, won by Jason Doherty, who released Keegan in oceans of space running through the middle. His 18-yard piledriver took a huge, fortuitous deflection off Niall McInerney and the Hill net rippled. Game on.

"The big disappointment was Lee Keegan's goal," said a rueful McStay. "I just had screamed at Liam (McHale) to tighten everything down and he hadn't left the technical area by the time the ball had hit the back of the net. That's when you're vulnerable, and maybe our lads got a bit lamped with the second goal."

It was the first salvo in an unanswered 1-6 from Mayo, with Keegan front and centre in the comeback.

No one (certainly not McStay) had expected the 2016 Footballer of the Year to man-mark the in-form Enda Smith as it would entail a switch to foreign midfield territory.

As it was, despite a brilliant early score from Smith, it proved a Rochford masterstroke. By half-time the wandering, would-be wing-back had plundered 1-3 from play.

Meanwhile, Roscommon's 23-minute scoring famine was finally ended by a Ciarán Murtagh free but they still went in trailing by two (1-8 to 2-3). "At half-time we felt quite deflated, we only played for ten or 12 minutes," McStay admitted.

"If we didn't respond at the start of the second half Mayo were just going to stretch it, pad it out to six or seven, and then it would have been a bore for the last 20 minutes."

It was anything but Conor Devaney and Diarmuid Murtagh (from a free) ignited the fightback and within a minute they were level. And then ahead after 46 minutes.

Mayo, as Mayo invariably do, kept chasing. Three times they trailed by a point in a frenetic, error-strewn yet captivating second half. Three times they drew level.

When Paddy Durcan bisected the Davin End posts for a lead point on 68 minutes, another fraught escape to victory - and a semi-final date with Kerry - loomed large.

But they wouldn't score again, even through seven additional minutes, whereas Donie Smith nailed a clutch free to tie the contest in stoppage time.

There was still time for Cillian O'Connor to hit his fifth wide and then drop a 55-yard free marginally short. It was that kind of a misfiring day for the Mayo skipper - and his team, reflected in 10 second half wides, 13 in all.

But they live to fight again. As do the Rossies.