Wednesday 18 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Never ever leave a Mayo game before the long whistle blows'


Injured Mayo captain Diarmuid O’Connor takes his seat in the stand ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier in Castlebar. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Injured Mayo captain Diarmuid O’Connor takes his seat in the stand ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier in Castlebar. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

It wouldn't be Mayo if there wasn't a drama. With Mayo, ebb and flow ride the same wave. Just before the final last-ditch, last-kick action, an excitement of small boys invaded Elverys MacHale Park. The Mayo kids thought it was all over; so did their team. Mayo lost concentration and Armagh turned them over more often than pancakes in a creperie.

The Mayo lifeboats were manned. Their garden pond became an Erris maelstrom. Men who left early turned up the radio. Never leave a Mayo game before the long blow.

Armagh were given a very far out free. The egg timer was gone beyond soft-boiled. Armagh cleverly passed the ball up a few metres and the kick was now viable. All of Mayo had backed off and with the wind behind him Niall Grimley's long-range effort went wide. No fault to Niall. His chance was not easy.

Mayo deserve great credit. They were without Diarmuid O'Connor, several midfielders, Cillian O'Connor and Matthew Ruane. The injuries would sink most teams. Then their most influential player, Lee Keegan, went down with a leg injury and had to be helped off the field.


We talk about Dublin's strength in depth, but thus far they have no long-term injuries other than James McCarthy, who hopefully will be back for some of the 'Super 8s'. Mayo have a massive panel.

Mayo have found some newish star players. Fionn McDonagh is back after injury, he is a real find and was on hand to score a goal. Darren Coen seldom misses and Kevin McLoughlin's wonderfully-executed goal came at the end of a mazy run when he slipped his marker in traffic.

Mayo missed not only the fish, but also the barrel against Roscommon. Their second-half shooting against Armagh might just be the boost they need. Mayo had only one wide.

Armagh will say referee Maurice Deegan didn't wrong Mayo.

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The Laois man black carded Mayo's Lee Keegan in the 2016 All-Ireland final replay against Dublin.

Later that year Deegan was man enough to admit he was wrong not to show an obvious black card to a Dublin player early on in the same game.

Many felt he should not have black carded Keegan, who was accused of roughing up Diarmuid Connolly in the drawn game. Keegan was criticised by a number of former Dublin players in the build-up to the replay.

Referees are human, mostly, and maybe Deegan's subconscious sought to make amends to Keegan and Mayo.

I am not saying that Deegan made a deliberate decision to balance the books - anything but; he is one of our best refs.

However, the subconscious can sometimes rule us unbeknownst, and cunningly slips the guards manning the gateway to the subjective. Deegan gave Mayo more than fair play. Armagh were not happy.

Armagh, like Cork last week, found their Armaghness. They were always good kickers and they played the long ball in with deadly effect.

The Orchard County never gave up when Mayo went four up. It was when all seemed lost that Armagh were at their very best.

I hope Armagh do not ditch Kieran McGeeney. He says he needs time to think. You are nearly there Kieran. Armagh are a force again.

You could see his players wanted to play for him. That late second-half fightback was reminiscent of the spirit of 2002 when Armagh, led by McGeeney, came from behind to beat a very good Kerry team.

Jarlath Óg Burns came in to this Championship as Jarlath Burns' son. If he keeps on improving, Jarlath Senior will become known as Jarlath Óg's father.

Mayo manager James Horan knows a thing or two and Mayo kept kick-outs short until panic set in near the end. Jarlath Óg was bypassed.

Rian O'Neill is a nephew of Oisín McConville's and soon enough Oisín will become Rian's uncle. Rian scored a goal and several points.

If you were to take a walk down the Main Street in Neasden in North London and ask who is the greatest local sportsman, I doubt if any of the vox-popped would pick Jamie Clarke.

Most of Neasden have never even heard of Jamie Clarke.

I use the expression Main Street deliberately. In England the term High Street is used to denote the busiest thoroughfare. But what if there's another street with a higher altitude?

In Cork, Patrick Street could be called the High Street but Patrick's Hill is higher up.

I hope we stick to Main Street in this country. But, anyway, as I was saying, Jamie is the finest sportsperson in all of the former Irish stronghold of Neasden.

Jamie has transferred to Neasden Gaels. The game in Britain will benefit massively. Last year Jamie played for New York. Jamie followed Paul Galvin into the world of fashion and there are more opportunities in London than in his native Crossmaglen.

But will Jamie be available for Armagh next season?


Jamie kicked five second-half points and but for a fingertip save from his namesake David he would have won the game for Armagh.

Mayo tried several seasoned markers on Jamie but to no avail. He beat them all.

Before long more The Boys from the County Armagh will be sung from on high.

Armagh are the next big thing.

Now we await the draw, which will be made on the Sean O'Rourke show this morning.

Mayo will be away from home against a beaten provincial finalist. That much we can take as read.

The only other certainties are that Mayo will have a huge following and there will be no certainties.

We so hope Mayo make the Super 8s. They were missed last year.

Mayo are as much a part of the traditional Irish summer as 99s, red noses, it's only a shower, and socks inside the sandals.

Irish Independent

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