Saturday 17 August 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'One moment in Castlebar cracker summed up the rollercoaster ride of being a Mayo footballer'

Cillian O'Connor of Mayo is congratulated by fans after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3 match between Mayo and Armagh at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cillian O'Connor of Mayo is congratulated by fans after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3 match between Mayo and Armagh at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Mousetrap, Phantom of the Opera and Mayo, the longest running sagas of modern history.

Who will be the first to give up the ghost? Armagh gave an exhibition of how to attack into the wind in the first half, working the ball up the wings and playing some lovely foot passes into the inside line.

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Rory Grugan was very good at picking out the runners. It lead to an early goal for Rian O’Neill but Keith Higgins batted away a ball he should have caught and cleared. O’Neill was causing plenty of problems and the pace and movement of the Armagh forwards was too much for some of the Mayo backs.

Two interceptions by Colm Boyle and Chris Barrett lifted Mayo spirits. They were nothing more than old fashioned back-play tackles, getting the hand in and knocking the ball away. It can lift a team as much as a score, there are not many young players willing to do this form of dirty work anymore

This was a very entertaining opening half. Armagh flooded back into defence and were disciplined in their tackling. Brendan Donaghy sat back and covered, but it was the speed out of defence that was catching out Mayo.

It took Mayo quite a while to work out Armagh’s kick-outs. Blaine Hughes was accurate early and it took Aidan O’Shea a good while to get into the game.

The Mayo response to Armagh’s goal was quick and decisive. Andy Moran found Fionn McDonagh and he picked the ball up off his bootlaces and stuck it in the net. It summed up the rollercoaster ride of what it is to be a Mayo footballer. From rags to riches. The only question in every game is which order they will come.

Mayo have suffered all sorts of bad luck with injuries. They must have broken mirrors, run over black cats or walked under countless ladders, as Lee Keegan limped off in the first half. This came soon after Andy Moran was taken off. With Mayo always needing plenty of scores from their half-back line, this looked like a mortal blow. Keegan kicked three against Down in their last match, all when they were badly needed. Now he joined a host of colleagues in the sick bay.

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Mayo took a firm grip on this game in the second half with a Kevin McLoughlin goal and some brilliant points from Darren Coen. But you always know that Mayo are never far from disaster. First, Jamie Clarke got away with a gentle push on Brendan Harrison and looked a certainty to find the net, but David Clarke shoved it on to the post and Colm Boyle was there to clear up.

It probably means that Clarke will be dropped now as there seems a certain lack of logic when it comes to picking the Mayo goalkeeper.

Boyle and Higgins drove Mayo forward with great runs from the back, but too many of their younger players either waited for the ball to come to them or carried in to tackles and lost possession. Armagh, through Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell, rained over points and just as well for Mayo that O’Neill kicked a lot of poor wides.

Then, with all the momentum for Armagh and just a point behind, Mark Shiels committed a silly free in front of goal and Cillian O’Connor on his comeback settled Mayo. Again, though, Mayo nearly gave it away with loose passing out of defence and Armagh closed to within a point.

The decision on what to do with a free in the middle of the field will haunt Armagh. It ended up with the wrong player taking the shot. A bad wide followed by the long whistle brought an outpouring of relief. The Mayo supporters blew that last shot wide and they must be worth a few points.

They willed their side on and will be visiting the Credit Union for another odyssey next week. A very entertaining game, but then again when Mayo are involved, nothing is ever dull.

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