Sunday 16 June 2019

Dick Clerkin: 'Mayo still can't be written off despite return of old failings'

 

McLoughlin: Missed late free for Mayo. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
McLoughlin: Missed late free for Mayo. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Roscommon boss Anthony Cunningham issued the query 'was it a point?' as I watched the replay of Darren Coen's fifth point from play from my screen on the sideline.

'Definitely a point,' I immediately lied in response. No point in letting Anthony get frustrated about something that he had no control over, I figured. History was still there for him and his team to make.

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On sideline duty for Sky Sports in Castlebar on Saturday I had the best seat in the house for what was a great Championship occasion.

Much of the pre-match talk centred around a rejuvenated Mayo, and whether they could build on their early season form to position themselves as leading contenders.

Challenged

With Dublin, Tyrone and Donegal all performing to script, Mayo were the only 'top six' team in action over the weekend to have their All-Ireland credentials truthfully challenged.

James Horan cut a desolate yet dignified figure in the post-match interview room. An All-Ireland was the furthest thing from his mind at this point,.

His mood, and that of the Mayo players, will take a few days to lift after this sickening home defeat to their bitter rivals, in which they kicked 15 wides and dropped another handful into the superb Darren O'Malley's hands.

It would be easy to focus on a narrative that Mayo's old failings returned to haunt them: goalkeeping errors, clutch free-taking etc.

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However, that would do an injustice to the herculean effort put in by Roscommon, especially in the final quarter when they were on the ropes and looked physically spent.

Built on a foundation of relentless intensity, personified in the Daly brothers Conor, Niall and Ronan, Roscommon's play on Saturday evening was top drawer at times.

Their willingness to move the ball accurately forward with the foot at every opportunity was an obvious contrast to Mayo's over reliance on hand-passing and support-running.

Conor Cox presented himself as a willing outlet at full-forward. Early and accurate foot-passes provided him with opportunities to showcase his Kerry-honed kicking talents, which he accepted with aplomb.

The quality and efficiency in their forward play was all the more impressive when you consider they had to live off the lamb's share of possession from the midfield exchanges throughout.

In last year's 'Super 8s' Roscommon were completely overawed by the pace and physicality of their opponents.

Based on this showing, it was clear that Cunningham has spent the winter adding some steel into the Roscommon team's resolve.

If Roscommon were that impressive, and still only won by a last-ditch point, some positives have to be taken from the Mayo camp.

In truth, when Horan watches the game back, he will find plenty of encouragement for his qualifier preparations. Strong showings by new faces Boland, Ruane and the impressive Coen collectively contributed nine points from play. There were also powerhouse displays by Lee Keegan and Aidan O'Shea.

The elephant in the room is what will Horan do regarding his preferred netminder going forward?

Has Rob Hennelly lost all the trust he worked so hard to rebuild during the spring? Quite possibly.

His decision-making in big-game, pressurised scenarios has again been found wanting, and cost Mayo dearly.

Horan obviously prefers Hennelly over two-time All-Star David Clarke due to his superior range of dead-ball kicking from both restarts and in front of goal.

His place-kicking range is only as asset over Clarke if he can consistently deliver a higher than 50 per cent strike rate. Thumping rather than striking the ball with accuracy, his three wides on Saturday would give little confidence that he can provide this level of return.

Missed

Regardless, Cillian O'Connor will take on much of that responsibility when he makes his return from injury. His free-taking proficiency was sorely missed on Saturday and his contribution from frees alone could have changed the result.

Ifs, buts and maybes meant damn all, however, to the rapturous Rossies that engulfed me on the pitch during the post-match analysis, and their first win in Castlebar over Mayo in 33 years won't be forgotten for a long time - by them or me.

After turning over their neighbours they can now look forward to a Connacht final and beyond with a new steely confidence, but don't be surprised if both teams end up meeting each other again in the Super 8s.

How Horan et al would relish that at the end of a qualifier journey I fancy them to successfully navigate.

Write Mayo off? Don't make me laugh!

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