Thursday 22 February 2018

'It's absolute nonsense' - Mayo boss Stephen Rochford blasts Bernard Flynn for Aidan O'Shea criticism

Mayo 2-14 Sligo 0-11

Aidan O'Shea of Mayo during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Sligo
Aidan O'Shea of Mayo during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Sligo
Diarmuid O’Connor was caught by the studs of Keelan Cawley’s boots at MacHale Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When you've lost to the same opponents by 26 points in your previous championship encounter everything is relative so a nine-point defeat this time doesn't seem so bad.

And maybe, sub-consciously, that was on Sligo minds as they squeezed to within three points in this Connacht quarter-final before 14,661 in MacHale Park when substitute Niall Murphy clipped over a point off his left.

Winning wasn't a reality they truly came face-to-face with at any stage and probably didn't countenance either.

Their manager Niall Carew suggested they played within themselves but the ambition to go for the game was never really there. Mindful that they always had an eye on being cut apart at the other end, protection was a priority.

Mayo did enough, no more, to advance to a Connacht semi-final in three weeks time against Galway where revenge will be firmly on their minds.

There are no great gains for a team of their status with bigger things in their sights. But if you're looking for something new from Mayo it wasn't immediately obvious.

Mayo's Seamus O'Shea leaves the pitch after picking up an injury. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mayo's Seamus O'Shea leaves the pitch after picking up an injury. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Fergal Boland came in for his championship debut and offered energy as the game progressed in the half-back line, scoring two points and tracking back to make one vital interception in the second half.

The timing of each of their goals was perfect but the legitimacy of them wasn't. After winning an 'advantage' Diarmuid O'Connor had the liberty of too many steps before his drop kick beat Adrian Devaney just before half-time for a 1-6 to 0-5 lead.

Late on Mayo got possession from a Sligo kick-out and broke quickly with substitute Conor Loftus setting up Cillian O'Connor to bat home from close range for a 2-12 to 0-10 lead. But Loftus' lift off the ground was questionable too.

That said they always had Sligo at arm's length, denying them any obvious goal opportunity with a solid defensive performance that was high on physical contact.

Ger Cafferkey was back for his first competitive game in 14 months and did well on Pat Hughes, who had troubled him two years ago while Paddy Durcan hurt Sligo almost every time he attacked, giving the type of penetration that has been the preserve of Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan in the past.

But it was only when they chose to run directly at Sligo in this manner that Mayo really got any profit. The direct route to Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran inside worked only fleetingly in the first half.

It looked like they might win this much more comfortably than they did when they started the second half with much more urgency.

After Sligo goalkeeper Adrian Devaney struck a free, Durcan blazed wide at the other end with Cillian O'Connor in a better position before Boland and Moran put them five points clear.


But the performance staggered after that with Sligo twice cutting the deficit back to three points before Mayo's late surge to incorporate that Cillian O'Connor goal. Mayo slowed the game down when they had to and Conor O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor both picked up yellow cards for halting Sligo defenders trying to build momentum from the back.

The Mayo management's decision to omit Aidan O'Shea, given the havoc he wreaked on Sligo in the Connacht final was a surprise, though he did feature from the 43rd minute, first as an eight-minute blood substitute for Diarmuid O'Connor and then as Moran's replacement.

But manager Stephen Rochford defended it, suggesting his limited game time in the league and a recent, albeit slight, groin injury had also hampered his training.

"When we select the team, we pick it on form and we select the team that we feel is best-equipped to win the game on a given day. Unfortunately, Aidan missed a large portion of the league, and I think there were about three weeks that were slightly hampered in his training.

Yet Seamus O'Shea, who missed the entire league campaign, was, with Durcan, Mayo's best performer.

Rochford also defended O'Shea in relation to the observation made by former Meath footballer Bernard Flynn that obliging fans with photographs and autographs after an April challenge match with Meath in Mullingar, when his team were engaging in a post-match huddle and warm-down, represented a lack of focus.

"It is unfortunate that one of our players got singled out in that fashion. In relation to the actual incident itself, I think it is going to go down as the most talked-about cool-down in the history of the GAA, because that is literally what it was, it was a cool-down, we weren't even having a huddle," noted Rochford.

"It is absolute nonsense as far as we are concerned, and we are just moving on, no chat about it at all."

For Carew Mayo were "professional" in what they did but his team's ability to go toe-to-toe with them physically for long spells pleased him.

"I thought defensively they were good and we needed someone with more guile like Niall Murphy or David Kelly fully fit to ask them more questions," observed the Kildare man.

"They are real contenders again. They have pace all over the pitch and I was just glad we matched them more physically this time than we did two years ago. They threw us around like rag dolls then and at least we are up to the physical end of it.

"We need to get up to the smarts end of it now and the more times we play top teams the more we learn and get experience."

Carew still believes a team like Sligo are capable of making the last eight but feels the opportunity to play quality sides on a more regular basis holds them back.

"That's why I was giving out about the top eight. I think it should have been flipped on its head because it would be nice to be playing someone like Donegal or Tyrone next week so we would be up to the pitch of where these teams are at."

They had the wind at their backs in the first half but Mayo never allowed them to settle after Stephen Coen had popped over two points.

Brendan Egan set Sligo's more aggressive tone and turned over possession in one shuddering collision with Jason Doherty in the second half but Mayo were never in real danger.

Scorers - Mayo: C O'Connor 1-6 (0-5fs), D O'Connor 1-0, A Moran, F Boland 0-2 each, D Kirby, J Doherty, K McLoughlin, P Durcan 0-1 each Sligo: A Marren 0-4 (2fs, 1 45), M Breheny (2fs), S Coen 0-2 each, P O'Connor, N Murphy, A Devaney (f) 0-1 each.

Mayo - D Clarke 7; C Barrett 7, G Cafferkey 6, K Higgins 7: L Keegan 6, C Boyle 7, P Durcan 8; S O'Shea 8, T Parsons 7; F Boland 7, D O'Connor 6, C O'Shea 6; K McLoughlin 5, C O'Connor 7, A Moran 7. Subs: J Doherty 6 for McLoughlin inj (26), A O'Shea for D O'Connor blood (43-52), A O'Shea 6 for Moran (54), S Coen 6 for Boyle (58), D Vaughan for C O'Shea (62), C Loftus for Boland 66), D Kirby for S O'Shea inj (68).

Sligo- A Devaney 7; R Donovan 7, C Harrison 6, E McHugh 6; Keelan Cawley 7, B Egan 8, N Ewing 7; P O'Connor 7, A McIntyre 6, M Breheny 6, J Kelly 6, Kyle Cawley 5; S Coen 6, P Hughes 5, A Marren 7. Subs: D Kelly 6 for Kyle Cawley (30), K McDonnell 7 for Coen, N Murphy 7 for Hughes (49), G O'Kelly-Lynch 6 for McHugh (55), S Gilmartin for Kelly (59), N Gaughran for Keelan Cawley (55)

Ref -Sean Hurson (Tyrone).

Irish Independent

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