Tuesday 25 June 2019

Joe Brolly: 'Horan's men lack the killer instinct required to win the All-Ireland'

Mayo’s James Horan. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo’s James Horan. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

James Horan went for his old friend Rob Hennelly in goals, which laid the foundations for Roscommon's victory.

The game started predictably, with Mayo going 0-2 to 0-0 ahead by the fourth minute. Ten more minutes of this, with the Roscommon kick-outs being knocked over (they won only 42 per cent of their own kick-outs in the first half, a statistic that is usually catastrophic) and Roscommon would have lost all confidence.

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Then, Cathal Cregg's goal, which came out of nothing. I have been pointing out for several years that Keith Higgins cannot man mark. He gets on the wrong side, ball watches, takes the dummy, and doesn't show the forward where he wants him to go, instead he stands straight in front of him, allowing him to choose either side.

Higgins was caught ball-watching (again), Cregg won the ball a few metres ahead of him, then instead of shepherding him down the left wing, Higgins simply stepped off him. Cregg accepted the invitation, breezed past him and blasted past Hennelly. Roscommon's morale surged, and suddenly there was a new mood in McHale Park: ANXIETY.

No big deal you might think. Just relax, kick the ball out carefully, work a few scores. For his next kick-out, Rob drove it way out over the sideline. You could hear the Mayo fans gulping all around the stand. Then, a short one that didn't travel outside the 21. Hop ball. Another gulp.

Then, in the 10th minute, an entirely predictable disaster. Rob looked around, and for no apparent reason, kicked the ball short to the onrushing Roscommon forward who hand-passed it across the square to Ultan Harney to palm to the empty net - 2-1 to 0-4. From then on, anxiety reigned.

A few minutes later Diarmuid O'Connor was put through on goal and performed a panic-stricken karate kick, reminiscent of Cato, Inspector Clouseau's manic man servant in the Pink Panther movies. It went 20 metres wide, the karate kick not being a reliable goal scoring technique. Yet again, the Mayo crowd gasped.

Roscommon's 42 per cent kick-out return in that first half is one of the lowest since Kilkenny quit the football. Yet they went in at half-time two up and Mayo were uneasy. Very uneasy.

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I reflected during the break how, unlike Mayo, the Dubs would have subjected Roscommon to cold-blooded murder. The misery persisted for Hennelly. He took a 45 . . . and missed it. He took a long free . . . and missed it. Then, at a crucial time in the second half, he took a short free in the perfect position for a rightie and missed that too. Three dead balls. Three misses.

Meanwhile, the Roscommon 'keeper Darren O'Malley took three long rangers and nailed them all. Each one was greeted by a great roar from the Roscommon supporters and worked like an adrenalin injection on the Roscommon players.

This mood of anarchy was the difference. Conor Cox, the Kerry junior, kicked three superb points from play, full of conviction. Enda Smyth came on and kicked another classic, going for it from far out the field without hesitation. With ten to go, Roscommon were down to 14 men. Anthony Cunningham had made a substitution in the 45th minute, taking off Ronan Daly after he took an admittedly ridiculous pot-shot from near the endline. This turned out to be a serious error. Come the 63rd minute, Roscommon were down to 14 men and had used all their subs.

It all boiled down to the last five minutes. Would Mayo have the composure to work the score, like the Dubs? Or are they mentally weak? Are they carried away by the hero worship that accompanies them everywhere? Andy Moran had come on as a sub and was greeted like Caesar returning from the battle of Alesia, only the crowd didn't throw flowers onto the field.

In the 72nd minute, with the match deadlocked, he took possession in a poor position near the endline on the left hand side of the posts. He had options everywhere and this was a crucial possession. What would Dean Rock have done? Or Ciaran Kilkenny? Or Niall Scully? Well, they wouldn't have done what Andy did. He went for the hero point and was easily blocked down. Cue another huge roar from the Roscommon people. The ball was transferred quickly up-field from the dumb turnover and Fintan Cregg nailed the winner in thrilling fashion.

There was still time for another Mayo man to demonstrate why they have not won an All-Ireland. Roscommon's Brian Stack gave away a truly embarrassing free on the 21 with time up. There was consternation in the anxious Mayo ranks. Who would take the free? Diarmuid O'Connor pointed to Kevin McLoughlin: You will take it. Kevin lined up the straightforward free and kicked it wide on the near post.

All-Ireland champions? Don't make me laugh.

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