Joe Brolly: 'James Horan's revolving door bears fruit as jubilant Mayo fans leave Pairc Esler with shoes in the air'
It was like a Mayo home game in Páirc Esler. Forty five minutes before throw-in and the place was bedecked in red and green.
The Mayo fans are like the mob in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Brian sees the Romans coming and pretends to be a preacher. He mutters, "The lean shall inhibit their girth," as the Romans approach. Then, loudly, "To them shall be given . . . before losing his train of thought. The Romans pass, and a woman says, "They shall be given what?" Brian jumps down from his podium and tries to make his getaway. But the rumour has swept through the crowd that he is the Messiah. As he runs, his shoe falls off. "He has given us a sign," says one man. "He has given us his shoe."
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"The shoe is a sign," says another, "let us follow his example."
"Let us hold up one shoe and let the other be upon our foot," cries another.
"This is his sign," shouts another.
"No," says a woman, "the sign is that we must gather our shoes together in abundance, take our shoes and follow him."
"It's a sandal, not a shoe," says one man, as the crowd races after Brian holding their shoes aloft.
As the Mayo supporters held their shoes aloft, The Saw Doctors boomed out from the PA system. The Down team came onto the field to a muted clap. Mayo appeared to a thunderous ovation. "It is a sign. We must raise the red and green aloft. Let us follow their example."
James Horan twirled the revolving door and hey presto, David Clarke appeared in nets. This had a predictable effect. His kick-out success rate was just shy of 90 per cent. He rose magnificently to win three very dangerous high balls kicked to Connaire Harrison on the square, and win them with total authority.
Horan twirled the revolving door again, and hey presto, a new free-taker. When substitute Conor Loftus came to take the crucial free at the end of the Roscommon game, Diarmuid O'Connor refused to give it to him, instead starting a reluctant lottery in plain view of the public. Eventually, a nervous Kevin McLoughlin kicked it badly wide. Yesterday, Loftus's first free was from an identical position and he popped it over the black spot without a care in the world. He went on to score 1-4, kicking three frees from four. No doubt he will be dropped the next day.
Lucky for Mayo, Down opted to solo run in the manner of Forest Gump running: endless, no destination in mind, barely aware of their surroundings.
Down's very dangerous inside forwards were left alone and palely loitering. We used to say when we were children about any boy who went on solo runs with his head down, "Do you want salt and vinegar?"
Down consumed an enormous amount of ball last night, which was a huge relief for Mayo's very fragile defence. As it was, Caolan Mooney soloed through them once in the first half like Maradona against the Brits, swerving and accelerating until he finished with a deft clip off the outside of his right boot. Eight minutes gone, Down 1-1, Mayo 0-2, and Mayo were bearing that haunted look they tend to have when the opposition puts it up to them. Alas for them, they don't kick the ball any more so they soloed themselves to exhaustion in front of a delighted Mayo defence.
That said, in the second half, three times they flew through the heart of the Mayo defence, botching three terrific goal chances.
Down notched 11 wides, kicking from long range or under severe pressure from scoring range because they had taken all day to get it that far and everyone was being marked. They were conspicuously faster than Mayo but this advantage was wasted on soloing, which is a disease Down teams never used to suffer from.
Unlike Clarke, who was a paragon of safety, the Down 'keeper flirted with danger all day, kicking two over the sideline in the first half and taking three near kamikaze short kicks to his startled full-backs, any one of which could have spelled disaster.
I wrote in the RTE panel group chat, "Down keeper dicing with disaster. This is not going to end well." A few minutes later, he took a short kick-out, which he chased after for the return. Only it was turned over by the Mayo forward and Conor Loftus (he won't be playing the next day) who strolled through unmarked to pop it into the empty net. In fact, the goal was so easy that as he worked his way through, Loftus looked over his shoulder and hesitated, thinking this was too good to be true. It wasn't.
Even though Down played with spirit in the last ten minutes to close the gap to five, that goal spelled the end.
Mayo supporters were jubilant afterwards, and left Páirc Esler holding their right shoes in the air.