Thursday 14 December 2017

Mayo find just enough in absence of Mortimer

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

After the week that was, the destination for Mayo was always going to be of far greater importance than the journey.

That is the nature of finals. But in this case you could never underestimate just how important simply getting over the line was for a team.

Conor Mortimer's abrupt departure from the squad after failing to reclaim his place on the starting team for this decider in Dr Hyde Park placed a difficult spotlight on Mayo's preparations.

The comments of his family, issued to a local radio station through his father on Thursday night, brought a different angle to it altogether.

Human nature being what it is, it was impossible then for some of those directly in the firing line to avoid the glare.

And as Mayo played as if they were wading their way through treacle, it was impossible to avoid the feeling that the furore was weighing heavily on their collective minds.

Players will always argue that once you cross the white line all peripheral matters quickly fade.

But when shots are snatched, balls are fumbled and poor decisions are made as they were throughout the first half, the link is too obvious to ignore and you couldn't help sense that Mayo were more than a little panicked by it all, especially their less experienced forwards.

Manager James Horan admitted relief and naturally deflected any impact Mortimer's actions may have had. If there were nerves, it was the long absence from a competitive game (Leitrim hadn't made the semi-final a meaningful contest) that had caused it. Maybe there was merit in that.

It wasn't until Aidan O'Shea came off the bench in the 41st minute, however, that Mayo carried an air of authority, the authority you associate with winners.

Pitched in for Danny Geraghty, O'Shea's impact was immediate, telling and complementary to the fielding skills and all-round abrasiveness of eventual Man of the Match Barry Moran, whose season has taken off again.

It is rare in the modern game that a midfield pairing can dictate matters as Moran and O'Shea did without a dilution of that influence from the fringes.

Both Sligo midfielders were replaced by the 58th minute. Sligo flooded the area with bodies at times but Moran, who picked up two yellow cards near the end, and O'Shea almost always found a way.

With more thrust coming from the penetrative runs from deep positions of Donal Vaughan and Keith Higgins and later Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan, who scored crucial points, they unearthed a pathway to success.

Horan set the context for the type of game it was.

"A dogfight and a horrible match to watch on the sideline," he admitted. "But we showed a lot of fighting character and showed what a strong team we are with the subs that came on; they made a huge difference to us and probably swung the game.

"Aidan O'Shea at the beginning of the year was probably the best player in the country and he has worked unbelievably hard to get back.

"Thankfully, he did -- you saw the difference he made when he came on. We needed a bit of a dig-out in the middle, and he was the guy that provided it."

Perhaps the significance of Mayo's win should reflect in the history of it. It was their first back-to-back set of Connacht titles since 1997 and only their third since the last All-Ireland success in 1951.

But by his absence alone Mortimer's stock as a corner-forward undoubtedly rose.

Enda Varley and Jason Doherty struggled and were off by the 60th minute without a score from play between them, while Michael Conroy and Alan Freeman fared little better in their place.

Admittedly, the additional 'heat' may have made playing conditions for them more difficult, and while the timing of Mortimer's departure could never be justified, the reasons for it stand up to some scrutiny. Too many of Mayo's inside-forwards did little to dilute the argument that he should be closer to the team than he clearly feels he is.

For Sligo, there is a sense of opportunity missed, but it shouldn't be as difficult to take as 2010.

Their veteran midfielder Eamonn O'Hara was adamant afterwards that it was another Connacht title left behind, but Mayo always had more about them, even in those early panicked exchanges. On another day their margin of victory might have been five or six points off this performance.


Sligo will rue their tactical ploy of launching long and ambitious balls into their full-forward line with the wind at their backs in the first half.

David Kelly and Adrian Marren, so effective against Galway, struggled as Ger Cafferkey and Kevin Keane thrived. What was the point in some of the balls delivered Kelly's way?

At the other end, Mayo created three clear goal opportunities in the opening half, but Donal Vaughan took a poor option on 30 minutes as Paul McGovern scrambled off his own line before Jason Doherty's quick hands put Moran in two minutes later, drawing a great block from full-back Johnny Martyn.

Early on, referee Cormac Reilly underlined how he was going to police the handpass when he adjudged Cillian O'Connor's transfer to Andy Moran, who subsequently goaled, to be illegal.

Sligo's David Maye, a last-minute replacement for Pat Hughes who injured a hamstring in the warm-up, was also penalised in the second half for what manager Kevin Walsh would subsequently describe as a "turning point".

"There was definitely three or four passes on the other side after that coming out of defence that looked of the same nature to me," said Walsh.

Sligo's 0-5 to 0-3 interval lead was never likely to be enough, given the wind advantage, but they had defended resolutely in the first half, with captain Ross Donovan a commanding presence.

They stayed in touch for much of the second half and even after Mayo had levelled, 0-6 each on 46 minutes, they led on three more occasions.

The lead score for Mayo on 64 minutes was controversial, however, with a doubt over the flight path of Colm Boyle's shot for a 0-10 to 0-9 lead.

"If that's the case, it's unfortunate that this comes back to haunt teams," said Walsh, who admitted he had no more revealing view of the shot other than what he had been told.

An O'Connor '45' and a Mark Breheny point from a free set up a grandstand finish but Keegan's burst and finish pushed it beyond Sligo's grasp.

Scorers -- Mayo: C O'Connor 0-3 (2f, 1 '45'), A Dillon 0-2, C Boyle, L Keegan, B Moran, D Geraghty, A O'Shea, E Varley (f), A Moran 0-1 each. Sligo: A Marren (2f), M Breheny (2f) 0-3 each, D Maye 0-2 (1f, 1 45), A Costello (f), D Kelly 0-1 each.

Mayo -- D Clarke 7; K Keane 7, G Cafferkey 8, K Higgins 7; C Boyle 7, D Vaughan 7, L Keegan 7; B Moran 9, D Geraghty 6; K McLoughlin 6, C O'Connor 5, A Dillon 7; E Varley 5, A Moran 7, J Doherty 5. Subs: A O'Shea 8 for Geraghty (41), M Conroy for Varley (46), A Freeman for Doherty (60).

Sligo -- P Greene 7; N Ewing 7, J Martyn 6, R Donovan 8; C Harrison 7, M Quinn 6, P McGovern 6; S McManus 6, T Taylor 5; M Breheny 7, D Maye 7, B Egan 6; A Costello 6, A Marren 5, D Kelly 5. Subs: E O'Hara 6 for McManus (46), E Mullen 6 for Taylor (58), S Coen for Costello (62), J Davey for McGovern (65), D Rooney for Quinn (70).

Ref -- C Reilly (Meath)

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