Thursday 19 April 2018

Mayo's dream day won't be repeated this year

Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

WHAT we got at McHale Park in Castlebar yesterday was a sample of what we could be getting in every round of the national football league if things were organised differently.

This was a magnificent contest between Mayo and Dublin, with flat-out effort from all the players, a huge crowd of up to 15,000 and enough controversy and drama near the finish to please even the most demanding fan.

If all the counties adopted the same approach to league games, what a wonderful competition it could be.

However, the thousands of Mayo fans who hailed their heroes at the end of yesterday's dramatic game will be sorry that there will not be another league game in Castlebar until next February. Is this really the best way to run one of our premier GAA competitions?

While Mayo fans enjoyed their moment of victory, they will have lots to ponder over when they look at a video of this game. In particular, they will be worried about the wishy-washy approach of many of their players in the first half and the shocking efforts at scoring in the second period when they had an extra man after Conal Keaney was rather harshly red-carded.

What enabled Mayo to pull through at the finish was their superior fitness at the end of a physically very demanding game.

While that served them well on this occasion, one wonders if they will still have such an advantage when the really big games are being played next August and September.

Before fitness became a real factor in this game, it was Dublin who had played the better football. They dominated midfield in the first half, with the physical power of Darren McGee and Ciaran Whelan proving too much for Pat Harte and David Heaney.

Heaney did, however, compensate with his cuteness and ability to read the game which enabled Mayo to still get a lot of ball in the middle third of the field.

Dublin will surely rue the fact that their old failing of being unable to turn territorial advantage into scores came against them early on as they only managed two points in the opening 19 minutes when playing with the strong wind. In fact, they trailed by a point at that stage.

As often happens with this Dublin side, they then suddenly came storming through for a flood of scores - seven points in the space of 18 minutes scored by six different players including half-back Barry Cahill.

At the same time, Mayo stopped scoring altogether for over 20 minutes, so Dublin had a handy lead of 0-9 to 0-4 at the break.

John O'Mahony clearly had some home truths to hammer home to his players at half-time. Many of them had been dancing around like gymnasts during the first half, anxious to please with slide-rule passes and fancy reverses passes, but in reality they were not prepared to put their bodies on the line to win the 50-50 ball.

This applied particularly to their forwards who time after time were beaten to the in-coming ball by the Dublin backs, particularly Bryan Cullen, Paul Griffin and and Ger Brennan.

Little wonder, with that sort of carry-on, that the Mayo forwards only managed to score a single point from play in the opening 38 minutes.

In the second half, just as happened in Cork a week earlier, Mayo upped the ante substantially and how the crowd loved it. Heaney, in particular, became much more influential at midfield and the forwards began show more bite.

When Keaney was sent off for a second yellow after Dublin players were twice fouled but got no free, it gave Mayo the break they needed. They used their extra man in front of their own half-back line and Dublin's scoring chances started to dry up.

Mayo had non-stop attacks for most of the second half, but made heavy weather of getting ahead. There was a lot of aimless shooting from long range that brought nothing, with Conor Mortimer being particularly culpable with three terrible wides in the 45th, 47th and 51st minutes.

It took Mayo 21 minutes to draw level at 0-9 each, with a massive long free from Mortimer, but when Jason Sherlock earned a penalty off Keith Higgins, Dublin were jubilant.

By that stage, free-takers Conal Keaney and Tomás Quinn had left the action, so Diarmuid Connolly took the kick. It was almost the perfect penalty, but it struck the butt of the post with the goalkeeper beaten.

This is the second week in a row that Mayo have come from five and six points down to snatch victory. What is the world of Gaelic football coming to at all?

That was a huge blow to Dublin, but they still had a few chances to snatch a draw as Mayo continued to kick reckless wides. However, a Mortimer free secured a narrow win and two vital points for the home team.

This was a hugely entertaining game, even if the standard was not the greatest, and both sides can garner satisfaction from it.

This is the second week in a row that Mayo footballers have come from five and six points down to snatch victory from their opponents with the last score of the game. What is the world of Gaelic football coming to at all?

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