Ruthless Mayo blow Roscommon away
Horan admits training games more useful than latest stroll
IT'S beginning to look like high time for Connacht Council to start selling tickets into Mayo training because that, surely, would be more competitive and exciting to watch than their last two championship matches.
That 17-point battering of Galway was followed by yesterday's 12-point semi-final romp in McHale Park, producing a 29-point aggregate victory in their last two games while still without some marquee starters, including Cillian O'Connor yesterday.
Even manager James Horan admitted afterwards that Mayo's training sessions are where they must hope to maintain and sharpen their competitive edge ahead of a Connacht final that is still five weeks away.
Just Leitrim or London now stand between them and their first three in-a-row in 63 years, so little wonder that the hardest question Horan was asked yesterday was how much can he actually learn from such one-side victories.
"Look, I'll take winning games by 29 points anytime," he said. "You always find out more from closer games but we can only play what's in front of us and we have to make sure we get competitive. Our training and in-house games are pretty competitive so we'll use that as a springboard."
If there was any surprise in this latest mis-match between a lower order side (Division 3) against a Division 1 rival it was that so many (almost 20,000) turned up to watch it.
Roscommon fans got excited initially when their radically reshuffled team – which featured Karol Mannion in midfield and David O'Gara at centre-forward – started well and actually dominated centre-field and the kickouts (15-9) for a lot of the first half.
But there were enough early signals to indicate that this wasn't going to be anything like 2001, when they last beat Mayo in the championship in that famous Connacht final.
Niall Daly had to pull off a great interception to stop Alan Freeman goaling after five minutes and Alan Dillon's flicked attempt to goal minutes later came back off the woodwork.
Mayo actually only had one other clear goal chance which Richie Feeney fluffed in the 63rd minute, when his hastiness allowed Rossies' 'keeper Darren O'Malley to smother his good goalmouth chance.
They're a side often criticised for failing to take their goal chances but four against Galway had silenced the critics and Horan wasn't too upset about yesterday's misses.
"I don't know how Richie didn't score!" he chuckled. "I'll have to have words with him about that, it's not good for our stats."
There was no mirth outside the Roscommon dressing-room though as their young side and first-year manager John Evans faced up to the harsh realities of the gulf between football's top tier and the rest.
It was Evans' first close-up of Mayo and he correctly identified the big difference.
His side didn't help themselves by shooting seven of their 14 wides when they were actually dominating possession but the Kerryman noted: "Mayo physically imposed themselves, in the tackle they absolutely cleaned us out."
He blamed referee Michael Duffy, who blew a whopping 61 frees throughout and booked six Roscommon players, for some of their problems.
"I'm not going to take away from Mayo's win but I was really, really annoyed in the first half with the amount of frees," he fumed.
"I don't know what we were doing wrong. Did he think that we were doing the tackle the wrong way?" he mused.
But even he accepted that his side had fizzled out badly, after promising starts from players like Conor Devaney and David Keenan.
Donie Shine was not fit to start, Cathal Shine did well when sprung from the bench and Karol Mannion, as always, led from the front, but Mayo were simply a different class.
It did take them over 10 minutes before Kevin McLoughlin opened their scoring but, even as they struggled to get a foothold in midfield, their stellar defence maintained their composure.
Apart from doing well in their primary function the Mayo defence actually also outscored Roscommon (including subs) from play, with Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle producing dummies and scores that would delight any forwards.
Mayo's long-range shooting, albeit from some loose marking, was especially well-showcased in an excellent spell before half-time when they led 0-13 to 0-4.
Andy Moran was flying when he came off the bench and scored one magnificent point but Alan Freeman put down a strong claim to hold on to the full-forward jersey with a brilliant display.
His high-fielding saw off Niall Carthy but not even the arrival of Neil Collins could curtail him and apart from scoring and winning frees Freeman also made some incisive passes to demonstrate his hunger for a starting place, admitting afterwards that his failure to nail down a spot during the league was a big motivation for him.
Darren Coen and sub-goalie Kenneth O'Malley (David Clarke picked up a twinge and went off soon after half-time) both also impressed off the bench.
As Horan noted, the champions got a little sloppy in the late stages but it is always difficult for a team with a 14-point lead to hold their focus.
The Rossies may have run them to two points two years ago but the gap has now stretched to a canyon.
"We'll have to get back up on the horse, start to train harder and make our lads stronger," said Evans as his side head to the Qualifiers.
"Mayo are three years down the road now and a very good team. I saw them three years ago against Kerry and thought they were a tough, hard team but they're a tough, hard, clever team now.
"But look, none of the teams in Division 3 or 4, or 2 for that matter, have given any of the top teams any sort of a game and that's a bit worrying, isn't it?" he added.
Scorers – Mayo: K McLoughlin 0-6 (5fs), A Freeman 0-3 (2fs), C Boyle, D Coen 0-2 each, K Higgins, L Keegan, D Vaughan, A O'Shea, R Feeney, E Varley, A Dillon, A Moran 0-1 each. Roscommon: S Kilbride 0-3fs, E Smith 0-2, K Higgins, C Devaney, K Mannion, D Smith (f) 0-1 each.
Mayo – D Clarke 6; K Higgins 8, G Cafferkey 7, T Cunniffe 7; L Keegan 8, D Vaughan 8, C Boyle 9; A O'Shea 7, S O'Shea 7; K McLoughlin 8, R Feeney 7, C Carolan 5; E Varley 6, A Freeman 9, A Dillon 5. Subs: K O'Malley 8 for Clarke (37), A Moran 7 for Carolan (44), D Coen 8 for Varley (48), S McHale 6 for Cafferkey (55), K Keane 6 for Higgins (58).
Roscommon – D O'Malley 7; S McDermott 7, N Carty 5, N Collins 5; C Daly 5, N Daly 6, D Keenan 7; K Mannion 8, M Finneran 7; K Higgins 6, D O'Gara 5, C Cregg 5; D Smith 5, S Kilbride 6, C Devaney 7. Subs: C Shine 8 for O'Gara (h-t), E Smith 7 for D Smith (h-t), D Shine 5 for Cregg (51), D Ward 5 for Keenan (60), C Compton 5 for Devaney (63).
Ref– Michael Duffy (Sligo).