By Colm Gannon
The group stages of the FBD League came to a conclusion with little fanfare or excitement in Ballinamore on Sunday afternoon. Mayo's comprehensive win over Mickey Moran's Leitrim in a facile encounter was a poor warm up for greater challenges that lie ahead for James Horan's side in the coming weeks. One would suspect that Tuesday nights upcoming challenge game against Ray Dempsey's u21 side will give Horan a far better understanding of what starting 15 he will pick for next Sunday's clash against Down in the Allianz Football League. With the provincial early season competitions now out of the way, bar the home final of the FBD which will take place in McHale Park on Friday February 11, Horan will for the first time be able to call on his strongest possible side next weekend.
Of those who were auditioning for a place in his plans on Sunday, Brian Benson missed out on a chance to impress picking up a knock in the warm up on. His replacement in the starting line up, Mark Ronaldson was for the second week in a row the man who stole the show. The Shurle Glencorrib forward kicked seven points over the sixty odd minutes of action and has surely nailed down his place in the starting line up for next weekend. How to get the best out of the fleet of foot and quick thinking attacker? Is something that James Horan and his management team will have to work out over the coming weeks. His early season form has been outstanding, but he thrives on the delivery of the right kind of ball. Working out the right plan off attack to make sure the ball is delivered to him properly and not wasted by just lumping it forward is something that the Mayo brains trust will have to make sure they have sorted out, before the standard in competition dramatically improves from next weekend on.
Aidan Campbell was another of those who is looking to force his way into the side following his return from the wilderness and he landed two fine scores on Sunday afternoon early on. In the opening exchanges he got on a lot of ball and looked to link play up and generally delivered when given opportunity in the opening half. Austin O'Malley got his second start of the FBD League on Sunday and has featured in every game so far in the competition, has the St Vincent's man done enough to warrant consideration for later on in the year? That decision is now in the hands of manager. While O'Malley gives one hundred per cent on the field each time he plays for Mayo, if that will be enough to keep him involved remains to be seen.
In the middle of the park Ballintubber's Jason Gibbons and Burrishoole's James Moran were given their opportunity to lay down another marker for themselves, at the end of the game it was the Ballintubber man who made the greater impression winning a number of clean balls and breaks around the middle, while his partner failed to every really get to grips with a game which wasn't played at the most hectic of pace. In defence, Ger Cafferkey was given his chance to try out for the centre back slot and he comfortably dealt with what was put his way during the contest and is worth another look in that slot over the coming weeks. In the full back line, the Feeney brothers Richie and Alan lined up alongside Ballintubber's Cathal Haling. On a day when they had minimal action to contend with all three looked solid and dependable, but they will need to get sterner tests to see if they will make the grade at inter-county level going into the future.
As for the game itself, the score line says it all. Mayo managed to restrict Leitrim to two points in over sixty minutes of football. A fifth minute point from Brian McDonald was all they could muster in the first half. They then had to wait until two minutes before the end of regulation time when sub Colm Maguire drove the ball over the bar to register the second score of the game, 53 minutes after their opener. At the break Mayo went into the dressing room leading by 0-8 to 0-1. Mark Ronaldson kicked six of Mayo's scores in the opening half, with Aidan Campbell chipping in with two of his own. In the first half Mayo were purposeful and to the point with their attacks, with Ronaldson making darting runs, Alan Freeman putting himself about in the full forward line and Aidan Campbell looking to get on the ball and keep the play moving. Campbell hit a beauty of a point after two minutes after Ronaldson had opened the scoring in the first minute. The Swinford man then kicked Mayo's third point from a free after six minutes, before Ronaldson took over the show. Four of his five points on the spin from the 12th to 31st minute came from play, with his points in the 12th and 16th minutes stand out efforts as he finished off two flowing team moves.
The second half was an all together forgettable half of football with Mayo, only managing to tack on 1-3 more in the final half and hour. The goal came right at the tail end of the contest, when hard work by both Mark Ronaldson and Alan Freeman in recycling the ball after a Ronaldson effort for a point came back of the post, allowed Aidan Kilcoyne the easiest of finishes he ever will have in inter-county football. That should have been Kilcoyne's second goal of the afternoon, as the Knockmore man missed a guilt edged chance just before the end of the first half. Mayo's points in the second half came from a brace from the hard working Andy Moran and Ronaldson's seventh of the day. A third win on the bounce for James Horan, but he won't be getting too excited about it yet.
Mayo: K O'Malley; C Hallinan, A Feeney, R Feeney; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, J Burke; J Gibbons, J Moran; A Campbell (0-2,1f ), A O'Malley, A Moran (0-2 ); A Kilcoyne (1-0 ), A Freeman, M Ronaldson (0-7,2f ). Subs: C Naughton, T Cunniffe, K McLoughlin, J McAndrew, M Nestor
Leitrim: C McCrann; D Beck, R Gallagher, B McWeeney; G Reynolds, J McKeon, B Prior; T Beirne, D Sweeney; P Brennan, C Clarke, W McKeon; B McDonald (0-1 ), J Glancy (Glencar ), C Kelly. Subs: C Maguire (0-1 ), C Sheridan, C Egan, P McGowan, J Glancy (St Mary's )