Mayo qualified for a mouth-watering All-Ireland semi final with Dublin after an emphatic and clinical display against Donegal in the quarter final. I’m not going to lie, I was worried about this one, and I wasn’t sure how Mayo would cope against a team with 14 or 15 players constantly behind the ball. It’s very easy to get the life sucked out you playing against such tactics; in this regard Mayo were superb.
Immediately when we heard about the inclusion of Barry Moran we realised what was going to happen. Either Tom Parsons or Moran were going to drop deep to combat the aerial threat of Michael Murphy. It was Moran who was given the job and although Murphy scored three points from play, the management team's decision to drop him deep was a relative success. What was even more pleasing was that he just didn’t sit there; he went out around the middle of the field for the Donegal kick out to use his sizeable frame to great effect alongside Parsons and Seamie O'Shea. Their complete dominance of that sector made it look as though Neil Gallagher wasn’t even on the field. Apart from Murphy Donegal had two potential match winners in Odhran McNiallias and Colm McFadden, who were such an influence in their win against Galway in the round four qualifier. Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins put paid to that influence and constantly put them on the back foot and retreating towards their own goal. Just as I mentioned on air that Seamie O'Shea wasn’t in the game much, it’s like the Breaffy man took exception to my comment and immediately got stuck in. The way he chased and harassed a Donegal man down into the corner of the Hill 16 end and then dispossessed him in the first half lifted the team as much as any goal would have done.
The turning points
We can look for turning points and there were most definitely three of them. (1 ) On the stroke of half time Colm McFadden had a half goal chance which David Clarke saved, Clarke touched the ball on the ground which resulted in a tap over for Murphy. (2 ) But straight from the kick out Seamie O'Shea landed the ball in on top of younger sibling Aidan. The way Aidan won the ball and brushed off Neil McGee and then breezed past Mark McHugh before unleashing an unstoppable shot past a helpless Paul Durcan was the tonic Mayo needed and could be considered a five-point swing at a crucial stage of the game. (3 ) On the resumption after a sublime pass from Seamie O'Shea, Cillian O'Connor won a ball to the left of the D and fed the marauding Keegan, who drove at the Donegal goal before unleashing a shot which dipped over the on-rushing Paul Durcan; the game was over as a contest. Psychologically you cannot score goals at better times than Mayo did. There is great debate as to whether Keegan meant it or not. It’s something he should not disclose for 20 years or so to keep people guessing, but I can guarantee you he most definitely shot for a point and his effort lobbed over the helpless Donegal net minder.
Teamwork was the key
It was now Mayo’s turn to suck the life out of Donegal. Mayo’s work ethic to the bitter end was the most pleasing aspect, especially as a defensive unit. Not resting on their laurels they tracked and harassed right until the game was over, Keegan raced back to dispossess Martin McElhinney, Barry Moran risked life and limb smothering and blocking a goal attempt by Donegal late on. There is a great picture of Ryan McHugh on his knees with the ball surrounded by Kevin McLoughlin, Diarmuid O'Connor and Jason Doherty, all taking a slice out of him, like hyenas around a carcass, he had no where to go. Doherty was another who had a fine game, tackling like his life depended on it and chipping in with three points from play. You really know your team put in a good shift when you can put forward a good argument for any one of seven players to get the man of the match. Keegan was my obvious choice but Parsons, Doherty, Higgins, either of the O'Sheas or even Barry Moran could have won the accolade and nobody would have begrudged them. For me it was a truly professional team performance.
Still plenty to work on
The only blot on the copybook on an otherwise perfect day was of course the dismissal of Kevin Keane. I have no doubt Murphy may have mentioned the 2012 All-Ireland final but Keane will be disappointed at his moment of madness which will cost him a jersey for the semi final. If I was to have any concern about Saturday's performance, midway through that second half we kicked the ball into Paul Durcan's hands four times. Patrick Durcan, who had come on as a substitute, was guilty of two of those from very kickable chances, he has tremendous potential but needs to steady himself when in front of goal; I recall him doing the same in a league game earlier in the year. Cillian O'Connor will also have better days from placed balls, in a tighter game missing 45s or a free will be crucial and it is something that needs to be addressed, but that’s just me nitpicking. Roll on the Dubs.