Two weeks ago I was fully convinced Mayo would get the better of Cork when the game was in the melting pot. Last Sunday in Croke Park I almost had a seizure and nearly required a defibrillator as fear gripped me for the final 10 minutes against our Connacht rivals Roscommon in the All-Ireland quarter final. A statement issued by Bray Wanderers recently was described in the national media as being “bat-shit crazy”. The game between Mayo and Roscommon was worse.
Mayo's 2017 championship campaign is gone beyond “bat-shit crazy”, if you made it up, no one would believe you. The occasion in Croke Park was biblical, the supporters immense, the quality of football not so memorable, however the tension at the end made it compelling viewing for everyone. A draw was a fair result. I was relieved Joe McQuillan blew the final whistle as Roscommon had possession of the ball when he did so.
Recovering from the worst of starts
Mayo got off to the worst possible start conceding two early goals to Roscommon, the first from Fintan Cregg, fortuitous to say the least as he clearly tried to tap the ball over the bar, only for it to loop over David Clarke’s outstretched arms. The second goal was more clinical as a long delivery was won inside by Diarmuid Murtagh who off loaded to his brother Ciaran, who finished low under the Mayo custodian. Ger Cafferkey and Chris Barrett especially will feel they could have done more to prevent the score. Murtagh’s strike put the Rossies seven points up and their supporters dreaming of an upset. They were still celebrating when Lee Keegan found himself in acres of space after receiving a pass from Jason Doherty to hammer home a rapid reply, with the assistance of Roscommon defender Niall McInerney who deflected the O'Neill’s to his own net. It was a goal that was badly needed as the Rossies' confidence was growing by the second.
Mayo turned the screw thereafter and played some sublime football encouraged on by a very vociferous crowd. Roscommon were struggling and only registered one more first half point from a free after Murtagh's goal in the 11th minute. The half time whistle couldn't have come fast enough for them. Mayo were full value for their 1-08 to 2-03 lead. Lee Keegan had a Roy of the Rovers first half, completely nullifying the threat of Roscommon’s Enda Smith while also contributing 1-3 from play. He looked every inch the player of the year.
Neck and neck at the death
The first scores of the second half were likely to be crucial, had Mayo got them I felt Roscommon would fade away. But should the Rossies get them it would make for an uneasy, tense filled half that we could have done without. Roscommon had restored parity by the third minute of the second half and all of a sudden Croke Park became no place for the fainthearted. Kevin McStay cleverly placed Enda Smith at full forward after the interval which took Lee Keegan away from the Roscommon goal. Mayo who shot only three wides in the first 35 minutes were all of a sudden struggling for scores, amassing 10 second half wides, most of which were from some very straightforward positions. Some Mayo players looked like they had lead in their legs in the second half, the gruelling schedule over the last four weeks seemed to be having a telling effect. Aidan O'Shea was not as effective as we would have liked and Cillian O'Connor's radar was not aligned. There will be questions as to why Andy Moran and particularly Colm Boyle were substituted. Boyle in particular looked very annoyed as he certainly brought the fight to Roscommon. My hope is that the players recover in time to give a performance for the replay that will see us over the line. There are no hiding places at HQ.
Booing has no place in our games
It has been well publicised that Andy Moran was at the receiving end of some torrid abuse by some Roscommon fans before, during and after the game. Although I didn't hear it, I find it disgraceful that a small minority should stoop to such a low level. It wasn't Andy Moran that decided all these years ago that Ballaghadeereen would play their club football in Mayo. I'd like to thank those Roscommon supporters for giving Andy all the motivation he needs for the replay. It was great to see the Roscommon team and management issue a statement this week calling on their supporters to refrain from such action, it's something we don't need in our games.
Another classic in store
In what was otherwise a very sporting encounter, it was great to see Kevin McStay embracing Stephen Rochford, and pretty much all the Mayo players after the final whistle. Kevin will never forget his roots and where he's from, that's for sure. He has brought Roscommon on so much. I can't wait to see what he has in store for the replay and what Stephen Rochford has to counteract it. Mayo are still overwhelming favourites at 1/2 to win the game. I couldn't face another extra time, the draw is 15/2 in case you are interested. Mayo to win by three.