Mayo lay down a marker of intent

GAA: Comment

Dream debut: Fionn McDonagh's first start for Mayo in the league could hardly have gone any better. Photo: Sportsfile.

Dream debut: Fionn McDonagh's first start for Mayo in the league could hardly have gone any better. Photo: Sportsfile.

Mayo sit proudly on the top of division one of the National Football League after a comprehensive round two away win to Tyrone in Healy Park Omagh. Mayo and Kerry are now the only two unbeaten teams in the division.

Amazingly, there are only six teams throughout the four divisions unbeaten after round two. As far as league performances go, this was up there with the best we have seen from a Mayo team in a long while. The nine point margin of victory was somewhat flattering for Tyrone, who were all over the place after Mayo settled into the game.

It's the first time since 2012 that Mayo have won their opening two games of the league. That, of course, was the year the infamous fog descended on MacHale Park and the round two match against Dublin had to be abandoned.

Despite Mayo not scoring until the ninth minute in Omagh while Tyrone applied some early pressure, this was as comfortable a victory as I can remember against a top four ranked team.

For those of you curious enough to wonder, I too fall into that bracket, regarding Tyrone's first pointed free and the reason for it to be retaken closer to the goal - referee Joe McQuillan brought the ball forward after Darren McCurry's first attempt went wide, into the 14 metre line because Brendan Harrison ran across McCurry's eye line.

It was a petty decision as Harrison was clearly over 20 metres away from him at all times. Harrison and the Mayo players were as shocked as the rest of us at McQuillan's call. Thank God the game didn't go to the wire or its validity would have been severely questioned.

It's rare for us to leave a game when every Mayo player would get a star rating of seven or more but this was certainly the case in Omagh. Fionn McDonagh could only have dreamt how his first start in a Mayo jersey would go; Ciaran Treacy could never have expected to kick two inspirational points on his first start while Michael Plunket looks very comfortable in a senior county Jersey.

Plunket showed names mean nothing to him as he closely lined Mattie Donnelly in the opening minute to lay down a marker. I breathed a sigh of relief as McQuillan only issued a yellow card. If the tackle was later in the game, red could have been the colour. Fionn McDonagh rightly grabbed the headlines scoring 1-03 from play on his first start. His name will now be on the lips of everyone that knows anything about GAA football. I love watching “lefty’s” in action.

McDonagh ran and soloed with such guile and grace. He reminded me somewhat of Odhran McNiallis, the Donegal player with the sweetest left peg in the game. James Horan will no doubt keep the Westport wing forward's feet on the ground, every game won't go like that for him, consistency is now the key. He is not a surprise package any more, his card is marked if you like. He looks to have all the right attributes.

Without taking any glory from McDonagh, the main man for me was Keith Higgins. He has played some inspirational games in a Mayo jersey down the years and this was up there with the best. Apart from doing his defensive duties manfully, he carried the ball out of defence and penetratingly into the danger zone on so many occasions, breaking the gain line and setting up score after score and even scoring a wonder goal himself in the process.

Mayo looked in pristine physical condition while Tyrone looked very sluggish and way off the pace. Brendan Harrison is another who played very well driving forward with real intent. Late on his conditioning was very evident as he left several Tyrone players for dead to set up Paddy Durcan's point.

There is nothing more satisfying than to see a player sticking up for a team mate without going over the stop. Even with the result secure, it's important not to show weakness or intimidation. I doubt Lee Keegan ever took a backward step in his life. When his young Westport colleague Fionn McDonagh received a late hit from substitute Kyle Coney, Keegan was on hand to show his disapproval and let Coney know we are not to be messed with. Coney ended up losing his jersey, such was the grip Keegan had of it. Both received yellow cards and James Horan immediately hauled Keegan ashore as he didn't want the 2016 player of the year to get in any more trouble.

Without getting carried away and sometimes we do, we have to take into account how poor our opponents were. This was as calamitous a performance as I have witnessed from a Tyrone team in the modern era. The ease with which Mayo carried from the back under no pressure, to setting up shot after shot unchallenged in the scoring zone, was a worry for Mickey Harte.

Tyrone normally play a double sweeper (Frank Burke and Colm Cavanagh ) on the edge of the D to thwart any threat that may break through but, last Sunday, there wasn't any cover in sight. The expectancy levels have risen already in Mayo.

Cavan won't come and roll over on Saturday night, that's for sure. Wouldn't it be lovely to have almost guaranteed your place in division one for 2020 after round three of the league. It would make a welcome relief after what we went through in the last few years. Satisfied I am - but not getting carried away.

An apology to Donie Shine, last week I mistakenly mentioned him last week when talking about the Donie Smith incident - the lack of sunshine had my eyes playing tricks with me.



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