The rollercoaster continues

GAA: Casey's Call

Boyle on the ball: Colm Boyle left it all out there last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Boyle on the ball: Colm Boyle left it all out there last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

The rollercoaster of emotions Mayo fans have experienced following the county team down the years were well and truly on display last Saturday evening once more in the clash against Armagh at MacHale Park.

Some aspects of Mayo's play was encouraging, others not so much, but one thing is certain, you are guaranteed stomach-churning dramatic action right to the bitter end when Mayo are involved. It's the Mayo way and the neutrals love it.

Mayo's inability to close out a game is worrying but their resolve and never-say-die attitude has to be admired. Another huge crowd congregated in Elvery's MacHale Park to see the round three qualifier against Armagh. From the get-go you knew this was was going to be feisty. In fairness, any team managed by Kieran McGeeney aren't exactly going to bring their halos onto the pitch with them. Couple this with what I call the northern factor and you realise you are going to be in a dogfight with lots of off-the-ball shenanigans to deal with.

Defensively, Brendan Harrison got the short straw, having to shackle an in-form Rian O'Neill. After 18 minutes that job was passed on to Lee Keegan as O'Neill was proving a real handful. Lee did what Lee does and frustrated the Armagh danger man, before suffering what looked like an ankle ligament injury. Keegan's grimacing facial expressions and inability to walk off the pitch of his own accord would suggest the damage is not of a minor variety.

I badly ruptured ankle ligaments in 1996 and was out of action for just short of three months as a result. Medical practices have improved dramatically since then but time is not on Keegan's or Mayo's side. Without knowing the severity of the injury, I'd be amazed if he was able to play football in a time frame of less than six weeks if the ligaments are torn.

Fionn McDonagh will be delighted with his first championship goal and fine point to boot, but he will be very disappointed with his overall contribution. He looked too eager to impress and on numerous occasions took the ball into heavy Armagh traffic and lost possession as a result. When you look at the Armagh scoring stats - three of their forwards scored three points each from play and Rian O'Neill got their goal, indicating they were getting the better of their direct markers. Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell led us on a merry dance for the second half and only for the brilliance of David Clarke, who somehow pushed his name-sake Jamie's goal-bound attempt onto a post - and thereafter stretched at full length to do enough to make Rory Grugan kick over the bar when the goal was gaping, we were in real trouble.

Mayo looked like they had this game won comfortably – twice - with Kevin McLoughlin's right-footed goal putting us into a commanding five point lead - that we somehow coughed up. But then after two Cillian O'Connor frees late on put us three to the good, many felt they could vacate MacHale park as the game was up. Alas in true Mayo fashion, we let the commanding advantage slip again. There were panic stations everywhere as Armagh went for the jugular.

Not one Mayo player looked composed on the ball going down the final stretch, resulting in a chaotic few minutes at the end, in which we coughed up possession numerous times, much to the frustration of the large Mayo support in the crowd. The crowd and Armagh could sense the panic. Armagh's Niall Grimley was left with the final chance but went for the equaliser from an outrageous distance, which proved to be the last kick of the game. Much to our relief it went to the right and wide. I wouldn't have fancied extra time.

Looking through the Mayo team, only Colm Boyle and Darren Coen can be totally satisfied with the shifts they put in, while others played well but only in patches. Coen amassed another healthy four points from play for himself, while Colm Boyle just proves that being fearless and brave can go a long way on a football field. He literally would stick his head in anywhere.

Last weekend was the first time James Horan deviated from a team named in a match day programme. With the games coming thick and fast and injuries being monitored, there is no point in focusing on whatever team is announced to the public before the mouth-watering contest against Galway. Word of Aidan O'Shea in a cast sent alarm bells around the county last Monday. The Breaffy bomber was simply wearing a protective boot after receiving a small knock against Armagh. We certainly need him on the pitch to bring the fight to Galway - who we haven't beaten in a competitive game since 2015. There is so much at stake in this one.

Pride is a major factor but a place in the lucrative super 8's is what we desire. It seems like an age since Galway capitulated to Roscommon in the Connacht final - but they always raise their game at the sight of a Mayo jersey. How fragile they are is anyone’s guess. The returning Damien Comer is a huge boost for Galway, although I doubt he will start. All matters considered and not knowing the full extent of the Mayo injury crisis, this is a tough one to call and is most definitely the glamour tie of the round four qualifiers. Picking a winner is almost impossible, hopefully we get the rub of the green.

Paired against Galway means of course the winners go into the super 8 group with Kerry and Donegal along with the winners between Meath and Clare. Thankfully Tyrone were drawn against Cavan, meaning the winners of that one go into the Roscommon and Dublin group. A Mayo win in Limerick mean we would be in Killarney the following weekend facing Munster champions Kerry. It's an enduring path that could prove very difficult considering the amount of players out injured.

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