Mayo hit the ground running

GAA: Casey's Call

Getting his message across: James Horan gives instructions to Enda Hession and his team-mates during a water break last Saturday against Down. Photo: Sportsfile

Getting his message across: James Horan gives instructions to Enda Hession and his team-mates during a water break last Saturday against Down. Photo: Sportsfile

The National football league has at last got under way and in style, with GAA fans all around the country drooling with the amount of games on in both hurling and football across all four divisions.

Mayo got off to the perfect start in their push for an automatic return to the top tier with an emphatic and comfortable 2-21 to 1-11 win over Down in the first round of Division 2 North.

There is no point trying to be wise after the event, but I didn't foresee Mayo having such a comfortable victory. I really didn't know what to expect from Mayo with all the recent retirements and a few big guns out injured. Yes, I expected them to win, but not in a canter - as it turned out to be.

The change in personnel or changing of the guard is staggering from a Mayo perspective. Granted, the likes of Aidan O'Shea, Brendan Harrison and Jason Doherty are recovering from injury, Mayo had only four starters against Down last Saturday that started the first round of the national league against Roscommon in 2019 and only five of the team that started the opening round against Donegal in Ballybofey last year (remember James Durcan's wonder goal at the death to steal a point ).

It's a staggering overhaul of players in such a short period of time. One thing the Mayo management cannot be accused of, is not trying to blood new players.

On top of the seven that saw championship action in 2020 for the first time, three more made their league débuts last weekend, Enda Hession, Rory Brickenden and Aidan Orme. Brickenden did make a cameo in the championship in 2020 and he now joins a very select few who have played for the county in a championship encounter, before being tried out in a league game.

Despite not being able to travel to the game, it was very noticeable from the clips and highlights I saw, that the Mayo players have certainly looked after themselves in the off-season.

This is a testament to the strength-and-conditioning coaches, and of course, the players themselves, who couldn't have found isolated training easy in any shape or form.

Tommy Conroy looks like he was feeding on whey protein, morning, noon and night since last December. He has really bulked up. I was delighted he put in a stellar performance and deservedly got the man of the match accolade, scoring 1-03 in the process, while also setting up the other goal for Ryan O'Donoghue, who was also very busy and industrious.

The games are now coming thick and fast; Mayo's opponents on Saturday, Westmeath, are under pressure now, having lost their opener to Meath last Sunday - albeit only by a single point. It's impossible trying to second-guess managers at this stage. We could see up to five or six personnel changes from the starting 15 from week to week, as managers will want to try out different options.

Dubs keep on rolling and Kerry bubble up

I was in Hyde park last Sunday for the Rossies' Division One game against The Dubs' and despite the home team putting it up to the All-Ireland champions for a while, it was business as usual by the time the final whistle blew.

The game had three penalties, all for Dublin, two were for the new cynical foul rule and the other was for a foot block. The first penalty awarded was the correct call, Brian Stack rugby-tackled Paddy Small who was outside the box as he bore down on goal with only the keeper to beat.

The second penalty was for another cynical foul outside the box, (on the end line ); Roscommon had two cover defenders as back-up to clear the danger, this was not a clear-cut goal chance and the referee got it wrong. Justice was served as Cormac Costello hit the post with the resulting spot kick.

The third was given after Brian fenton drove a shot at the Roscommon goal, only for it to ricochet off the feet of a Rossie defender; another penalty, this time for a foot block.

The Roscommon management and bench were furious and I couldn't blame them. It was a classic case of ball to foot rather than foot to ball.

In Mayo's game against Down, Tommy Conroy was hauled to the ground in the second half by a Down defender, very similar to Stack's tackle on Small in Hyde Park. Here lies the problem. The interpretation by the refs is already different. A penalty in the Hyde but a free in McHale park for the exact same infringements.

Neither incidents had any bearing on the outcome of the game, but what happens when such a call is needed or made in a tight game that could ultimately relegate or promote your team? The jury is out on this new rule already.

Galway’s capitulation against a rampant Kerry side was probably the result of the weekend that caught everyone's eye. Despite witnessing 20+ point drubbings dished out by Dublin in the Leinster championship down the years, I never expected to see a side like Galway with their tradition succumb to such a hiding.

It's a big week for Padraic Joyce to rally his troops for the arrival of Roscommon on Sunday, which is already a game that will ultimately decide which team will find themselves in a relegation play-off. There is no wriggle room with league games with this year's format. No Margin for error. You have to hit the ground running.

Thankfully, Mayo did just that.


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