Mayo's strength in depth comes to the fore

GAA: Casey's Call

Fans favourite: Oisin Mullin smiles for photos with supporters after Mayo's win over Armagh. Photo: Sportsfile

Fans favourite: Oisin Mullin smiles for photos with supporters after Mayo's win over Armagh. Photo: Sportsfile

Over the years most of Mayo's league campaigns in division one have required last round victories and even last ditch equalisers to keep the green and red in the top tier of football.

Normally the first three, four or even five rounds would have two or three flat and indifferent performances and results, requiring Mayo to call on all their experience in rounds six or seven to stay in the top flight.

This year makes for a pleasant scenario in that regard. Mission one is most definitely accomplished, safety guaranteed in division one for 2023 with three rounds to spare. Mayo guaranteed that safety after an enthralling encounter with fellow table-toppers Armagh in sun-drenched Hyde Park, Roscommon, last Sunday.

This was a really enjoyable encounter, played in splendid conditions with a huge crowd in attendance. Mayo couldn't have got off to a worse possible start when midfielder Ciaran Macken goaled for Armagh after only 12 seconds after some sublime interchange play involving Macken, Rory Grugan and Rian O'Neill.

In real time, I thought it was a fluke and Macken miss-hit his point attempt, but after watching it about 20 times, I think he spotted Rory Byrne off his line and went for a deft lob. Credit to Byrne after that early setback. He stayed composed and commanded his area brilliantly thereafter, claiming two difficult-to-deal-with high balls in on top of him in the six yard square.

Mayo looked out of sorts for the first 15 minutes or thereabouts of this game going 1-3 to 0-1 behind, with things looking very ominous. However some fine scores by Ryan O'Donoghue, Mattie Ruane and a rejuvenated Diarmuid O'Connor had us trailing by just two at the break.

Bench men made a big difference

When I opened the match day program after arriving in Hyde Park the most notable thing that jumped out at me was the Mayo substitutes bench. I don't recall seeing such a strong back up of replacements ever.

James Horan wasn't long making use of them either, bringing on Paddy Durcan and Kevin McLoughlin in the opening half. Credit where it's due, Mayo's substitutes went a long way in helping them squeeze out their two-point victory. Aidan O'Shea, Padraig O'Hora (who both came on at half time ) and Paddy Durcan were immense when they came in.

Jack Carney and Kevin McLoughlin both made telling contributions also. It's not often you see four substitutes made before the start of the second half.

It's something I haven't touched on so far in this column but Aidan O'Shea's impact off the bench in this year's league has been inspiring. Last Sunday was no different as he powerfully barged his way through the Armagh defence time after time and brilliantly fetched a high ball into a dangerous area under serious pressure.

Mayo's last score from Paddy Durcan came from the fetch after a brilliant counter attack. O'Shea commands much attention from opponents, which often frees up his team mates and there are few better than him at laying off a deft pass at the right time. He seems to be enjoying his football again, so long may that continue.

Orme and Flynn make telling contributions

Aidan Orme too seems another playing with the utmost of confidence. Although not reflected on the scoreboard, his work rate, clever running and know-how, is very effective. He intercepted two Armagh passes at crucial junctures of the game, one of which led to Jordan Flynn's 70th minute effort to put us in front. He seems to have a very clever football brain and you can be assured he will use the ball wisely almost all of the time.

Although Jordan Flynn had a few wayward passes last Sunday, he was another that had two vital involvements. On top of scoring the point that put Mayo in front for the first time in the 70th minute, he showed immense discipline while tracking and intercepting a beautiful Rian O'Neill pass to Tiernan Kelly which could easily have ended up in the back of the Mayo net, which would have put Armagh 2-04 to 0-3 ahead had it gone in. Some Armagh folk thought he hand-tripped Kelly but he most definitely got his outstretched right hand on the ball to avert the danger. Diarmuid O'Connor went on to score a beauty with his left foot from Flynn's interception, so call that a four point swing if you like.

This was a stand out team performance, no player was head and shoulders above the others, just all round consistently good. What was encouraging was the way Mayo clawed back significant first and second half deficits when they could easily have thrown in the towel.

Strength and Conditioning coach Conor Finn has been receiving a lot of plaudits from the Mayo players of late because of how strong and fit they feel going down the stretch. He's certainly doing something right as Mayo impressively scored the last five points of this game against Armagh - Paddy Durcan and Diarmuid O'Connor deservedly making it onto the GAA.ie team of the week for their strong showing, with Aidan Orme unlucky not to be included.

Kilmeena hailed as Kings

All Ireland junior winners Kilmeena with their abundance of silverware got their moment in the sun when they were rightfully paraded to the large crowd at half time. It was fitting that they were acknowledged after their heroic achievements in 2021 and of course, winning the all-Ireland four weeks ago. I have no doubt they would have preferred if it was MacHale Park but the Hyde will have to do.

 

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