Mayo are through to play Kerry in this Sunday's division one league final after an entertaining and encouraging victory against Kildare in sun-drenched Carrick on Shannon last Sunday.
The “do we want to be in a league final or not” question with the Galway championship match just around the corner got emphatically answered, as Mayo blitzed Kildare in the last quarter, to win comfortably on a scoreline of 2-20 to 0-18. The first half proved to be a scoring frenzy for both teams as All-star Ryan O'Donoghue led the Lillywhites a merry dance, scoring a very impressive 1-03 in that period.
I know it's not really a secret any more but O'Donoghue has fast become our most important weapon as he picked up his third man-of-the-match accolade in a row in a Mayo jersey. His off-the-ball movement, ball retention and then use of the ball, is quite sublime, whether he is setting up scores or taking on the shot himself.
Mayo score freely against Kildare
We had been critical of Mayo's scoring prowess of late, particularly after the game in Omagh, but the free-flowing play and spread of scorers last Sunday against Kildare was very impressive. Mayo had eight different scorers in total with a few players helping themselves to nice personal hauls, which is good for their confidence. On top of O Donohue's 1-03, Jason Doherty hit 0-5, Jack Carney got 0-3 and midfielder Jordan Flynn tallied a nice 1-02 in a very impressive showing. Flynn certainly looks like he is in pole position to partner Mattie Ruane as he has established himself, along with Ruane, as our first choice midfield for the foreseeable future.
There is no point pretending to be wise after the event but there aren't many that would have envisaged Flynn being a mainstay on the team in that department. Credit where it's due, hard grafting is certainly paying off for him. He also has a big physical presence and likes putting himself about.
Defenders Padraig O'Hora and Micheal Plunkett (who had a roving role ), also got in on the scoring act with two points apiece. Last Sunday's performance by Mayo was somewhat reminiscent of Newcastle Utd under Kevin Keegan, their mantra was simple - whatever you score, we will score. More as worryingly, some of the Kildare players too helped themselves to nice individual scoring feats on the day, which will concern the defensive coaching side of things in the Mayo camp. Ben McCormack and Darragh Kirwin scored 0-7 from play between them. No matter what way you look at it, a league final in Croker next Sunday against Kerry is where you want to be, for supporters and players alike.
Injuries the only downside
The only shadow over the victory against Kildare was the unfortunate injury picked up by the so-unlucky Brendan Harrison. It seemed to be of a serious nature which is so unfortunate for him. Diarmuid O Connor also went off with what looked like a hamstring strain, which could make him doubtful for the league final. As long as he's fit and raring to go for the 24, that’s all that matters.
Final day of the league is always a thriller
It was a sensational final day of the league. All four games played in division one last Sunday had a direct bearing on final places and relegation, making it fascinating viewing/listening. Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan all needed big performances and results to have a chance of survival and they all duly obliged.
The Monaghan and Dublin game was edge-of-the seat stuff right until the bitter end. Little did we know at the time that Jack McCarron's late late winner in Clones, that defeated and relegated the Dubs, also relegated the Lillywhites at the same time. Had McCarron missed that free and things ended level in Clones, Monaghan, Kildare and Dublin would have all finished on five points each but Kildare's superior scoring average would have kept them in division one and relegated Monaghan instead. That's how nail-biting it was. It was an unreal last day to finish off the league. I don't remember a more exciting climax.
Chance to keep an eye on the neighbours
Connacht will take over Croke Park on Sunday with Galway and Roscommon competing for the division two title, which throws in at 1.45pm, before Mayo square up to Kerry at 4pm. I expect a large Mayo contingent to be in early to cast their eye over Galway to see what we will be facing on April 24. Personally, I think it's great we will have three Connacht teams in division one for 2023. Healthy competition is always good competition.