A point gained or a point lost

After Ryan O'Donoghue's last-ditch equaliser against Galway in round one of the league, you left Hastings Insurance MacHale Park pumped, feeling that you had won the game after snatching a draw at the death.

It was polar opposites leaving the Athletic grounds in Armagh, as Mayo squandered a five-point lead late on to somehow allow Armagh steal a draw, in what was a frantic final ten minutes.

All matters considered, this was a point that was thrown away. Some poor game management by players at the end turned the contest chaotic, allowing the large partisan Armagh crowd to really get behind their team and drive them on, and then we have the small matter of the referee.

I made a new year's resolution that I'd bite my lip regarding referees, that they are only human and like any of us, are susceptible to the odd mistake; but the officiating in this game left a lot to be desired.

I had to watch the game again to try to make sense of it, to see what happened in those final four minutes of normal time and the seven odd minutes of injury time played.

It was an enthralling contest throughout - a late surge at the end of the first half leaving Mayo only two in arrears at 0-8 to 0-6. Cillian O Connor (on as a blood sub for James Carr ) will be disappointed he didn't find the net with the last kick of the half as the swashbuckling Armagh keeper, Ethan Raferty, kicked the ball to him in front of the goals. O’Connor overcooked his kick as it went over instead of under the bar, with Raferty nowhere near his goal.

Despite Armagh getting the first score of the second half, Mayo turned matters around and totally dominated proceedings for the next 20 minutes or so, playing some delightful football in the process. Aidan O Shea immediately responded from that Armagh point with a fine score after a strong run from David McBrien. This was the best we have seen O'Shea play in a long time; a big presence on the edge of the square while at the same time wreaking havoc when he went out the field to win possession.

When Mattie Ruane levelled matters in the 48th minute it looked like there was only going to be one winner.

Ruane’s point was a brilliant team score, involving Enda Hession, Ryan O'Donoghue, Bob Tuohy and then Jordan Flynn, who offloaded the ball to a rampaging Ruane, who finished with aplomb. Cillian O Connor came in for Jack Carney shortly after and had a big impact, not just from his obvious ability and threat for scores, but his physicality and strength in the tackle as Armagh carried the ball out of their defence at their peril. Flynn, O Donoghue and O'Connor brilliantly swarmed Stefan Campbell, forcing him to over carry, the resulting free from O'Donoghue putting Mayo ahead for the first time in the game in the 49th minute.

Thereafter was Mayo’s best spell of the game as both O'Connor and O'Donohue helped themselves to a left-footed point each, Cillian's being particularly sublime from the tightest of angles. When Colm Reape kicked a huge free over in the 67th minute to leave Mayo ahead 0-17 to 0-12, I'm sure a few headed for the exits to beat the traffic. What happened from then until the end wasn't for the faint hearted.

Anarchy Reigns

The final ten minutes was chaotic. Between some horrendous refereeing decisions and Mayo players making poor decisions, the Athletic Grounds turned into a cauldron, with the Armagh supporters baying for blood. Aidan O Shea (who should have got MOTM ) got caught flat-footed from a pass out of defence.

Colm Reape panicked a little and undercooked a fist pass to David McBrien, who ended up fouling his man close to the Mayo goal; Jack Coyne unnecessarily took the ball into heavy Armagh traffic and got turned over, and just when it looked like Mayo had stemmed the tide, Eoghan McLaughlin took a reckless shot at the Armagh goal, coughing up possession at the death much to the frustration of Cillian O Connor, who was there in support to keep the ball and kill the clock.

Fergal Kelly, the referee, got a lot of big calls wrong in those final ten minutes, in my opinion - the first of which came in the 68th minute, as Eoghan McLaughlin and Mattie Ruane fairly turned over an Armagh forward, the outcome of which was a 14-yard tap-over free for Armagh.

The second bad call was when Jordan Flynn went down on a loose pass from Aidan O'Shea, Flynn got clattered but Kelly adjudged that Flynn touched the ball on the ground - when he clearly didn't.

Thirdly, Mattie Ruane again was judged to have fouled Stefan Campbell along the sideline when he made a perfectly good tackle to win back possession. Conor McStay, who did well when he was introduced, fell for the bait when Rian O'Neill encouraged contact before diving to the ground to secure that last free that O'Neill dispatched.

It was clever from the Armagh forward but the ref got hoodwinked into making a wrong call. All in all, Mayo will be bitterly disappointed at squandering that lead. Had the game gone on any longer, no doubt Mayo would have lost it. Let's take the positives - of which there were many.


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