I am confused as to the real potential of this Mayo team. I can’t honestly say how good this team is, as I doubt they have ever played an easier inter-county match in their lives, nor will they play an easier one ever again. I suggested here in this paper last week that I fully expected Roscommon to put it up to Mayo for 40 minutes or so but that ultimately Mayo’s greater fitness, ability, and general know how, would surface and they would pull away from Roscommon in the last 30 minutes possibly winning by 5/6 points. As you now know we won by 20! I had alluded to Roscommon’s morale-boosting victory over Leitrim a few weeks earlier that would have seen them arrive in Castlebar full of hope and brimming with confidence. I met a few of their supporters before the match in the Sportlann who had the audacity to suggest that they were in fact well capable of beating this particular Mayo team, and for me not to be one bit surprised if they pulled off a famous victory. Oh how wrong they were. This was arguably the worst performance from a senior Roscommon team in a championship encounter that I or many others have ever witnessed. Fergal O’Donnell, the messiah who had guided the county to their historic minor All Ireland victory in 2006, was in charge and their supporters were giddy with excitement and expectancy. Eleven of that minor squad were involved in one way or another last Saturday and they appeared to be relaxed and in confident mood as I watched them go through their paces in the warm up on the back pitch a half hour before the game.
The loneliest place in the world
Within minutes of the game getting under way, big Fergal looked as if he was in shock as he stood rooted to the spot while he witnessed his best laid plans unravel before him. His team out on the pitch looked unprepared, lacking in fitness, conviction, and confidence. In times past he patrolled the line with such confidence encouraging, cajoling, and willing his players to success. On Saturday, with no place to hide, he cut a lonely figure as several of his lieutenants scurried about the place issuing instructions and making little switches that ultimately wouldn’t make one iota of a difference to the outcome. Oh, it can be such a lonely place on that sideline when you know in your heart and soul that your team is in for one hell of a hammering. There is very little you can do in such a situation and I suspect he would have heard a few shouts from disgruntled fans telling him to wake up and do something! Fergal was an honest Roscommon player who wore the jersey with pride and no little distinction for a decade or so, giving his all for his beloved county.
Too much hope on young shoulders
It was a fairy tale of sorts for him to have the pleasure of leading those minors to the All Ireland in ’06 and anyone who knows Fergal would have been thrilled for him then as he is one of the nice guys you meet in the game. My heart went out to him in last Saturday, as not alone was his team taking a hammering in every facet of the game, but he would have also noticed from an early stage a large number of Roscommon supporters leaving the ground shortly before and after half time. Let’s face it; there are those who just cannot witness their beloved county footballers take a pasting. Their supporters had placed so much hope on these young shoulders to lift this once proud and able footballing county back to those halcyon days. I suspect the pressure of it all suffocated them. On the evidence of last weekend’s game there are many of those former minors who are just not good enough to play at this level, but on the other hand I know they are capable of playing better.
Not a lot learned, unfortunately
The Mayo management would have been disappointed not to have learned more from this encounter as they will realise that their team will go into a Connacht final completely untested. That is the bad news. The good news is that the team played brilliantly in that first half when it mattered most and they literally blew the opposition away in a 10-minute burst. Mayo, throughout most of the league matches I saw, were slow to start in games, but last weekend they were out of the traps like Derby winners, with every player looking sharp, fit, and totally focused. The team played with authority, courage, and every single player was comfortable on the ball. This is a great credit to management and I suspect of the four championship victories since John O’Mahony returned to the fold (Sligo, Cavan, New York ), this is the one that would have given him the greatest pleasure. Roscommon were completely outclassed to such an extent that there was an inevitability about the outcome as early as the fifth minute of the match. Rarely do we witness games like this one and I sincerely hope we don’t again as no one takes any pleasure in beating an opposing team by such a margin. We want our Connacht championship to be competitive and thrillingly unpredictable.
Making the grade
Were I to assign grades to the Mayo performances I would give Kenneth O Malley an ‘A’ as he was cool and calm as he always has been when afforded his chance at this level.
The full back line gets the class average of a ‘B’. Donal Vaughan, Ger Cafferkey, and Keith Higgins were assured for most of the match, but looked a little untidy on a few occasions in the opening 20 minutes. Their opponents got on a certain amount of ball, but were generally starved of possession for long periods. It was a great exercise in itself for the three to stay focused throughout! A much bigger and tougher test no doubt to come. I am sure Keith will have told the two lads beside him that it’s not always this easy.
The half-back line gets a ‘C’. Don’t complain, it’s an honour! Peadar Gardiner made mincemeat of the highly rated but ineffectual Donie Shine. He put him defending at every opportunity. Half forwards generally hate this task. Donie just can’t do it! Trevor Howley leaves too many gaps in the heart of defence on too many occasions. Ger Cafferkey, at full back, cannot be left exposed by a wandering no 6. The grade is also lowered because Roscommon’s best performer, Gary Cox, featured on the half-forward line and caused quite a few problems for Andy Moran. Cox was the one player who displayed intelligence and composure throughout the 70 minutes and I suspect he was a very frustrated player leaving Castlebar.
Midfield gets a ‘B+’ as they completely dominated their opponents. Michael Finneran, the towering Roscommon midfielder was the man of the match in their victory over Leitrim. He didn’t get a sniff in this key area and was hauled ashore before the end. Ronan McGarrity was deservedly MOM as he owned and bossed this area. The evergreen David Heaney was there picking up the scraps and offering assistance when required.
The half forward line gets an ‘A’. All three made hay and ruled the roost over their opponents. Pat Harte, Alan Dillon, and Trevor were quite superb in every aspect of their performance.
The full forward line gets a ‘B’. Barry Moran’s performance drags the average down here. He would have been the most disappointed player from a Mayo perspective leaving McHale Park, as he had one of those days! Aidan O’Shea continues to shine and beside him Aidan Kilcoyne had a smile on his face as he took his much deserved opportunity and displayed that ‘killer’ touch. Wasn’t it great to see a senior Mayo player having the confidence and ability to put the ball down on the ‘45’ and kick it over the bar? It has been quite a while since we had a player capable of such a feat. All in all, mission accomplished but alas little learned.