A weekend that promised a lot delivered very little for Mayo football followers, apart from more questions. On Saturday a very fancied u21 team went into battle against Roscommon in McHale Park in the preliminary round of the Connacht championship and were dumped out of the competition at the first hurdle. On paper Mayo had a team full of players who would have had designs on at least a Connacht title if not more. But when it came to the crunch, too many players did not show up and they were just passengers on they day when Roscommon won out by 0-11 to 0-9 in Castlebar.
While Mayo lost full back Kevin Keane to what looks like a very nasty knee injury, the fact that Ray Dempsey had to shuffle the deck more than a three card monty dealer on the side of the street to realign his team left a lot to be desired. The changes saw Shane McHale move into full back from the corner, Eoghan O’Reilly drop back into the corner from the half back line, and Ballycastle’s Michael Forde fall back into defence from the half forward line, with the 2009 minor captain Aidan Walsh coming into side in the attack.
That was one of many choices made by Ray Dempsey that seemed odd to many in attendance. The selection of Danny Kirby at centre half back, when the Mitchels’ man has always been seen and played the vast majority of his football in the middle of the park, not in the lynchpin defensive slot. Shane Nally was named to start in midfield alongside Danny Geraghty, but Nally and Aidan O’Shea swapped places for the game. While O’Shea, who captained the side, gave the kind of wholehearted display that you would want from your leader on the field, too many others did not show up at all, including the aforementioned Nally. It would not be fair to lay all the blame at Nally’s feet as he was deployed in a position that he would not be too familiar with, there were others who were taking on water from early on and were not able to get their performances back to the level they needed against a hungry Roscommon team.
The question now is where to for Ray Dempsey and next year? For the past five years Dempsey has been involved in the inter-county management game, in that time he has brought two minor teams to two All Ireland finals, but since he has taken over the u21 team in 2010 things have not gone to plan. Last year Roscommon saw off Mayo on St Patrick’s Day in an ill tempered game in Hyde Park at the semi-final stage while this year Mayo once again fell at the first hurdle to the same opposition. The recently carried out strategic review has called for an academy to be set up to bring players from minor through u21 on through senior and keep them involved in a Mayo set up. Saturday’s result paints a clear picture that this kind of thinking needs to be followed up on if we are serious about getting the best players in the county playing at the top level.
Slow start kills the seniors
On Sunday it did not get much better for Mayo with the senior team once again getting caught cold early and conceding two goals inside the opening 16 minutes in McHale Park against Armagh. Mayo have been starting off slow in every game this year in the league and it is something that will have to be put in check very soon. Because come the white heat of championship, if something like that happens there will be no coming back. But on Sunday, the fact that Mayo were physically out muscled on so many occasions by Armagh is something that will be of concern going into the summer, and it was to James Horan after the game. “We were pushed around a little bit too, which wasn’t that pleasing to see,” he said.
Trying to stop the concession of early scores is something that Mayo have been working on and according to Horan will continue to work on. “I don’t know if it’s tuning in from the start, we’ve talked about it a lot. It just seems to be the way it’s happening for some reason. We’re trying to change things in every game, we come out and try to address it, we haven’t fixed it yet, but we’ll keep working at it.” Armagh’s power and running from deep and not being tracked caused Mayo a lot of problems on Sunday, and Horan was keenly aware of in the immediate aftermath. “We learned a lot today. There were a lot of runners coming through from the midfield, Charlie Vernon did a lot of damage on us today. He was going early and we didn’t follow him, he got a lot of possession and caused us a lot of problems. Paul Duffy also caused us a lot of problems, there’s things like that we’ll learn from and we have to tighten up at the back. We let in two very soft goals. The second goal was that someone just didn’t track a runner and ended up yards off his man, we have to ensure things like that don’t happen.”
Hurlers keep up good early season form
One bright spot over the weekend for Mayo on the inter-county stage was the third win on the trot for Murt Connelly’s senior hurling team which leaves them top of Division 3b of the National Hurling League. They saw off the challenge of Louth by 3-12 to 2-14 away from home on Sunday. The goals came from Niall Murphy, Derek McDonnell and Darren McTigue. Kenny Feeney was the top scorer on the day hitting over seven points, all from frees, while Eoin Madigan chipped in with three points from play. Mayo are now top of the table having beaten the three teams below them, and have three games left against Donegal, Sligo and Monaghan. The first of those games is on Sunday March 27 against Donegal in McHale Park, then away to Sligo. They will finish away to Monaghan on Sunday April 10, the same day that the Mayo footballers are due to travel to the Farney county also in football league action. According to the official GAA website, a double header is down that day for Inniskeen, so we could be seeing some early silverware to Mayo that day if Connelly’s men can keep up their good form.
Ladies still looking for first win
The Mayo ladies’ senior football team lost again on Sunday, this time to Donegal in Ballyshannon. Jason Taniane’s side have now lost all five of their opening games and sit bottom of the table four points away from both Tyrone and Kildare. Mayo have trips to both those sides left in the league. They will need to win both and hope that they can make up the scoring difference and that neither of the other sides manages to get a win from their other games or it will be relegation to division two for Mayo.
Davitt College books All Ireland final place
Davitt College, Castlebar, booked their place in the u16a All Ireland vocational schools final on Saturday. The school which contested a number of finals back in the mid to late 1990s made their way back to the showpiece occasion with a two point win over Clonakilty in Ennis on Saturday morning. The 0-9 to 0-7 win over very fancied Munster champions is a great result for the Castlebar school.