I hung around for a while outside Croke Park last Sunday evening chatting about the game. I got the impression that Mayo people were not too disappointed with the result as the general consensus was that we were beaten by a better team. We have come away from HQ on other occasions with our heads bowed, but this time, I like many others, was proud of the fact that we gave it our best shot but just were not good enough on the day. And yet, had we taken a few of the goal chances that were created things might have been so different. I got a text from a friend 20 minutes into the first half suggesting that Kerry were very beatable and were there for the taking. I did not disagree as we were leading by a couple of points at the time and Kerry appeared to be quite ragged. Jack O’Connor had an agitated look on his face and his team were leaking heavily in a few positions. Long ball into Donaghy was being mopped up by Ger Cafferkey and the Gooch had barely touched the ball.
Andy Moran had moved into the full forward line and was creating chances, in fact several of them before the final whistle. All appeared to going fairly smoothly from a Mayo perspective. The consensus prior to the match was that if we managed to stay with Kerry for the first 20 minutes of the game, we would have a wonderful chance of beating them. Two points down at half time was OK too as we believed our young lads would still have the legs on them in the second half. We had read in recent weeks that four of Kerry’s defenders were over 30 years and were way beyond their sell by date. Alas, how naïve? I suggested in this column last week that Kerry appear programmed to deal with difficult situations and last Sunday they again displayed their class when it was required. I also mentioned that the Gooch had not played well this year, which was true, but for 40 minutes last Sunday he was pure class. This guy is a genius and when in form he is simply unmarkable. I met the ‘Bomber’ before the game and he had flagged his good form. Apparently he has been showing lots of signs at training in recent weeks that he was back to his very best. I don’t think it would have made a difference had I been in a position to inform the Mayo dressing room of the inside information I had received. Kerry upped the tempo in the second half and simply had too much class for our boys. We were been overrun at midfield and unfortunately there was an inevitability about the outcome as early as the 40th minute. In fact I was glad the final whistle came when it did as several of the Mayo lads were running out of gas in the final quarter. Kerry, more than any other team in the country, can drain the energy from opposing teams.
James Horan will have learned a lot this year
But the year has been relatively good for Mayo football. I never expected that Mayo would play in an All-Ireland semi–final this year. The team has definitely improved over the last number of weeks and James Horan will have learned a lot about his squad of players. Andy Moran had a very good year and has enhanced his reputation as a player of the highest quality. I have never before seen Mark Ó Se taken to the cleaners like he was last Sunday.
Andy gave him a torrid time. What a shame he did not convert a couple of the goal chances he created for himself. Had the Gooch been presented with similar opportunities, he would have converted. I had serious concerns about the spine of our defence going into the Kerry match, but I should not have worried. Both Ger Cafferkey and Donal Vaughan were superb. Donal in particular played with enormous confidence and he made Declan O’Sullivan look quite ordinary, which is some achievement as I rate O’Sullivan as the best footballer in the country.
Unfortunately, James Horan will have also discovered that a few of his team did not measure up when the pressure was applied. Let me give you an example here. Young Aidan O’Shea provided us with two cameos during the match, one in each half when he rampaged through the heart of the Kerry defence. In fact his run in the second half was particularly inspiring as he scattered several Kerry players to the floor by literally bulldozing through them. This fella has huge power and strength. Unfortunately on both occasions nothing tangible came from those two runs. Cillian O’Connor was lurking to his right on one occasion and had Aidan managed to apply a little subtlety to his game, it was surely a wonderful goal chance. His earlier run also came to nought when he again pulled the trigger himself when it would have been wiser to offload to a colleague. Unfortunately those runs from Aidan on both occasions left him breathless for quite a while and required too much recovery time. Opposing midfielders at this level do not wait for opponents to recover! It would be great if he managed to improve his overall fitness levels for 2012 and lose one or two kilograms as he has sufficient talent to compete more than comfortably at this level.
Tough task for my Crossmolina this weekend
We have a series of interesting fixtures here this weekend with the resumption of club championship action. Unfortunately our Crossmolina lads are drawn against a Castlebar team that are in a rich vein of form at the moment. Their last outing against Ballaghaderreen was obviously hugely impressive as they ran up a big score and comprehensively beat a quality side. We, on the other hand, are coming into the fixture having been beaten by Ballintubber in our last outing, a game where we picked up several injuries. We have played a couple of challenges to keep things ticking over these past two weekends, but the game has come one week too early for a couple of our injured lads. To be honest we are keeping our fingers crossed that a few of the Castlebar lads might sleep in on the day!