Walking into McHale Park last Sunday I met friend and former Leitrim footballer Vinny Wrynne. We chatted briefly about Leitrim’s chances. He suggested that Leitrim had travelled more in hope than any form of confidence. As it transpired Vinny more than likely realised that Leitrim hadn’t a pup’s chance of beating Mayo last Sunday. In fact the scoreline tells the story. There was a period in the second half, such was Mayo’s dominance, when it was hard to believe that this was a Connacht football championship match. The 22 points between the teams at the end of the game only served to underline what was an embarrassing situation for Leitrim in particular and one that clearly does nothing to advance the game in either county. Let me say straight away that no blame should be levelled at the feet of this young Leitrim football team or indeed at their management as they prepared their team to be the best they possibly could be against a Mayo team that is simply at a different level. And, in fairness, Mayo should not be censured for subjecting their opposition to such a humbling annihilation either. Sentimentality rarely comes into play on days like last Sunday even though I was hoping that Kevin McLoughlin would tap the ball over the bar, instead of scoring Mayo’s fourth goal, when put through on the Leitrim goal in the final few minutes. At that stage I was genuinely feeling sorry for the Leitrim players and management, not to mention the loyal Leitrim supporters around me, who persevered right to the very end.
Time for change
The reality is that this match, more than any I have witnessed recently, copper fastens my strongly held view that there has to be some sort of an adjustment done to our championship format. It is just not fair that a county with a population base of 1.3 million (Dublin ) or in Mayo’s case 130,000 should be allowed compete in the same competition as the likes of Leitrim with a population of around 30,000. The sad reality is that this contest did nothing to promote Gaelic football in Leitrim. A new championship structure could see Leitrim playing against counties of a similar standard. Last week I highlighted the unfairness of the current provincial championship structure. And after watching last Sunday’s encounter, I believe that the Leitrim supporters deserve better than having to witness their team torn to shreds like they were for most of that match. As it happens I know a few of the Leitrim boys (NUIG ) and I am sure the last place they wanted to be was out on the pitch during the dying minutes of the match. They should not have to endure such a torrid and humiliating afternoon. It will be an extremely difficult task now to pick themselves up from this experience and continue to embrace and persevere with a game they, more than likely, love. Like Vinny Wrynne, I genuinely suspect that the Leitrim footballers and their management team knew their fate before the throw-in. What makes it really tough though is that Leitrim must now face into a losers group fixture in a couple of weeks time, where possibly a similar fate awaits them. It is now time to stop the embarrassment for players and supporters alike.
No win situation for Mayo
I thought Mayo’s performance was very good, albeit if this was a no win situation for them. If they won by a couple of points, it would be said that they are going nowhere. Win by 22 points and the match was of little or no value. There was little evidence of ring rustiness due to their eight week lay off since the league final with just a few exceptions. In fairness to Leitrim, they really did put it up to Mayo in the opening twenty five minutes. They looked sharp in defence and a couple of their forwards were creating moments of genuine panic in a Mayo rearguard that was a little out of sorts early on. Donal Vaughan, in particular, was struggling on Emlyn Mulligan who scored three points off the big number six. A quick exchange between team trainer and Mayo manager saw Lee Keegan moved on to Leitrim’s best player and ten minutes later Mayo were leading by nine points. Game over!
Barry Moran was terrific at midfield giving, what was arguably, his finest performance in a number of years. He won an enormous amount of primary possession but was equally effective with his work rate around the field. He dominated this vital sector which will give Mayo management plenty of encouragement for bigger tests ahead. Kevin McLoughlin was another player who shone like a beacon from start to finish and he is now unquestionably one of Mayo’s finest footballers. It is a worthless exercise to over analyse this performance, but there is no doubt that this current Mayo team displayed an enormous appetite for work throughout the seventy minutes. Also, the attitude of all of the substitutes used suggests that competition for places for a Connacht final place will be very keen. I would expect a couple of changes as both corner forwards will undoubtedly come under pressure to hold on. Colm Boyle is another who will be looking over his shoulder as Richie Feeney looked strong and composed when introduced.
It's onwards and upwards for Mayo, but it's hard to know exactly what they'll have learned from this game that they didn't know already.
Weekend to remember at Féile
I mentioned previously that I am currently involved with the Castlebar Mitchells u14’s football team. We spent last weekend at the Féile finals in Laois. It was my first time at this event and I was hugely impressed. We had spent a number of weeks fund-raising for the weekend s festivities and there was a real feel good factor as we departed to our host club, Mountmellick last Friday morning. This town have hosted a couple of Féile’s in recent years and really know how to pull out the stops. In fact, they are so good at it that this year they hosted three teams (75 Players ) from different parts of the country. On Friday evening, all 76 competing teams convened in O’ Moore Park, Portlaoise before parading through the town where the streets were thronged with both local well wishers and visiting families. It was an amazing experience and one which will live long in the memory of these young footballers. We played three matches, winning two quite comfortably but lost to the Burren of Down by a point on Saturday afternoon. The Burren were subsequently beaten by New York in the Division 2 final on Sunday. There were lots tears as our young players were hoping to win a Féile title, but otherwise the weekend was full of happy memories for players and mentors. Players were paired off to stay with host families around the town and surrounding area. They were treated like royalty for the weekend with many coming home with gifts and mementoes from their hosts who went way beyond the call of duty to make it a weekend to remember for all from Castlebar. I too stayed with a host family and I definitely put on a kg or two such was quality of food available to me the entire weekend.