What a wonderful occasion last Sunday’s Connacht finals day was in McHale Park. I arrived in Castlebar at 11am and already could feel the buzz and anticipation as many supporters were parking miles out the Charlestown road at that early hour. The day was not as sunny as expected but it was very humid and extremely energy sapping for the players, and even the well prepared Mayo players who did not have to get out of second gear were down on all fours at the end gasping for air.
It was unique to see the camera men wrestle for places where the teams arrive onto the pitch, I thought there was a mini-scuffle until I realised they wanted a good camera angle to catch the London team arriving to the field for this historic Connacht final. The majority of the huge crowd stood to applaud London’s arrival, however that was as good as it got for them. I was wondering whether my co-commentator Noel Dunning (former London manager ) was serious or taking the mick when he suggested to me before we went on air that he hoped London would do it. They were completely outclassed and outplayed by a somewhat complacent Mayo team. I did mention last week Mayo would score a few from dispossessing the London defence, and in the first quarter after great tackling by Alan Dillon and Alan Freeman - Freeman coolly rounded the last defender and side footed the ball to the back of the net. Aiden O’Shea had a blinder at midfield from general play, however his radar was a little off and after one particular back pass to Rob Hennelly in the second half I am sure his ears were burning as James Horan removed his cap with annoyance and berated the ground in front of him. On a day that Mayo did not scare the lights out of any potential opponents because of their wayward passing and poor shooting resulting in 10 first half wides, they still went in comfortably at half time.
The second half will solely be remembered for the introduction of Cillian O’Connor, the Ballintubber star bagging himself an impressive 3-3, albeit two of the goals were laid on a plate for him by the hard working Aiden O’Shea and Andy Moran. O’Connor could have ended the game with 3-6 were it not for some poor efforts from areas that he would normally split the posts, still it is his name that will go down in the history books as top scorer on a day that Mayo claimed their third and easiest Nestor Cup in a row. The management and stats men will not be happy with the unforced errors, wayward distribution, and the massive number of wides but it is very hard to psyche yourself when you know a game is won before the throw in. I am positive they would have received the “hair dryer” treatment in the dressing room after the game. If you put a Kerry or a Dublin Jersey on the London players Mayo would not have been so complacent.
On a very positive note Mickey Conroy’s hamstring is not as bad as expected and he may be in line for a place on the bench for the quarter-final.
Mayo had some fine performers on the day, namely Ger Cafferkey, Colm Boyle, and Lee Keegan in defence, Aidan O’Shea at midfield, and Alan Freeman is making it very difficult for James Horan to leave him out for the next day, but for his remarkable tally in one half and being a former forward myself, Cillian O’Connor got my man of the match awards. The easy passage Mayo have taken to the quarter-final is a help in the sense that injured players were eased rather than rushed back and James Horan may have a full deck to pick from for his next game, compare that to Jim McGuinness in Donegal- having to start injured players.
In last week’s column I advised patrons to get in early to watch our minors and anyone who did will not regret it. The minor final was a cracking game and I witnessed one of the finest goals scored in McHale Park. Liam Irwin’s sublime two dummy solos while running at full tilt and the way he crashed the ball to the net was worth the entrance fee alone. Credit to Roscommon who never gave up and nearly snatched a draw at the death. Enda Gilvarry will be instilling in his players how to put a game to bed after being in a commanding position and then nearly not winning. I had no fingernails left at the end. It is time our minors went on to claim an All-Ireland title.
Monaghan had a fantastic win in Ulster and ‘out-Donegaled’ Donegal, their win has put a cat among the pigeons and their odds for claiming Sam Maguire have dropped from 80/1 to 20/1 overnight (strangely the team they beat well- Donegal are 11 points worse priced at 9/1 ). Mayo are now clear second favourites at 10/3 behind Dublin who are 9/4. I’m sure our odds dropped drastically upon Joe Brolly declaring we are in with a real chance on the Sunday Game. Cavan to beat London by more than 11 points at evens is the bet of next weekend.
You can get in touch with John, by e-mailing him at [email protected]