Round four of the Allianz football league threw up a host of bizarre results last weekend. Form went out the window in many games and I am sure many punters were left scratching their heads while the bookmakers laughed all the way to the bank. I expected Tyrone to get the better of Kerry after watching the Kingdom fail miserably the previous week in Castlebar, such a hiding Tyrone got losing by 15 points in the end, James O’Donohue grabbing a hat trick for Kerry. I expected Galway having been hammered by Laois to be doomed to division three, taking on an in-form Down, Galway were comfortable 7 point winners. Cork almost coughed up a nine point lead against Derry and clung on by the skin of their teeth. Donegal were meant to cruise home against Meath in Ballybofey, (1/5 in the bookies before throw in ) a late Michael Murphy point securing a draw for them. In the lower divisions Carlow turned over Antrim who were overwhelming favourites, how on earth can you try to pick winners for round five? Cheltenham may be a little easier and I know nothing about horses.
A hard one to get the head around
The Mayo v Westmeath game was as bizarre a game as I was ever at. Mayo looked invincible for the first 10 minutes or so and I used the word massacre on the radio to describe what was unfolding in front of us. Every Mayo player was on top of his game, midfield totally dominant, wing backs raiding at every opportunity, forwards given the time and luxury to do whatever they wanted. Mayo were 2-4 to 0-1 ahead after nine minutes, the goals brilliantly finished by Lee Keegan and Mikey Sweeney, the marking by the Westmeath defence, atrocious and practically non existent. Mayo looked like they were going to win this game by 20 or 30 points. If ever there was a case of two halves then this is the perfect example. Mayo quite simply took their foot off the gas, presumed the game was won, and quite simply attacked en masse at every opportunity instead of shutting up shop and concentrating on their defensive duties. I cannot stand blanket defences and would have hated to play against Donegal and Tyrone in their hey day, but if you are nine points ahead at least offer a bit of cover to your fullback line who were up against three more than capable full-forwards. There was way too much space for Ger Cafferkey, Kevin Keane, and Brendan Harrison to cover, and I genuinely felt sorry for them. Any forward worth his salt will thrive on one on one situations especially with loads of space. Westmeath outscored Mayo by 2-07 to 0-3 for the last 15 minutes of the first half and amazingly went in a point to the good after being a whopping 9 down. It was lucky for Mayo half time came when it did, I am sure James Horan was frothing. Had the meltdown occurred in the second half Mayo would never have recovered and probably lost the game. A break like that is key to stemming the tide, we were all delighted for half time.
I have no doubt the Horan hairdryer was used at half time, Mayo came out the second half defensively more sound, only conceding one point until they let in a goal in injury time. It was great to see the return of Cillian O’Connor who I am sure will bring a lot of calming influence to the forward line, and he will also relieve Alan Freeman of the free taking duties. Freeman is a confident player and is playing very well but should he miss a free or two it would take from his overall play. I am sure deep down he would prefer the responsibility to lie with someone else.
Backing the Mitchels
I hope a huge crowd from the county town and indeed all over Mayo descend on Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day to give the Mitchels all the support they deserve in the All-Ireland club final. I am really looking forward to it. It is a huge occasion for the club and it is very special to play on the hallowed turf with men you were brought up with. I firmly believe they have a great chance as long as ‘Turbo’ Tom Cuniffe does a job on Tomas Quinn, the Vincent’s clubman is their chief playmaker and top scorer with a huge tally of 2-64 in this season’s championship. Castlebar have all the artillery to see this one out and bring the Andy Merrigan Cup back to Mayo. I had the privilege of having an evening snack with Pat Holmes on Wednesday when he stopped off in Charlestown, and he is as cool as a breeze, and the occasion is not bothering him at all, as usual he was in a rush to finish off the final preps for his team’s big day, best of luck to ‘Homlesy’ and his team. One small gripe, Patrick Durkin, the flying wing back from Castlebar being deprived of a chance to represent the county at u21 level because of a fixture’s pile up, talk about being punished for being with a successful club, and we could have done with him on Wednesday night.