Derry travelled to Castlebar last Sunday to take on the home side in what was a crucial game for Mayo to see if they would qualify for the playoffs of the National league. I should have smelled a rat earlier in the week when the bookmakers had Mayo at an outrageous 1/16 to beat the Oak Leaf county. This game could have been a cracker but it turned out to be a damp squib. Derry fielded only one of their starting 15 which made us realise from the outset that they did not care about the result, we will only know for sure if Brian McIver got anything out of this game when we see the Derry line up on Sunday.
I have to admit if I were a Derry supporter I would be a little miffed if I travelled the six or so hours return journey to watch the Derry reserve team in action. The other side of the coin is that Derry had all the hard work done in the earlier rounds and it was their prerogative as to what team took the field. I would be amazed if all of the players that played last Sunday are even on the Derry panel. You could call it a master stroke by McIver if you wish as now he has seen his opponents for next Sunday at pretty much full tilt bar two or three players, while his counterpart James Horan will have to use the video archive to analyse the Derry team.
The middle third
It was great to see a recall to the starting 15 for my former team-mate Tom Parsons. After getting injured against Kildare in the first round he probably knew this was his last chance to impress James Horan and he did not disappoint. Despite some wayward shooting in the second half he was in the thick of the action for the entire hour he was on the field. I would like to see him up against the likes of Fergal Doherty next Sunday to see if he could compete against one of the best midfielders in the game. Parsons has made a huge sacrifice to reclaim a spot on Horan’s panel, and after the game last Sunday he was bussed to Dublin where he had a flight to Bristol at 10pm. After arriving in Bristol he then had a two hour commute to his apartment in Cardiff arriving just before 2am on Monday, and then he had to be ready for work at 7am, commitment of the highest order. James Horan is spoiled for choice at midfield but I believe he should keep five in his panel, the two O’Sheas, Parsons, Gibbons, and of course Barry Moran. It is very reminiscent of the Mayo panel in the late eighties/early nineties with the abundance of centre fielders. If a ball is required to be fetched in the dying moments of a tight game later on in the year, there is no better fielder than Parsons in the county to get you that ball. Parsons’ athleticism and fielding was never in question, but his physicality and aggression has improved tenfold over the last three years. On top of that Aiden O’Shea, Jason Gibbons, and Barry Moran are all options for the forward line, be it at centre or full forward.
The win was what mattered
Mayo were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t last Sunday against the Derry second string outfit, and the game was very often pedestrian like and reminded me of watching a challenge match. No matter how bad it got I can still empathise with the Mayo players who struggled to look motivated when they knew their opponents did not care about the result. It was still vexing to watch players overcarry the ball, misplace a lot of simple passes, and some of the shot selection left a lot to be desired. One player who did not need any motive was Alan Freeman, after his poor showing in Croke Park he really turned it around and gave another man of the match performance bagging himself a splendid 2-6. Every player is entitled to an off day and Freeman responded in the perfect manner for James Horan, showing his manager he can turn things around in a short space of time. If the Mayo management learned anything for Sunday it is that Emmet McGuckian is a real handful on the edge of the Derry square, as he gave Tom Cunniffe and Ger Cafferkey plenty to think about while Derry had their 10 minutes of dominance. It is hard to believe Mayo are only three weeks away from their Championship opener in New York, and to think they could yet have two big games in Croke Park before then is a bit surreal, after the game on Sunday it may become real. Derry may want it more but Mayo are more than capable of beating Derry, even their first team.