When I woke last Sunday morning at 6.30am to find an inch of frozen snow covering the entire landscape around Charlestown I immediately thought there was no way I could travel to Killarney in these conditions, but I had to as I had the radio equipment in the boot of my car and without it no live broadcast of the much anticipated game could take place.
It took one hour and 20 minutes to get to Tuam and to my delight the white road disappeared five miles south of Tuam. I immediately thought of our supporters. Only the insane would attempt to travel in these conditions, my second thought was that Mayo would have no support at the game. Mayo supporters are a rare breed, I met Dessie Dolan, the former Westmeath footballer in the press box before the game, he described the Mayo supporters as “mental” when he saw how many had turned up to support their team, at least half of the 8,500 in attendance. As it happened the conditions in Killarney were perfect for the first round of the National League.
Good start to new tenure
Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly will be delighted their tenure started with a morale boosting win against the All-Ireland champions in their own backyard. It will keep the critics away for another while at least. It was a really enjoyable game played at a frantic pace with no one giving an inch and a lot of little skirmishes occurring to keep supporters enthralled. After Evan Regan pounced on a kamikaze pass by Pa Kilkenny to score Mayo’s first point he looked every bit at home in a Mayo jersey. Regan’s sickening injury made my stomach churn when I watched it in on TV when I got home. In real time I thought he might only have been winded, he was lucky he did not break his neck. I broke a collar bone back in the day and know how painful it is but his looked 10 times worse than mine. Regan has bulked up in a big way over the last 12 months and really looked the part. He cleared Johnny Buckley and Mark Griffon out of it going for that ball before his unfortunate impact and resulting injury. I know it is early but he certainly looks like he could offer something up front. Kerry were missing a whole host of stars last Sunday, but at the same time all their names were familiar and I am almost certain all their starters have All-Ireland medals from last year.
Keane stands tall
Kerry went for the aerial bombardment, launching ball after ball on top of Paul Geaney as they did in last year’s All-Ireland final, exposing Paddy McGrath of Donegal, but Geaney certainly met his match in Kevin Keane. The Westport full back had a blinder of a game winning everything thrown at him, while his captain Keith Higgins mopped up copious loose ball. There is no doubt Mayo’s two goals came at crucial stages, Alan Freeman using great power and strength to open up a better angle for himself before driving left footed past Brendan Kealy. Mayo fell asleep after half time despite Seamie O’Shea scoring early, leaving seven between the teams. The introduction of returning AFL player Tommy Walsh to bolster the midfield alongside the impressive David Moran was a real tonic for Kerry as Mayo struggled to compete. Aidan O’Shea’s introduction for Mayo came at a crucial stage, as Kerry completely dominated the middle third for the first 15 minutes of the second half and reduced the deficit to three, O’Shea’s physicality the launch pad for Kevin McLoughlin’s sublime finish. He out-muscled David Moran for a throw ball which directly resulted in McLoughlin’s goal. Moran had previously come away with the three throw in balls prior to that.
Red Hand challenge
Tyrone will provide a different obstacle on Sunday; I cannot imagine the room afforded to our forwards in Killarney where Mark Ronaldson and Mickey Conroy thrived will be the same in Castlebar on Sunday. There is never a ill wind that does not favour somebody, as Mickey Conroy proved coming on for the injured Regan scoring four very impressive points. (Conroy is rated at 50/50 after injuring his heel against Kerry ) Mickey Harte knows too well he will have to make it ugly to have a chance against Mayo, as his team completely fell to bits against Monaghan despite having a commanding 0-7 to 0-2 lead after 28 minutes. A home win should set Mayo up nicely, but take nothing for granted against Tyrone.
Mayo are priced at a measly 1/2 in the bookmakers, expect a backlash from Tyrone. It was great to see our new players doing well in Killarney, Stephen Coen’s pace was a little concerning while at corner back, he would be better off in the half back line. Patrick Durcan also looks more than capable, they all deserve another crack to establish themselves which is a nice dilemma for the new managers.
The green and red (and black )
I have to admit I am a big fan of the new look Mayo away jersey, I can understand how the traditionalist would have choked on his chips upon seeing it, but every Mayo youngster will beg, borrow, or steal to get his or her hands on one. It really defines the players’ physique and I know they are all big fans of it, without doubt it is the most fashionable jersey on the market, we may even hijack supporters from other counties over it. I still cannot figure out how it was kept such a secret, I hope to see it a few more times this year.