I am sure many of you felt as deflated as I did last Sunday. After leaving Elverys MacHale Park deflated I went home to watch the game again on TG4, and just in case I missed anything on second viewing I had to watch Sunday Sport later on that evening to see what the pundits said about the game. The reality is Mayo should be playing in Croke Park this Sunday against Cork in the semifinal of the National League. They threw away the game against Donegal or should I say kicked away. Some wayward shooting late on cost us a place in the semifinal.
The rumour mill was in full swing in Castlebar before the game, as everyone reckoned Donegal were there to make up the numbers and were more concerned with their first round championship game against Tyrone in six weeks. How could they compete against Mayo without inspirational players Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher anyway?
Others in the know told how the Donegal squad had a gruelling week on the training field in preparation for the Tyrone match and that they simply disregarded the League, how wrong was everyone with their opinions. Last Sunday was Mayo’s first game against Donegal since we humiliated them in the All-Ireland quarter final in Croke Park in 2013, they were All Ireland champions then and Mayo beat them by a staggering 16 points. After the first minute last Sunday you knew they wanted retribution and to right the wrongs of their worst result in Croke Park.
McLoughlin and Moran were massive
The game had a real niggle to it with lots of little squirm aches and players not willing to give an inch in front of the huge crowd. It was a glorious day for football. The referee David Coldrick was in for a bit of criticism after the game, but after watching it three times I cannot see where that came from. Let me remind you I would be the first in line to have a right go if I saw fit. In fact Coldrick made two big decisions that went in Mayo’s favour when they could easily have gone the other way.
The first was awarding a free out to Keith Higgins when Paddy McBrearty fielded above him and finished brilliantly to Kenneth O’Malley’s net, I could not see where the free came from after watching it up to 20 times. The second decision was only issuing Aidan O’Shea a yellow card for pulling down Eamon McGee in the second half, he gave Donegal full forward Hugh McFadden a black for a far less subtle pull on Donal Vaughan. Another decision that incensed the large Mayo crowd in the second half was when Karl Lacey collected a Michael Boyle kick out between the 14 and 21 metre line at the bacon factory end. I presume the irate supporters figured the ball had to go outside the 21 metre line from a kick out. It used to, but not anymore, that rule was done away with a few years ago.
As long as the ball travels the required 14 metres it is within the rules, you can kick it backwards if you wanted. Mayo had two terrific performers against Donegal, man of the match Barry Moran and Kevin McLoughlin. McLoughlin’s tracking back and tackling ability is a serious weapon to have on your team. I recall on three occasions when he robbed the ball from Donegal players when they were entering dangerous territory, the first dispossession on Eamon McGee resulted in Donal Vaughan’s superb score after a brilliant cross field pass from Danny Kirby. On the other two occasions after he brilliantly tackled Martin McElhinney and took the ball from him twice, Jason Doherty first mishandled a pass from Mickey Conroy and the second time Doherty fired a shot badly wide from 40 metres while under no real pressure. It must have been seriously frustrating for McLoughlin who had done such good work and hard graft in the lead up to those wasted chances.
Barry Moran put in a splendid shift at Midfield for Mayo fielding spectacularly, winning primary possession, and scoring three points to boot. Tom Parsons’ performance in Cork the previous week obviously put Big Barry under a bit of pressure to perform and he certainly did not disappoint.
If you can’t score, you can’t win
What ultimately cost Mayo was poor shooting, most notably in the second half where chances were at a premium and you knew there was going to be nothing in it at the end. Aside from Doherty’s miss, Lee Keegan squandered a glorious chance after a brilliant run from deep in his own half shooting wide from 25 metres in front of the goal.
Andy Moran presumed he had done enough to get Mayo a simple score from a free after been fouled by Eamon McGee (McGee lucky not to get a red card for that tackle on Moran ), but amazingly McLoughlin missed the resulting free in the 61st minute. After earlier scoring a sublime point, Mickey Conroy then kicked three bad wides in the 63rd, 64th, and 67th minutes, Mayo only leading by a single point at this stage should really have put the game to bed, but the most frustrating was yet to come. Kevin Keane superbly intercepted a Donegal attack in the 71st minute and ran the full length of the pitch before putting the ball on a plate for Patrick Durkin who nervously miskicked and dropped the ball into the keeper’s hands from 20 metres. Mayo tried to close the game in a cynical fashion, but a slight loss in concentration from Barry Moran allowed substitute Stephen Griffen in to snatch a draw at the death which put paid to Mayo’s involvement in the league.