Whatever lingering doubts there were at the start of the year of Mayo’s ability to retain their place at the top of the tree in Connacht, were put to bed with barely six minutes of this Connacht final elapsed on Padraig O’Sullivan’s stopwatch. At the end of the day Mayo had claimed their fifth Connacht tile on the bounce and dished out the kind of hammering to Sligo that will be of no use to either side as they move on to their respective next stages of the championship.
Mayo will face into an All Ireland quarter-final against possibly Galway or Donegal in three weeks time and they won’t have been seriously tested so far this year, bar a brief fight back by Galway in Salthill five weeks ago. When the quarter-final comes around Mayo will have two games under their belt, both of which they have won with ease, while Donegal will have come through five tough championship encounters and if Galway prevail they will have played six championship games before they get to tangle with Mayo for a second time this summer.
Getting back to the numbers game on Sunday, Mayo won by 26 points, scored 6-25 but still conceded 2-11. The last number will be the one that the Mayo management will be paying the most attention to over the next few weeks as the crank up their preparations for the knock-out stages. While the result was never in doubt from the opening minutes, there were times when the Mayo full-back line were under quite a bit of pressure from the Sligo full-forward line and they finished up the day with Tom Parsons operating in the full back line for the final 15 minutes of the contest.
But this was a day for the Mayo attack and Aidan O’Shea in particular, the big Breaffy man was once again unplayable, he finished up with a personal tally of 3-4 and played his part in at least another 2-5 of Mayo’s tally. O’Shea’s ability to win ball pumped into him and take on and drive past his man was a joy to behold for Mayo supporters. But it was the variety of ball that O’Shea won that shows the true greatness of his performance. He won high ball in over his head, low ball played to the corners and chest high balls driven in with precision. Whatever way the ball came to him he won it clean or got hand on it to move it on his way.
The Mayo attack from the get go strangled the Sligo defence, particularly on the Yeats men’s kick-out, the pressed high and closed down the short kick out option and when they forced Aidan Deveny to kick-long, Parsons and Seamus O’Shea lorded the battles early on. Mayo forced Sligo into turnover after turnover and choked the life out them on the scoreboard and on the pitch.
With just four minutes gone on the clock, Mayo hit the first of their six goals through Cillian O’Connor. The move was started by Tom Parsons breaking the Sligo kick-out, the ball was worked to Aidan O’Shea who in turn found Jason Doherty. The Burrishoole man picked out O’Connor who drove the ball low to the net and Mayo were off and running. Diarmaid O’Connor who continues to improve with each game, kicked Mayo’s second point less than a minute later. If there was ever a chance of Sligo getting back into the game, it was killed off six minutes in when Seamus O’Shea barrelled through, played a one-two with his brother and crashed the ball to the back of the net and put Mayo 2-2 to 0-0 up. As a contest that was it, game over and it was all about would Mayo keep their foot to the throttle and that they very much did. By the time the half-time mini-sevens exhibition teams were running onto the field, Mayo had a score put up on the board that would be a more common sight in one of those games than a Connacht senior final. They led by 4-9 to 1-6 with Aidan O’Shea bagging the last two goals, his first on 20 minutes when he fielded a great cross field pass from Andy Moran before driving it to the net. His second goal came nine minutes later, just a few seconds after Brendan Egan had crashed the ball past David Clarke from close range to give the healthy Sligo crowd something to cheer about on a forgettable afternoon.
The second half was a procession for Mayo where they added 2-16 over the final 35 minutes with Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan adding the final two majors in a 60 second burst just after the 50 minute mark. It was all about seeing the game out and an opportunity for those whose started on the bench to impress once they were introduced to stake a claim for a starting place later on this summer.
While Aidan O’Shea took the plaudits for his man of the match display, it was far from a one man show with Tom Parsons putting in an all action display, where he fielded ball, won breaks, turned over Sligo players in possession and charged forward with great effect. Diarmud O’Connor chipped in with four points, and his overall display was another step up in class as the young Ballintubber man showed that he is a real talent that will only get better. At the back, Donal Vaughan and Lee Keegan were both highly impressive and covered acres of ground during the game and chipped in with 1-2 between them in the route.
For Mayo it’s now all about getting their heads down and concentrating on the bigger challenges to come in three weeks time. For the supporter it was another memorable day to savour, but bigger and tougher ones lie in wait.
Mayo: A O’Shea (3-4 ), C O’Connor (1-7, 4f, 1 ’45' ), D O’Connor (0-4 ), S O’Shea (1-0 ), L Keegan (1-0 ), J Doherty (0-2 ), D Vaughan (0-2 ), M Ronaldson (0-2 ), B Moran (0-1 ), P Durcan (0-1 ), A Dillon (0-1 ), C Barrett (0-1 )
Sligo: M Breheny (0-4,2f ), B Egan (1-0 ), P Hughes (1-0 ), A Marren (0-3 ), N Murphy (0-1 ), C Breheny (0-1 ), N Ewing (0-1 ), E McHugh (0-1 )
Mayo: D Clarke; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, T Cunniffe; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; S O’Shea, T Parsons; J Doherty, A Moran, D O’Connor; A O’Shea, K McLoughlin, C O’Connor. Subs: B Moran for S O’Shea (24 ), A Dillon for A Moran (HT ), B Harrison for Cafferkey (45 ), M Ronaldson for McLoughlin (51 ), P Durcan for Keegan (53 ), C Barrett for Boyle (62 ).
Sligo: A Devaney; R Donovan, E Flanagan, D Maye; K Cawley, K McDonnell, B Egan; C Breheny, N Murphy; B Curran, M Breheny, N Ewing; D Kelly, P Hughes, A Marren. Subs: S Gilmartin for Murphy (44 ), C Davey for Ewing (50 ), E McHugh for Egan (55 – b/c ). J Hynes for C Breheny (56 ), N Gaughan for Cawley (59 ), L Bree for McDonnell (64 )
Ref: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry )