On a weekend that saw Mayo hang on for dear life to their division one status, you would imagine that would be this week's main topic of conversation, however the Mayo u21's rise from the dead in Markievicz Park against Roscommon in the Connacht final shades the limelight from their senior counterparts in what was a very satisfactory weekend all round for Mayo GAA. We all remember the 2013 minor final between Mayo and Roscommon for Liam Irwin’s stunning goal and Mayo hanging on for dear life at the end, the u21 final was a repeat, only three years later of course, with a lot more recognisable and familiar players on show.
The bookmakers struggled to separate both team before throw in, I was in the same boat, I had no idea how the game was going to go, Roscommon had definitely come through the harder side of the draw beating Galway and Sligo along the way, Mayo accounting for Leitrim in a game that showed a very porous defensive unit coughing up 0-15 in their semi final victory. The heavy mist an hour before throw in made conditions very difficult for both sets of players, Roscommon adapting far quicker than their opponents. In the early stages of this game it looked like Roscommon were doing as they pleased as Mayo struggled to get out of their own half. Senior player Ultan Harney strolling around Markievicz Park like he owned the place, and not a Mayo player in sight when he was on the ball. Things looked very ominous for Mayo as Diarmuid Murtagh pounced for a goal in the fourth minute which was almost a direct replica of the goal he scored in Hyde Park the previous week in the national league game. The angled pass from Cathal Compton cut out every defender and sweeper in sight.
Getting some luck and making your own
They say you always need a stroke of luck to win matches and I cannot agree more. For me the big turning point in this game (and the stroke of luck ) came when Henry Walsh found himself one on one with Mayo keeper Mattie Flanagan, after rounding Flanagan with the goal at his mercy he elected to hop the ball and it skidded away meaning he hit the side netting when he struck the ball on the ground. The game was over had it gone in, Mayo would have been too far behind on a day you knew there was not going to be a big score.
At half time I still did not give much hope to Michael Solan's charges, five points down against a team playing with great confidence and a certain Diarmuid Murtagh on fire. What unfolded for the next 30 minutes or so was real Roy of the Rovers stuff from a Mayo point of view. They amazingly clawed their way back into the game and went ahead when Liam " the bear in the square" Irwin, pounced on a ball by Mayo sub James Carr to fist to the Roscommon net. To their credit Roscommon came back again to draw level only for the unlikeliest candidate , Mayo sweeper Michael Plunkett, to support his attack deep in injury time to fire the winning score to the delight of the Mayo faithful. Credit to Mayo they showed great resolve in the second half and never gave up the fight. Liam Irwin, Stephen Coen,Fergal Boland, keeper Mattie Flanagan and the 'Marathon Man' Diarmuid O'Connor were superb for the victors.
Mission accomplished for now
When I arrived in MacHale Park for Mayo's crucial round seven game against Down last Sunday I could sense the feel good factor after the u21's success the evening before. Let’s admit it, we were left sweating after Donal O'Hare's stunning goal for Down left only the minimum between the sides with only a few minutes remaining. This was a game that Mayo threatened to run amok in on several occasions only for them to take their foot off the gas and allow Down to reel them in time after time. The concession of 1-16 to the division's whipping boys has to be a real worry considering they have averaged only seven points per game in this year's national league.
The Down team that played some delightful football last Sunday have also gone a full calendar year without winning a single competitive match. Their last victory was in round seven in league in division two last April. Since then they have lost the division two final to Roscommon in 2015, the first round in the Ulster championship to Derry, and the first round qualifier to Wexford in 2015, along with all their 2016 national league games, yet they gave us the scare of our lives last Sunday.
However the result was all that mattered but last Sunday's performance will just remind us there is plenty of work to do. Evan Regan had a superb game for Mayo, fresh after winning last week's player of the week he put in another man of the match performance from both placed balls and from general play. Little did we know leaving Ballybofey in March after losing to Donegal and hearing how Roscommon had hammered Cork the same day that the result in Pairc Ui Rinn that day would ultimately send Cork down on scoring difference, while we survived along with Monaghan despite both of the sides being the favourites to make the drop before the games started last weekend.