Photo credit: Mayo Mick (for all photos in this report)
It’s the start of a new year of football and this afternoon, for the first time in James Horan’s tenure as manager, we tasted defeat in the FBD. Not just that but today – for the first time in ages (possibly since 1994 but I’m not sure if that is the case) – we went under to plucky little Leitrim. So, that’s the 2013 FBD campaign sorted for us and with it whatever hopes we might have had for a pre-season four-in-a-row.
I wasn’t in Ballinamore today so there’s little or nothing I can say about how the match unfolded or how individual players performed. In terms of how the scoring went, though, it sounds as if the home team made most of the running throughout, easing into a five-point lead early on before Darren Coen – a late replacement on the starting fifteen for Evan Regan – notched our first point of the year.
Points from Alan Freeman (a free), Michael Conroy and Lee Keegan – who captained the team today and was only one of three survivors from the team that started last September’s All-Ireland final (Michael Conroy and Enda Varley were the other two) – then followed, cutting the deficit to one. Soon after, Barry Moran – who came on early as a sub for the injured Jason Gibbons – fired over to level proceedings following a fine upfield run by Tom Cunniffe (great to see Tom back in action, by the way). The first half ended at five each.
Having worked hard to fight back from that ring-rusty opening quarter, it might have been expected that we’d then push on and claim the victory that everyone expected us to get. Fair play to Leitrim, however, as instead they quickly made it clear after the break that they were intent on seizing this particular day.
Twice they took the lead, twice we reeled them back in, with frees from Alan Freeman and Enda Varley and a point from play from Darren Coen edging our total up to eight. But it was Emlyn Mulligan – once again Leitrim’s standout performer – who made the decisive final contribution to this afternoon’s scoreboard at Ballinamore, with his late pointed free securing a deserved one-point victory for the home side.
So an opening day defeat it is but not one, I reckon, that should set any alarm bells jangling. Our lads are just back off their holliers, their training ban has just ended and most likely they’ve little or no collective work done, while Leitrim already had a morale-boosting win over the Rossies under their belts from last Sunday and, no doubt, a desire to gain some kind of revenge for the thumping we gave them last summer. They seemed to be more up for it today than we were, which isn’t exactly an enormous shock, and they got due reward for their endeavours.
Leitrim have now got a possible FBD final appearance in their sights while we’ve got two more pre-season matches inside the coming week to get us ready for the 2013 league campaign. It’s only when the NFL gets going properly that it’ll be in any way valid to think about how the team is shaping up for this year and only then in the context of our preparations for the summer battles that lie ahead. Seen in this light, today’s pre-season opening fixture – and how it played out – is likely to be of little or no consequence in the broader scheme of things.
Mayo: Kenneth O’Malley; Michael Walsh, Shane McHale, Lee Keegan; Tom Cunniffe, Keith Rogers, Lee Keegan (0-1); Jason Gibbons, Seamus O’Shea; Conor O’Shea, Enda Varley (0-1, free), Cathal Carolan; Darren Coen (0-2), Alan Freeman (0-2, frees), Michael Conroy (0-1). Subs: Barry Moran (0-1) for Gibbons (inj.), Colm Boyle for Conor O’Shea, Ger Cafferkey for McHale.