It’s impossible to provide any kind of rational narrative about what was, by any measure, one of the more irrational matches you’re likely to come across. It was a contest we refused to take charge of for so long, looked beaten before exploding to life near the end of normal time, then just as quickly threw away a winning position. It all came good for us in extra-time but the bounty we gathered in then doesn’t to any reasonable degree answer the most basic of questions about the performance we’d put in beforehand.
You can understand now why I was nervous in advance of this match, can’t you? Deep down – hopeless optimist I am – I wanted to see us come out, go for the jugular and blow Derry away with positive, attacking football. Mid-way through the first half it was already patently clear that this wasn’t going to happen.
Our failings on display for much of today’s match were the same ones we’ve had all year. Too slow to get the ball up the pitch on our restarts, an inability to attack at pace and an insistence on kicking the ball inside in situations where the intended target, usually Andy, had at best a 50:50 chance of claiming possession.
We still had chances early on but after briefly leading it was Derry who got their noses in front. They were a point to the good at the break.
The second half was one of the most frustrating halves of football I’ve seen us play in many a long year. Chance after chance we fluffed – about four clear opportunities at goal were spurned and the shots ending in wides got wilder and wilder. I was chatting with John Prenty coming out of the ground afterwards and he said we’d posted seventeen wides in normal time. The stat didn’t shock me.
With ten minutes or so left, we’d still only added a single point to our first-half tally and Derry – aided greatly, it must be said, by yet another horror show from our perspective from ref Maurice Deegan – were two in front. We were attacking with abandon at that stage but memories of our late, unsuccessful charge in Salthill were now in the forefront of my mind. Like most other home supporters in MacHale Park, I really felt then that, as against Galway, we wouldn’t be able to salvage it.
But then, in a moment of coolness amid the chaos all around him, Paddy Durcan posted a lovely, simple point from distance. In the next attack, Conor Loftus was played in by Cillian O’Connor and his shot to the net was emphatic. The Crossmolina player added a point shortly after from out on the right and so now, all of a sudden, we were three points ahead and the match won.
But that would, of course, have been far too simple. We somehow contrived to concede a scuttery ould goal at the other end and if Derry had pointed a late, late free from way out on the right wing we’d have lost it in normal time. Instead, with the crowd’s collective nerve-ends jangling, we held on for extra-time.
To the lads’ great credit, they moved quickly to kill the contest in extra-time. Crucially we got the first score and the next one too and when Jason Doherty struck our second goal we had at last clear water between ourselves and the flailing Oakleafers.
Deegan threw them a lifeline with a very soft penalty award but David Clarke, for the umpteenth time this year, showed his class by proving equal to the spot kick. Had it gone in Derry would have been just two behind but once the Ballina man did the business the result was, to all intents and purposes, in the bag.
Paddy Durcan’s dismissal didn’t help matters – and his loss the next day will certainly hurt us – but, to be honest, Derry were a beaten docket by then. We played out the second half of extra-time in something that almost resembled a controlled fashion and by the finish we found ourselves a full eleven points clear.
It really was a mad game. Shades of Limerick – with the reffing right up there at Cormac Reilly level at times (Aside: what the fuck have we done to get this treatment time after time after time from Maurice Deegan? I mean it’s so far beyond a joke at this stage that I’ve forgotten what the joke was meant to be) – flashed around my mind as we got ready for extra-time. Thankfully, this time it proved to be a winning conclusion to a chaotic contest for us.
Good points from this evening would include Aidan O’Shea, who put in a monstrous performance – his best surely since the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final – and drove us forward time after time. Several fouls led to scoreable frees (but curiously few cards for the opposition), he was unmarkable around the middle and he used the ball to good effect more often than not. He was Man of the Match by a considerable distance.
Conor Loftus got his chance off the bench in the second half and, boy, did he take it. I muttered my doubts to a guy sitting just in front of me as Conor was coming on for Andy but he reassured me. “Conor Loftus will get us a goal” my interlocutor insisted. I almost kissed him when Conor’s bullet found the net.
Tom Parsons caught some lovely ball around the middle, Colm Boyle was resolute in defence and when Lee Keegan got motoring forward it was a forceful reminder as to why he was voted Footballer of the Year last year.
Jason Doherty gave a strong reminder too about his talents in the scoring department. The Burrishoole man bagged 1-1 after his second half introduction in a cracking display that had a strong say in turning the tide in our favour.
There’s little doubt, though, that this contest will have taken its toll. Derry hit hard and fouled frequently – you would hope that this disgusting piece of thuggery will be appropriately punished but I shan’t be holding my breath on that score – and the lads will certainly be stiff and sore after this one.
The extra-time won’t have helped matters and Paddy Durcan’s red card – which I guess will mean a one-match ban for the Mitchels man – won’t either. Lee Keegan was assisted gingerly off the pitch near the end, after a bad, late hit, so hopefully he’ll be okay to play next weekend.
Cillian O’Connor also hobbled off with what a few people told me afterwards looked like groin trouble. Cillian missed a hatful of chances today but he still contributed twelve points (ten from placed balls) to our total and, needless to say, his loss would be incalculable for us should that prove to be the case (not that I’m saying it will be, mind).
So, as a sense of calmness begins to return once more after this evening’s helter-skelter contest, it’s important to recognise that we eventually came away from MacHale Park with what we wanted, which was the win that gets us into the hat on Monday morning. Despite courting disaster we’re still standing, we’re still in the race.
On Monday morning we’ll be paired in Round 3A with one of Clare, Donegal or Meath. All beatable, if we play like I still think we can but, equally, all capable of beating us if we insist on continuing to play in the way that we did for large stretches today.
Whichever of them it is, they’ll represent the hurdle we have to get over next weekend if our dreams of making it back to Croke Park this summer are to remain alive. That road is, we know, a tough one and today’s test was, for sure, far from easy. But it’s one game at a time for us now and tonight we can, with no little amount of relief, reflect on a game we could so easily have lost but somehow summoned from within us enough to claim the win that keeps us alive in this year’s championship.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Chris Barrett; Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan (0-1), Paddy Durcan (0-1); Donal Vaughan, Tom Parsons; fergal Boland, Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Stephen Coen; Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-12, nine frees and a ’45), Andy Moran (0-2). Subs: Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1) for Aidan O’Shea (blood sub) and for Boland, Seamus O’Shea for Vaughan, Jason Doherty (1-1) for Coen, Conor Loftus (1-1) for Moran, David Drake for Harrison, Caolan Crowe for Barrett, Shane Nally for Keegan, Danny Kirby for McLoughlin.
Who was our MOTM against Derry?
- Aidan O'Shea (70%, 411 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (11%, 63 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (7%, 40 Votes)
- David Clarke (5%, 32 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (1%, 8 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 4 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 4 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 3 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 3 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 3 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 3 Votes)
- David Drake (0%, 2 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (0%, 2 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (0%, 2 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (0%, 2 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (0%, 2 Votes)
- Shane Nally (0%, 1 Votes)
- Caolan Crowe (0%, 1 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 1 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 0 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (0%, 0 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 0 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 587