Today’s FBD League fourth round clash with Sligo was the day’s only men’s inter-county fixture to go ahead, which it did at James Stephens Park in Ballina this afternoon. Thanks to a scoreline of 1-10 to 0-11 in our favour, it was also a game in which we got our first win of the year.
It was a match that wouldn’t have gone ahead at all had the venue not been switched this morning from Enniscrone to Ballina. Fair play to the Stephenites for being able to host the fxture at such short notice, thus ensuring that Stephen Rochford was able to have another look over his playing personnel before the League gets going next weekend.
We made one change to the team we’d announced in advance. Footballer of the Year Andy Moran made his first start of 2018, lining out at top of the left in place of local player Ciaran Treacy.
We had the wind behind us in the first half and, although it was the Magpies who got the day’s first score, via an Adrian Marren free, we dominated matters on the scoreboard from then until the break.
Seven points without reply put our lads in a commanding position. Diarmuid O’Connor bagged our first score of the day, with Jason Doherty edging us ahead with a free. Evan Regan, from play, Jason Doherty from two frees, Evan from another free and then Paddy Durcan from play stretched our lead to six.
Sligo pulled one back before the break and they then made short work of that five-point deficit, with the wind now at their backs, once the ball was thrown in on the resumption. Fewer than ten minutes were played in the second half before the Yeats County, with five points on the spin (six, if you include the one they got just before half-time), had squared the game up.
Stalemate didn’t prevail for long, though, as we struck soon after for what turned out to be the game’s decisive score. An Evan Regan free came up a bit short but Jason Doherty pounced to guide it to the net. Aidan O’Shea followed this up with a free and so we were back in control of the game once more.
It was after these scores that Stephen Rochford started to empty his bench. Diarmuid O’Connor was the first to leave the fray, Conor Loftus coming on for him. Subsequent switches saw Shairoze Akram (for Paddy Durcan), Shane Nally (for Stephen Coen), Ger McDonagh (for Jason Gibbons) and Fionn McDonagh (for Jason Doherty) all get game time before the finish.
Sligo kept plugging away and it took two further placed balls – from Jason Doherty and Evan Regan – to ensure we maintained a bit of breathing space down the closing straight. Sligo bagged the day’s final score, Adrian Marren’s free as the game entered injury time providing some nice symmetry to their scoring. But when the final whistle sounded it was our lads who’d prevailed by a narrow two-point margin.
So that’s the 2018 FBD League done with. Having lost to both Galway and Roscommon and only managing a draw against Leitrim, before today’s win over Sligo, it wasn’t a campaign that shot the lights out from a results point of view. But that’s never what pre-season games are about and we can instead look back on these matches with some satisfaction in light of all the experimentation we did.
The absence of several first team players – Keith Higgins and Tom Parsons are the latest confirmed absentees for the Monaghan game next weekend – will ensure that some of the new faces who featured this month will continue to see action when the serious stuff gets going.
Which it does, next Sunday up in Clones. Farewell FBD, hello again, NFL.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Eoin O’Donoghue; Colm Boyle, Michael Hall, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Jason Gibbons, Stephen Coen; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1); Jason Doherty (1-4, four frees), Evan Regan (0-3, two frees), Andy Moran. Subs: Fionn McDonagh for McLoughlin (blood), Conor Loftus for O’Connor, Shairoze Akram for Durcan, Shane Nally for Coen, Ger McDonagh for Gibbons, Fionn McDonagh for Doherty.