We’ve been here before. Most years of late, in fact. We’re rarely at the same pitch as other Division One teams at this time of year with the result that we invariably get drawn into a battle to avoid relegation. Welcome to the 2018 version of this battle.
It was a bright morning setting out from the capital today, though the sky away to the west had an ominous dark aspect to it. By the time I stopped at the Galway Plaza, however, big, fat snowflakes were falling in abundance, though I could see from the TG4 broadcast of the ladies match that the sun was shining in Salthill.
The ladies were 2-4 to 0-1 to the good when I left the Galway Plaza but they were clinging onto a goal lead with the seconds counting down to the end by the time I got inside Pearse Stadium. I was making my way over to the terrace across from the stand when the full-time hooter went, signalling a victory for the Mayo ladies by 2-7 to 1-7. Well done to them.
Rob, Danny Carey and I decided to take our chances on the terrace for this one (you’ll hear us on the podcast tomorrow) and, with a warming winter sun beaming down on us, it felt like the right move. Despite the weather the pitch looked in good nick and it held up well to the rigours of having two matches played on it.
We made three changes before the start and I have to confess it took me a few minutes to figure out who was on the pitch for us and who wasn’t. Eventually we sorted it all out – Caolan Crowe started in place of Brendan Harrison in the corner, Michael Hall replaced Shane Nally (taking up a roving middle third position rather than a classic midfield one) and up front Cillian O’Connor lined out – his first start of the year – instead of Neil Douglas.
The first quarter was cagey in the extreme. We owned the ball for the most part but, despite this, thirteen minutes passed before we got our opening score. By then Galway had posted the first two points of the day – both from Damien Comer – at the other end.
A Cillian O’Connor free, brought forward by a ref who punished both sides in this fashion all day, finally got us going. Shane Walsh and Kevin McLoughlin, via a free from out on the right, then swapped points.
Galway had already adopted a game plan of sitting deep, forcing us into painfully slow lateral build-ups as we sought to prise an opening in their overcrowded backline. Their scores had come from rapid counter-attacks and from their next one Barry McHugh took off and rifled a piledriver past David Clarke to the net.
A free, pointed by Walsh, put five between the sides. So, despite all that early possession, we were already up against it in this one.
From then to half-time, however, we had our best patch of the game. We fired over three unanswered points, with Paddy Durcan and Diarmuid O’Connor notching scores from play and Cillian popping over a second close-in free. Those scores, in effect, cancelled out the goal for them, and left us, despite our air of lassitude, in a decent enough position at the break.
But we never got to grips with them at all in the second half. As they’d done at the start, they bagged the first two scores on the resumption and as the second half went on that lead was eventually stretched out to six points at one stage.
While anything but rapier-like, their attack always carried more potency than ours. They were able to burst through often enough to keep the scoreboard moving sufficiently to keep us at arm’s reach.
Towards the end it all got more than a little daft. Six points in arrears, we allowed ourselves to get dragged into three different outbursts of handbags, which the Galway lads would obviously have been happy to keep going until sundown.
Inevitably, both teams lost players before the end. Paul Conroy was the first to walk, on a second yellow, and he was followed by Cillian O’Connor, who got a straight red for a crude hit on Kerins. Diarmuid – who could himself have seen red earlier on for a bad challenge on Comer – also failed to make it to the finish, picking up a second yellow just before the finish.
Galway were comfortable and deserving five-points winners at the end. Fielding a stronger – and far fitter – team than us, they came into the contest with a clear game plan and succeeded in hitting us where it hurt when they broke at pace at us.
We looked lethargic and, to be blunt, a bit clueless in comparison. We had the majority of the possession in the first half but didn’t really have any clear idea what to do with the ball when we had it.
Our attack play was glacial in pace and rather predictable. We had no outlet in the full-forward line, where Conor Loftus was unable to do much with what was fired into him and where Jason Doherty never really got going.
From my vantage point over on the terrace, the schemozzles looked more comical than physical. From the roaring in the stand that carried across the field, it’s clear that people seated over there were getting more worked up about what was happening than those of us watching on in the terraces.
As someone who’d called in advance for a more physical approach from our lads, I can hardly castigate them for standing up when the handbags got going. We certainly stood our ground a bit better today though Cillian for sure went OTT in that department. As others have noted, that red had Cillian’s name on it for some time and he’ll now miss the Dublin game in two weeks.
Ah yes, Dublin. They’re next on the agenda for us and only a hopeless optimist would give us a sporting chance of getting anything tangible out of that meeting in Fortress Castlebar in a fortnight’s time.
Assuming that one goes the way most of us assume it will, we’ll then be left with three matches in which to gain the points we need to avoid the drop. You all know the drill by now. As I said at the top, welcome to the 2018 relegation avoidance battle.
Mayo: David Clarke; Caolan Crowe, Ger Cafferkey, Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1); Colm Boyle (0-1), Stephen Coen, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Jason Gibbons, Michael Hall; Kevin McLoughlin (0-1, free), Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1); Cillian O’Connor (0-5, frees), Jason Doherty (0-1, free), Conor Loftus. Subs: Ger McDonagh for Crowe (blood) and for Gibbons, Donal Newcombe for Cafferkey (blood), Adam Gallagher for Loftus, Fergal Boland for McLoughlin, James Stretton for Boyle, Shane Nally for Durcan.
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Galway? Vote for your top three performers
- Aidan O'Shea (29%, 287 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (18%, 175 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (10%, 99 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (8%, 76 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (7%, 69 Votes)
- Cillian O’Connor (6%, 56 Votes)
- David Clarke (5%, 49 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (3%, 30 Votes)
- Jason Gibbons (3%, 26 Votes)
- Caolan Crowe (2%, 17 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (2%, 16 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (2%, 15 Votes)
- James Stretton (1%, 12 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 10 Votes)
- Shane Nally (1%, 10 Votes)
- Michael Hall (1%, 10 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 9 Votes)
- Adam Gallagher (1%, 6 Votes)
- Ger McDonagh (1%, 6 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 674