We could get used to this! For the second weekend in a row, Mayo more or less failed to show up for the first half but then more than made up for it with a storming second half display, once again snatching victory by just a single point. But, just like last week, one point was as good as a hundred and the win had the added bonus of securing our place in the NFL playoffs, incredibly – given the strong competition we’ve faced in Division 1A – with the final round of matches still to come. If you’re looking for a report on yesterday’s match, try the Indo, Setanta or RTE. Eugene McGee’s analysis in the Indo is also worth a peek.
This really was a game of two halves. After a relatively even opening quarter, Dublin raced into a five-point half-time lead, at which stage we looked in serious bother. However, with the wind to our backs in the second half, we began to launch a wave of Route 1 attacks which, once the Dubs were reduced to fourteen men soon after, became more or less relentless. Dublin failed to score in the second half – even from the penalty spot – and we kicked a few hundred wides (okay, a slight exaggeration but it just seemed like that at the time) as well as the six points that secured the win.
A number of factors are worth noting about the game. Let’s start with the weather. A beautifully warm(ish) and sunny day, with a cloudless sky, made it look like the perfect day for football. However, as often can be the case at McHale Park, a strong wind blew down the pitch (almost, though not quite, in a straight line) and this made it extremely difficult to judge how and where to kick the ball. This made mistakes inevitable and both sides struggled to figure out how best to move the ball in the conditions. Dublin opted, with some success, to play a neat, passing game in the first half and it was during this period that they really opened us up. In the second half, we chose to welly it into them and we won enough ball to create ample scoring chances. We really should have won by six or seven points, given all those chances but, in retrospect (and only in retrospect can one say this), all the wides added an extra frisson of excitement to the day’s events.
Then there was the ref: what an idiot. Pointless bookings, stupid, indefensible decisions (including the Dubs’ penalty, which Jayo clearly played for, in the style of Cristiano Ronaldo) and, when it came to the crunch, craven, gutless cowardice. He’d got Keaney’s sending-off right, mind you, and this undoubtedly altered the course of the game, as Keaney was playing very well (scoring three points) and the sending-off really hampered Dublin’s cause, making it virtually impossible for them to attack us. But the ref’s moment of truth came later: Barry Cahill poleaxed Alan Dillon with a high clothesline tackle, which could only merit one punishment. However, just as the ref bottled the Ciaran Whelan incident last August, so too did our man in Castlebar, presumably because the Dubs were already down to fourteen men at that stage. This meant that the attempted murder (almost) of Dillon warranted yellow rather than red. Nuff said.
Then there were the two sidelines. Johnno once again refused to panic and made five changes over course of the game (one enforced, as our unfortunate goalie Kenneth O’Malley broke a thumb and was replaced by David Clarke), all of which helped the cause. Both Ger Brady and Austie (despite his point) played poorly and their replacements – Aidan Campbell and Alan Dillon – injected more purpose into the attack, Dillon landing a fine point from play. Here it is:
Pillar, meanwhile, panicked and, when Pillar panicks, he doesn’t do it in half measures. Bonnar out to midfield, Whelan off, Ryan on at full-forward, Cullen up to the half-forwards, Cullen back to the half-backs again. On and on the changes went, enough to make one dizzy. And then he did what he really shouldn’t have done – he went and took off Mossie Quinn, just like he did last August. And the inevitable happened: a penalty for the Dubs (back in Croker it was a free) that Mossie would have nailed. But Mossie was already warming down and so Diarmuid Connolly – who in fairness took the kick well – was left to see his effort come back off the post to safety. Dubs’ fans, you may wish to look away now:
And then there was our backline, which looked as loose as the proverbial goose in the first half, while those neat, fit Dubs lads waltzed through them almost at will. But here’s an interesting fact (for which credit goes to The Brother, who noted all this down): they didn’t foul, not at all (I’m not counting Jayo’s theatrics for the penalty here) and so the damage that was done had to be done from play, which took a lot of effort on their part. Ultimately, the backs’ discipline kept us in the game and made the score we had to get in the second half a manageable one.
And then there were our forwards, whose shooting was, to say the least, interesting. Mort had a stinker – when he picked up his customary booking in the first half, it looked he might walk before the day was out – but he was still a star and contributed four critical points, including a right humdinger from play. Austie and Ger Brady played their way out of the team – the Austie Fan Club now has to disband, I fear – but Killer cemented his place in the side, as did young Campbell and Dillon also showed his worth when he came on. Andy Moran and Kevin O’Neill have had better days but, no doubt, will have them again.
And then there was David Heaney. “He’s had his chips” – when did I say that? Back in February sometime, I think. Yes, as a back, but David Heaney in midfield is a positive asset to the cause. He worked his nuts off there yesterday and scored two outstanding points from play. He’s obviously at home in the thick of things at midfield and, in DB’s continuing absence, he gives us strength, intelligence and mobility in that sector. He was clearly our Man of the Match.
And then there was the pitch invasion. Well, there were more than 15,000 people in McHale Park yesterday and, given such numbers, it was always likely that there would be an excitable minority who just couldn’t be expected to keep their emotions in check. And it is April, after all, with the clocks having gone forward and we’d just wiped the eyes of not just the Dubs but Kerry and Tyrone as well.
And then there was (and is) The Johnno Effect. To have taken Mayo from the trauma of last September to the semi-finals of the league, in an ultra-competitive Division, with a game to spare represents as good a start to The Second Coming as could have been hoped for. When we got back to the car after the game, I spotted a Fine Gael election poster high up on a lamppost and there was The Great One, amidst three grubby politicos whose names now escape me, grinning his Election Grin with the others. Maybe it was the bright sunshine or something, but, when I glanced up at the photos, I’d swear there was a twinkle in Johnno’s eyes . . .