It’s easy, I suppose, from the comfort of the sofa here in my living room to critique a performance that took place in what sounded like atrocious conditions 150 miles away up in Derry. That said, it sounded, from what I could gather from the commentary on Mad West, like it was Mayo’s wastefulness in front of goal in the second half – coupled with loose defending in the first – that cost us the game tonight in Celtic Park.
We kicked 14 wides and although Derry knocked up a fair few as well, most of ours sounded like ones from close-in shots that should really have gone over. We hit four wides on the spin after the second Derry goal and also hit the crossbar on no fewer than three occasions in the second half. On a night like this, with belting rain and a strong wind blowing down the field, missing a hatful of chances like that was always going to get us into trouble.
The weather really sounded like a bitch and the wimp in me was congratulating myself that I had chosen not to repeat the long trek from Dublin up to Derry that myself and The Brother had made for that fruitless qualifier last July. That trip felt far too long in high Summer and I’m sure it would have been a real barrel of laughs on a day like today. Especially with what happened in the first half, with Derry playing with the wind at their backs.
In fairness, Mayo seemed to start well and with 15 minutes gone, Derry only led by 0-2 to 0-1, our point coming from Andy Moran. We were passing the ball intelligently and holding up well defensively. Then, all of a shot, the home side took us to the cleaners in a five minute spell, with Paddy Bradley conducting the orchestra in attack for them.
First came a goal from Bradley, with the ball being switched quickly to the full-forward in the kind of move that too many teams seem to be able to work on us nowadays. Clarkie had no hope, by all accounts, BJ was nowhere to be seen and we were now four points down. A minute later, Bradley struck over a free from 40 yards out, two minutes after that Mark Lynch popped one from play from out on the right and two minutes later again Kieran Mullen, set up by Bradley, got another. Now we were 1-5 to 0-1 down and visibly bailing water.
Bradley then got another point after 25 minutes but we seemed to come back into it for a while after that, with Andy Moran shooting across goal, resulting in a 45 which he then put wide. Just after the half hour, Austie thrashed in a shot meant for the top right-hand corner which went just over.
At this stage, we looked to be steadying the ship but then two needless fouls by the debutants Chris Barrett and Seamus O Shea gifted two points from frees (beauties, the both of them, according to the lads on the radio) to put Derry 1-8 to 0-2 ahead at the break.
Johnno, unsuprisingly, opted for some switches at half-time. I was fulminating on the mobile with The Brother during the interval and so missed hearing about the changes at the start of the second half. Having pieced it together since, it appears as if David Heaney came on for James Gill, with Tom Cunniffe replacing Conor Moran. Well, that’s my story anyway.
We now had the wind but, trailing by nine points, we needed to get our shit together, and fast, if we were to have any hope of recovering our pride, whatever about the league points. We started well, with a shot from Andy hitting the crossbar and going over. This was followed rapidly by a point from Alan Dillon. A few minutes later, Mort opened his night’s account from a free. We were winning plenty of ball around the middle now, where Peadar Gardiner’s name kept coming up in the Mad West dispatches.
Ten minutes went by without a score but we were continuing to press forward. Then Andy Moran was fouled 14 yards out and Dillon tapped over the free to reduce the gap to five points. It now began to look like we might just be able to pull this one from the fire when, completely against the run of play, Derry struck for the killer blow.
It sounded like another one of these knife-through-butter jobs (Derry attack = the knife, our defence = the butter) with the ball being swiftly fed to Mark Lynch who put it beyond Clarkie for their second green flag of the night. That undid all our good work and, with 20 minutes or so left, gave us a real mountain to climb.
Incredibly, perhaps, it was a mountain we should – if I heard the commentary right – have succeeded in climbing. Tom Parsons came on at midfield and made an immediate impact, with Heaney switching to full-back (we’re supposed to be experimenting – right?) and the injured BJ (who even Johnno must now accept is not, and will never be, a viable option for the no. 3 jersey) went off. (I think this was because he was injured, not because Johnno had any great epiphany about the full-back conundrum).
Despite the eight point deficit, we were creating chances but we were failing to take them. As mentioned earlier, following Derry’s second goal we kicked four wides in a row but then Mort finally sprang into action, notching 1-1 from play inside a minute. Ten minutes to go and only four points down – we still weren’t out of it.
And we kept coming at them too but with six minutes left we missed one chance too many. A flowing move saw the ball transferred to the in-rushing Peadar Gardiner whose shot cannoned back off the crossbar where it was gathered by Mickey Mullins and kicked wide. Immediately, Derry worked the ball up the field, won a soft free 14 yards out and kicked it over.
Chris Barrett then got a point from play soon after and this was followed by a wide from Howley – our 14th of the evening. A minute into injury time, Andy Moran had a shot tipped onto the crossbar by the Derry goalie resulting in a 45 that we missed. Mickey Mullins then ended the night’s scoring with a point from play and when John Bannon blew the final whistle soon after, we had come up three points short.
That’s about it – it almost feels now as if I was there but I’m still on the sofa, though about to leave it to put on the kettle. I think I’ll leave the post-match head-scratching till tomorrow and sign off for now with the Mayo team and scorers, which were as follows:
MAYO: D Clarke, C Moran, BJ Padden, L O’Malley, C Barrett (0-1), T Howley, K Higgins; S O Shea, P Gardiner; J Gill, A Dillon (0-2), M Mullins (0-1); C Mortimor (1-2), A O’Malley (0-1), A Moran (0-2). Subs: T Cunniffe (for C Moran), D Heaney (for Gill), T Parsons (for Padden).