For the first time in the Johnno II era, we’ve managed to start the year with a win, beating NUIG in the first round of the FBD by 0-11 to 0-9 at Garrymore. I didn’t make it across the Shannon today and so had to put up with very infrequent updates and some very gauche musical choices from Angelina on her afternoon “sports” show on Midwest but, thankfully, PJ was at the match this afternoon and he kept me abreast of developments via a barrage of text messages. Oh, the wonders of technology.
From what PJ had to say – an account largely corroborated by Mike Finnerty in his report for Midwest – it was a lively enough affair, played on a day that was positively screaming out for a good game of football to grace it. We fielded the strongest ever side I’ve seen us put out in the FBD, with only five changes to the starting line-up compared with the All-Ireland quarter-final against Meath last August. Of the quintet coming in, only one – Alan Feeney at full-back – was a newcomer to the inter-county scene, with 2009 squad members Chris Barrett, Mikey Sweeney and Mark Ronaldson all getting starting berths while David Clarke regained his rightful position between the sticks.
From the sound of it, it was a close match but it was one in which we had our noses in front for most of the time. Mark Ronaldson – undoubtedly Man of the Match, according to both Mike and PJ – knocked over three early frees and points from play by Aidan O’Shea and Trevor Mortimer pushed us 0-5 to 0-2 ahead at one stage. NUIG – who had Galway regulars Sean Armstrong (is that lad ever going to leave uni?), Gareth Bradshaw as well as our own Ciaran Conroy in their ranks – then hit back to level before Ronaldson bagged his fourth, this one from play, to send us in a point up at the break.
Ardnaree’s James Burke (who, incidentally, wasn’t named in the FBD panel the other week) replaced Trevor Howley (who, according to PJ, got a clatter in the first half) and he slotted in at wing-back, with Peadar Gardiner shifting across to centre-back for the second half. Local boy Jimmy Killeen also came on for his senior county bow on his home turf, replacing Mikey Sweeney, and, as events transpired, he claimed a significant say in how the game played out.
The second half was a close enough affair too, with NUIG drawing level with us twice before we edged two clear of them with around ten minutes to go. Ronaldson weighed in with two of these and Neil Douglas, who had come on for Pat Harte, notched the other one on his first senior appearance for his county. NUIG then cut our lead to the minimum and when Keith Higgins was ordered off on a second yellow (no complaints with the decision, according to PJ), it began to look like we might get caught at the death. This, however, was where Jimmy Killeen demonstrated his local hero status by lamping over a free from way out near the sideline to give us the insurance point we needed. We ran out deserved two-point victors at the end.
Mark Ronaldson, with his haul of seven points, was the star of the show but Aidan O’Shea was also to the fore, being the happy recipient of plenty of Route 1 ball that he made good use of. Ronan did well about the middle, according to PJ, but he also felt there was a fair bit of the usual arsing and messing around the middle third. Well, it is only the middle of January, I suppose.
The new rules appeared to cause the same kind of confusion in Garrymore as they did elsewhere this weekend, in particular the closed fist rule, breaches of which were constantly being pulled up by the ref. We did better than them when it came to claiming marks, by all accounts, and it’ll be interesting to see how well we do with this particular rule over the course of the spring.
That’s it, then: a welcome win to start the year and with matches to come against Sligo IT (who beat Roscommon by a point today) and Roscommon, the giddy heights of an FBD final appearance is starting to beckon for us. If we do manage to get that far, then we’ll surely be set for a second spring clash with Joe Kernan’s non-collectively training (nod, nod, wink, wink – eh Johnno?) new charges. Mike said that Johnno observed there was “plenty of bite” in this afternoon’s encounter and, if we end up facing Galway twice in quick succession over the next month or so, we can expect plenty more of the same in the weeks to come too.
MAYO: David Clarke; Donal Vaughan, Alan Feeney, Keith Higgins; Peadar Gardiner, Trevor Howley, Chris Barrett; Tom Parsons, Ronan McGarrity; Andy Moran, Pat Harte, Trevor Mortimer (0-1); Mark Ronaldson (0-7, four frees), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Mikey Sweeney. Subs: James Burke for Howley, Jimmy Killeen (0-1, free) for Sweeney, Neil Douglas (0-1) for Harte, Kevin Walsh for Mortimer.