Well, our unbeaten record in 2010 could still be intact come the end of January but our 100% record for the year went by the board this afternoon at Fr O’Hara Park in Charlestown where we had to settle for a 1-11 each draw with IT Sligo in the FBD League. It was a match in which we led for most of the hour and when Aidan O’Shea goaled for us early in the second half, it looked as if we’d ease away from the side that we’d beaten by 19 points when we’d met in the FBD this time last year. This year’s IT Sligo side is obviously, however, made of sterner stuff and they recovered from being four points down midway through the second half to snatch a share of the spoils at the death.
I didn’t get to today’s game either (it’ll be our opening NFL match against Galway the weekend after next before I finally get to see the lads at first-hand) but PJ kept me up-to-date once again with a continual flow of texts, while Kevin’s photos dealt with the visual side of things. As a result, I’m just the empty vessel transporting their first-hand reportage to the world. Thanks chaps – you did such a good job today that I largely ignored Midwest and so left Angelina and her MOR muzak to herself.
Our starting line-up showed five changes from last weekend, with Robert Hennelly making his second senior appearance between the sticks (his first was the corresponding fixture twelve months ago), Liam O’Malley coming in at corner-back, Lee Keegan making his senior debut at centre-back, Barry Kelly – at centre-forward – lining out for the first time since last year’s FBD match against Roscommon and Neill Douglas making his first senior start at top-of-the-left. With Liam O’Malley coming in at corner-back, Donal Vaughan switched from there to left half-back.
We started confidently today, with Aidan O’Shea fisting us into an early lead and Neil Douglas marking his senior debut by notching our second. At the halfway stage of the opening period, we were 0-3 to 0-1 ahead, with Mark Ronaldson – our scorer-in-chief the last day – notching his first of the day from a free. Our next two points came from Aidan O’Shea and Peadar Gardiner (his first for the county since this one) but they tacked on two points to keep them in touch and they were still very much in the hunt at half-time, where we went in 0-6 to 0-4 ahead with our final point of the half coming courtesy of a second Mark Ronaldson free. The two lads that PJ singled out for praise from that opening half were Lee Keegan and the rather feral looking Aidan O’Shea (of whom Kev got this snap as the lads trooped off the pitch), with PJ enthusing about the chaos that the Breaffy youngster had caused every time the ball came near him. On Midwest, Mike Finnerty also paid tribute to goalkeeper Robert Hennelly who’d beaten away two good goal attempts by the students.
Mike’s assessment was that IT Sligo were far from out of it at that stage and they quickly set about proving this on the resumption, as three points on the spin edged them one clear. Kevin Walsh had come on for Trevor and James Burke had replaced Donal Vaughan at the break but it was that old hand Andy Moran (what the hell is he doing back in the half-forwards again, by the way?) who steadied the ship for us by knocking over our seventh point of the day.
It was then that Aidan O’Shea bagged what surely won’t be his only goal for Mayo this year when he fisted the ball to the net after a neat five-man move initiated by Tom Parsons. Tom was, according to PJ, enjoying his best day in the colours for ages but he’d got yellow carded before the goal and he’d get another yellow shortly before the end so what was otherwise a fruitful day for the local man would ultimately end in less than satisfactory circumstances for him.
Ronan McGarrity departed the fray at this stage, with Mikey Sweeney coming on in the half-forwards and Barry Kelly switching to midfield where he went on to make a good impact, claiming three eye-catching marks. A third Mark Ronaldson free pushed us four clear midway through the second half and it sounded then as if we were about to pin back our collective lugs and hit for home.
It didn’t work out like that, though. They cut the lead to two but further points by Douglas – playing a blinder now, according to PJ – and Ronaldson (another free) restored our four-point advantage with ten minutes to go. Hennelly then made another superb save as IT Sligo came looking for the goal they now needed to keep them in the match but the young Breaffy netminder was finally beaten from the next assault by the students, with Sligo county player Gary Gaughan poking the ball home from close range.
Another Ronaldson free edged us back to two ahead again but then Aghamore man Alan Freeman (who was named amongst the subs for IT Sligo but started on the forty for them) set off on a 30-yard run that ended with him shooting a glorious point against his countymen. It looked like no more than a consolation score, though, with our lads – now reduced to fourteen following Tom’s deserved second yellow – looking like they’d prevail by the minimum margin as the match entered stoppage time. But then IT Sligo’s goalkeeper Adrian Faherty showed that he was capable of emulating the kind of party pieces that Robert Hennelly has performed in the past by lamping over a ’45’ to claim a deserved draw for the visitors.
Seeing that (a) it was just an FBD match and (b) I wasn’t at it, there seems little point in dwelling too much on events in Charlestown this afternoon. Positives from the day would, I guess, be the confident senior inter-county debuts made by Lee Keegan and Neill Douglas, Aidan O’Shea’s rampaging performance at full-forward, Robert Hennelly’s heroics between the sticks, Mark Ronaldson’s contribution from placed balls, Barry Kelly’s second half midfield cameo and Tom Parsons’ welcome return to form on his home ground. Negatives? 1-11 is a big enough score to concede but I’m not sure who the finger points to in terms of scores conceded. What I can say, though, is that a lack of tight defending has been a consistent feature of the Johnno II era and I’m not sure our two performances so far this year provide much proof that we’re any nearer to bolting this particular door. I doubt we’ll be too much wiser about how we’re shaping up on that score after our clash with the Rossies next weekend but our NFL opener with Joe Kernan’s early training Herrin Chokers the following weekend could help to enlighten us about this, as well showing us how we rate more generally against our closest rivals as the inter-county year starts to crank up properly once more.
MAYO: Robert Hennelly; Liam O’Malley, Alan Feeney, Keith Higgins; Peadar Gardiner (0-1), Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan; Tom Parsons, Ronan McGarrity; Andy Moran (0-1), Barry Kelly, Trevor Mortimer; Mark Ronaldson (0-5, frees), Aidan O’Shea (1-2), Neil Douglas (0-2). Subs: Kevin Walsh for Mortimer, James Burke for Vaughan, Mikey Sweeney for McGarrity, Ger McDonagh for Andy Moran.