Following Mayo's footballers

Kildare 2-8 Mayo 2-14: slow start, slow finish but big win secured in between

dsc04310_.jpgIn some respects, this was a bit of an odd one. We won by six but it should have been double that, we were played off the park in the opening ten minutes but then outscored our hosts by 2-9 to 0-3 over the remainder of the half, we did enough to secure the points early the second half but then gradually lost interest as the contest petered out tamely. A poor start, not a great finish but very tasty in between – a bit like a gourmet sandwich filling on stale bread.

Ignoring that opening home salvo for a moment, this was the epitome of a facile victory: the job was as good as done by the end of that rather extraordinary first 35 minutes. Kildare owned the pitch in that opening period, winning everything at midfield, scoring at will and breaking up with ease every attack we attempted to initiate. However, once we’d weathered this early storm and started to get a few scores ourselves, their challenge just melted away and once we’d breached their net twice in quick succession, the game was effectively over as a contest. Four early second half points confirmed this, as did Kildare’s decision from early in the second half to eschew point-scoring opportunities in a vain attempt to raise another green flag themselves. Little wonder the home support was streaming out of the ground with a full fifteen minutes still left on the clock.

After seven minutes, few of the large Kildare following at St Conleth’s Park would have entertained any notion of such a negative outcome. Dermot Earley and Ronan Sweeney took control at midfield from the off and a flow of accurate ball started coming into Kildare’s playmaker, the superb John Doyle. He got two of Kildare’s opening three points and then profited from a Tom Cunniffe stumble to rifle home the opening goal of the game. Tom was a bit unlucky for the goal as he’d won the ball initially but then seemed to fumble it and that’s not the kind of thing you can expect to get away with if there’s a gent like Johnny Doyle in the neighbourhood. 1-3 to 0-0 after seven minutes: this certainly wasn’t in the script.

A few things then happened quickly that served to alter the course of a match that looked, from our perspective, to be heading badly out of kilter. Keith Higgins went in to put manners on Doyle (with Cunniffe thriving from the extra freedom afforded to him in the half-backs), we started to win ball at midfield and, as we drove forward, we didn’t waste any scoring chances that came our way. Alan Dillon got us on our way with this pointed free, then Conor Mortimor fired over a cracker from play and Tom Cunniffe stormed through to smash over another to narrow the gap to a more manageable three points.

Kildare should have scored a second goal soon after but the point they did get was cancelled out by this Conor Mortimor free. As young Mort was converting the free, his older brother was hobbling off, having pulled a hamstring, with Pat Harte coming on to replace him. We shot two wides after this, one from an Austie free far out on the left and then Dillon, having taken a hospital pass from Gill, failed to find the target. Our spirits were soon raised, though, when Ronan came steaming through and smacked over a nice point from the right to cut the deficit to just two points.

John Doyle evaded Keith’s clutches to get Kildare’s fifth point soon after and it was now screamingly obvious that Doyle was the sole target of every ball Kildare were sending forward. Moreover, with our grip around the middle tightening, that supply line was becoming less and less productive. We soon gave the home support more immediate worries when we broke through for the first of our two goals, with Andy Moran feeding Tom Parsons and the young midfielder found the net with ease. Just beforehand, I’d turned to The Brother saying “where the hell is Parsons?”. The Charlestown man lost no time in putting me straight on that one. Twenty-five minutes gone and the match was now all square.

We hit the front soon after when the Kildare goalie handled on the ground outside the small square and Mort pointed the resultant 14-yard free. Andy Moran then put us two ahead with a point from play just after but, with David Heaney ahead of him on the overlap 14 yards out and totally unmarked, it looked as if he’d taken the wrong option to shoot.

Kildare’s corner-forward Ken Donnelly, fed by John Doyle (who else?), scored from play to reduce the gap to the minimum once more but Mort was then put through by Andy Moran to get his second from play. Ronan kicked a pointless wide but the next ball in from midfield was better and better still was the fact that Andy caught it, turned and stuck it in the net. Who says high ball into small men is of no use?

dsc04304.jpgWe were now, incredibly, five points up having trailed by six after only seven minutes. Then, to round off this excellent period, Austie – who was trying hard all the half but with little reward – finished a move that started with a brilliant Howley intercept and a superb assist from Dillon. The move demanded a top class finish and Austie (pictured, about to pull the trigger) didn’t disappoint. 2-9 to 1-6 at half-time.

The lads looked fairly relaxed as they came out for the second half and with good reason too as it was obvious that Kildare really had to come at us with all guns blazing if they were to have any hope of getting something from the game. They did manage to score a point from a free right on the restart but we continued to dominate all over the field and within 15 minutes, we were effectively out of sight. Our first point in the half was another Austie special and again it came after a fine build-up, with the move initiated by Colm Boyle (who was impressive throughout) who fed Cunniffe who, in turn, laid it off for the Louisburgh man to dispatch. Two Mort pointed frees followed (here’s the first), for fouls on Gill and Andy Moran and then Dillon knocked over another free to put us nine clear.

Kildare did manage to carve out a number of chances but every time they went for goal they failed and you could almost see the confidence visibly draining out of them. Then, just in case they weren’t miserable enough, the heavens opened. The first of the home support started to head for the exits soon after.

With the conditions deteriorating rapidly and the result beyond doubt, it was hardly surprising that the quality of football went south as well. There was a twenty-minute spell in the second half when neither side scored but we eventually ended this barren period with Austie firing over his third from play, to complete our tally for the day.

With time almost up and Kildare having only scored a single point in the second half (from a free at that), a John Doyle penalty goal – following a foot block by David Heaney – and a point from play from the same player brought an undeserved patina of respectability to the final score. Make no mistake about it, this was a six-point hammering and it looks as if Kieran McGeeney will have his work cut out if he’s to bring this Kildare side on in any meaningful way this year.

From our perspective, in contrast, there was plenty to be positive about today. We were solid at the back, starting with Clarkie who made a number of good saves and at times seemed to be operating as an extra member of the full-back line. Kieran Conroy didn’t put a foot wrong, Colm Boyle enjoyed an excellent debut and Tom Cunniffe – once he’d moved out – did more than enough to atone for the slip-up that led to Kildare’s early goal. Trevor Howley was solid, David Heaney put in a load of work, linking well between defence and midfield, and Keith Higgins was nothing short of outstanding. He defended tigerishly – largely neutralising the threat of John Doyle when he was switched into the corner on him, he moved forward with electrifying speed and his handling had to be seen to be believed. He was without doubt our Man of the Match.

After a shaky start where we didn’t win a ball, midfield settled down well and you can see that Ronan is improving game on game as he returns to full fitness. Tom Parsons did well too and took his goal nicely. James Gill put in a lot of work around the middle as well but to little effect and it was surprising to see him left on till the end. Pat Harte seemed to have far more zip in him and, if it comes to a choice between them (which is likely), this isn’t a contest the Westport man will win. Alan Dillon put in a very solid day’s work and although he didn’t score from play, his distribution of the ball was very effective and he did raise two white flags from frees.

Early on, the full-forward line looked beaten up the proverbial stick and while, as a unit, they looked less fluid than normal, they still caused more than enough damage on the scoreboard. Conor ended up with six points, two of them from play, Austie got three from play and Andy Moran bagged 1-1 from play. It was particularly gratifying to see Austie getting a decent return as he’d endured a very frustrating opening thirty minutes and could probably hear the mutterings starting in the terraces. Those excellent points, one at the end of the first half and the other at the start of the second, would have quelled any such dissent.

The only moan I would have about the day is one directed at the sideline. If ever there was a day for emptying the bench, then this was it. Tom Parsons – with U21 duties coming up – could easily have been replaced by Seamus O’Shea (U21 as well but could do with the exercise) midway through the second half, Tom Cunniffe (also U21) could have given way to Pat Kelly and James Gill certainly should have been hauled off, with maybe someone like Brian Benson given a 20 minute run out. Instead, what we got were two utterly pointless substitutions right at the end, with Mark Ronaldson coming on for Conor and Barry Moran for Alan Dillon. It didn’t make much sense to me, I have to say.

dsc04320.jpgThat’s a small quibble, though, on a day where we went a long way towards securing our Division 1 status for next year. More important than that, we showed a bit of ruthlessness in attack and while a better team than Kildare might not have let us back into the game with quite the same amount of graciousness (think Galway, for example), the kind of battling qualities we demonstrated in that first half period would trouble any team in the country. A satisfactory afternoon’s work, then, and even St Patrick himself, with his newly minted banner proclaiming “No Wooden Spoon for Mayo”, looked pleased with how the afternoon had gone.

Comments

  1. did you not think the full back line waqs just crying out for Liam o’malley? funny you never mentioned him,

  2. Willie Joe says:

    No, I didn’t (on either count). In any event, it was announced before throw-in that, along with Chris Barrett, he had been withdrawn from the list of subs so I suppose he was injured.

  3. jeez ros get over yourself about l.omalley. enjoy these reports on the games and keep up the good work willie joe

  4. Willie Joe says:

    Thanks Mayo51 (will you be changing your name to Mayo08 later in the year, I wonder?).

    It is a bit amusing that the LoM situation has become such an issue and the depth of hostility at my suggestion (and it only ever was a suggestion – I’m not the Pope or JOM for feck’s sake) that we should try someone else says more about the motives of those behind this hostility than anything else.

    I only ever made the suggestion because I thought Liam had underperformed in every game for over a year and Colm Boyle’s performance yesterday would indicate that the change was correct. Time will tell, of course, and I’m not claiming any infallibility on this (or any other issue).

  5. Was pretty happy coming away from Newbridge yesterday evening, it is amazing how much can change in a couple of weeks…
    Have to agree with W.J’s analysis – Kildare were brutal, and this must be factored into any judgement. John Doyle has always been a class act, and it was no surprise that he troubled the umpires, but Keith Higgins did enough to make sure that any momentum he ignited was quickly snuffed out. I feel that it is important that Higgins is looked after between now and the summer i.e. kept away from the hurling! He was a massive loss in championship ’07, and it must be fair comment to say that he is one of a small number who have the potential to hold Michael Meehan. My man of the match for sure yesterday.

    Boyle was steady – however the calibre of forward he was facing was in general poor. Liam O’Malley has had tougher opponents to contend with this year (Mc Fadden, Darren O’Sullivan). Need to see a little more before I make up my own mind.
    Trevor Howley is emerging as the find of the campaign at number six, his physicality is refreshing, and it lets the opposition know that we are not to be pushed around. Might need to show a little more going forward though. Doesn’t have the dynamism of a young James Nallen, but can kick an odd point when required.
    Am glad to see that Austie is rewarding John O’s persistent selection. For too often he has been shipped in and out of the team. He can lead the line, and I reckon he should start in the Summer. He has the habit of hitting booming points at the right time – demonstrated by the rocket he launched at the begining of the 2nd half yesterday.
    Re. subs, would like to have seen O’Shea. Parsons took his goal well, but I dont think that he will be in the engine room come June (and beyond hopefully!)
    Am in two minds about next weekend – when we beat them in the league, we loose in championship so … However the sight of the maroon jersey is enough to get any Mayo man’s blood up, albeit in early April.

  6. rosnarun says:

    dinnae heed me i only posted here as i was accused of not taking my complaint to source.
    your right about barret though lets hope this spell out doesnt put him too far back in the queue . i mean whos talking about mickey mullins now who had’t missed a game untill he was injured. it’ll be a long road back for him

  7. Willie Joe says:

    You’re right, DB, Keith should be wrapped in cotton wool between matches – the days of the dual stars ended with the likes of Liam Currams and Teddy McCarthy and if he gets another belt of the timber like he did last year, we’d really be in the soup. I think he’ll definitely start on Meehan the next day (where does that leave Conroy though?) and, if so, we could be in for an interesting afternoon.

    The Galway game should be a cracker and, unlike last year (and probably the year before), this league encounter is worth winning (well, at least for us it is!) so there should be a fair bit of bite in it. Also, the tables are turned from last year, as it was no advantage for us to play Peter Ford’s Galway (again) before the championship last year whereas they got to see Mayo under Johnno at close quarters for the first time but now we’ll get a gawk at them under Liam Sammon before (almost certainly) playing them for real in July.

    God, Ros, but you’re almost getting civil. Is it something I’ve said?

    I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Barrett, by the way. There’ll be more musical chairs at the back before June, I’d say, and he could yet get a chance to stake his claim again.

  8. ontheroad says:

    o malley is one of those descent young lads that will do anything for a team. Hoowever if we are to be successful we also have to be ruthless. O Malley lacks too much, a good sub for any of the back lines possibly, but no more than that. I am confused about the Kildare match, one report said the half back line was the best on the pitch, another said Heaney was brutal. I think we should consign Kildare to where most knowledgeable GAA followers consign them and put down our imagined fear of them more to the fact that McGeeney was in charge of them. Fat lot of good he did on the sideline. like Jack O Shea before him he will get a few more rude awakinings before he will see that its not as easy to turn over the habits of a lifetime on any team.

  9. Willie Joe says:

    I didn’t think Heaney was all that bad – I know his passing was a bit awry at times but I didn’t think he had an absolute howler or anything. I suppose with all those young lads around him in the back line, we do need some older heads there too and I can’t realistically see us starting on 22nd June without Heaney in the first fifteen. Mind you, if Barrett was available (he seems to have been held back because of his U21 duties), there’d be nothing wrong with giving him a few matches off either.

    I agree with you sentiments about LoM – he’s a good man to have in reserve as cover and I’ve little doubt but that’ll he see some more action in the colours before the year is out. For now, Colm Boyle has earned the right to the no.4 jersey but we need to see how things progress from one match to the next.

  10. Was i at the same game as the rest of ye. I thought the full back line was brutal bar the last ten minutes of the game. Keith Higgins was the man who settled things. Cuniffee, Conroy or Boyle did nothing until Kildare stopped playing late in the second half!

  11. Cant believe i seem to be the only one with this view on the game. I thought the full back line was brutal. Keith Higgins settled things a bit but other than that, Conroy Boyle or Cuniffee didnt do a thing until late in the second half and at that stage – Kildare wernt even trying.

  12. Willie Joe says:

    I assume that you x2 there, Claire!

    I think you’re being a bit harsh there although what was going on in the full-back line in the opening seven minutes does need a bit of analysing by Johnno and his colleagues. My take on it was that Doyle played puck with Cunniffe (though I do think he was very unlucky for the goal) but when Keith went in on him and, at around the same time, when we began to wake up at midfield and in the forwards (where we were totally out of it as well in that period) things began to right themselves.

    Cunniffe certainly seemed more comfortable in the half-back line and it could be that we may have to switch Keith back into the corner. That would be a pity, given his obvious offensive talents but, with BJ now seemingly heading for the operating theatre, we may have little other option.

    I thought Boyle was impressive enough and he initiated a number of moves out of defence. Conroy too looked solid enough and the defence dealt very competently with Kildare’s (admittedly woeful) second half goal attempts. That wasn’t only the case in the last ten minutes.

    The problem I had in looking at, and writing about, the match was it was such a bloody strange one. One minute, we looked stuffed, the next we had it won and there was still a full half to play. What I think we can say for sure is that the current backline hasn’t faced a serious forward unit yet. We should all be a good deal wiser after next Sunday, I reckon.

  13. I reckon your right Willy Joe. Galway will be the tester and i guarentee if the same 3 line out this Sunday…. The will be wiped!!!!

  14. Willie Joe says:

    I’d say we’ll see horses for courses on Sunday. The same full-back line could well be named but Keith is almost certain to pick up Meehan with Trevor Howley on Joyce.

    Galway will tell us a lot and not just about the full-back line either. Bergin and Cullinane will be a big test for us at midfield and our full-forward line will be far more tightly marked than they were last Sunday. Should be a fascinating encounter.

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