If one wanted to be critical, there was no shortage of targets at McHale Park today. Like the weather, the small crowd (just over 12,000), the wretchedness of Sligo’s attempted title defence, the fact that we failed to score a point in the second half for all of 24 minutes (goals were no problem but points were), John Bannon’s execrable refereeing performance and last, but by no means least, the caterwauling of a few young wans from Sligo who were sitting behind us (has Sex and the City not, like, opened yet in Sligo?). But one doesn’t really want to be critical because we won at a canter and, let’s face it, not many of us were saying in advance that we’d do this.
I’m not going to do a full match report either (here’s RTE’s if you want one) as most of you will know full well how the action unfolded. We never looked like losing today, even during that sloppy first half when neither side was playing with any real purpose and once Pat Harte blasted home the penalty after Conor had been hauled down shortly before half-time, it was already a question of how much we’d win by. When Trevor profited from a dreadful blunder at the back early in the second half to nab a second goal for us, even the Sex and the City brigade behind us had given up hope and when Killer, on the pitch little more than a minute, smashed in the third, it was obvious we were going to beat them out the gate.
It was hard to believe how poor Sligo were today. How in the name of God did these players manage to win Connacht last year? On today’s performance, they won’t even be contenders for the Tommy Murphy Cup. Apart from Mark Breheny and, in particular, corner-forward David Kelly, they hadn’t a single player that was able to compete in any meaningful way and the 13-point hammering they took was in no sense an injustice. They were truly awful.
You could argue that we weren’t hectic either, especially in that disjointed first half but, then again, when have we ever given a perfectly fluent performance in our first championship outing? After the inordinately long break since our last competitive fixture (which, in case you’ve forgotten was this one in the middle of April), we were obviously going to be fairly rusty and it’s certainly the case that we’ll need to be a whole load better if we’re to sort out Galway in the final.
Although the backs eventually did okay, their early looseness was at times alarming and but for two superb David Clarke saves (one in each half), the Sligo lads could have rattled the Mayo net twice. The forwards, too, looked a bit all over the place early on but we eventually racked up a big score, all of which – apart from Pat Harte’s penalty goal – came from play. I don’t think I’ve ever before seen Mayo get all their points from play in a championship match and some of those points – like Austie’s brace and the two from Tom Parsons (who, as I’d hoped he would, came of age for us at midfield today), as well as a few of Mort’s – were high quality efforts. In addition, as Kev pointed out on The Sunday Game, we got our three goals all in a row (i.e. with no points in between), which must rank as a first of some kind.
In terms of performances, it was, for our lads, a bit of a mixed bag.
David Clarke was superb between the sticks. Left totally exposed twice in one-on-one positions, he pulled off two important saves, the first of which ensured that Sligo, who were at that stage enjoying a decent enough spell, got no reward for their efforts and the second denied them a consolation goal with ten minutes to go. Those two saves ensured that, for the first time since the replayed All-Ireland quarter-final in 2006, we managed to avoid conceding a goal in a championship match.
Colm Boyle had a tough enough time early on coping with David Kelly who turned him inside out for a point in the first half but Colm made a number of good blocks and grew in confidence as the game went on. He more than justified his selection. Kieran Conroy spent most of the match well out the field, where he seemed quite lost and seemed to drift aimlessly enough through the game. Mind you, Sligo didn’t profit in any sense from moving Breheny out. The jury’s obviously still out on Conroy at full-back and he’s likely to be far more in the thick of it on Michael Meehan the next day. In the other corner, I thought Keith was far too loose and his insistence on standing yards off his marker was really getting on The Brother’s nerves early in the second half. It’s clear he’s more suited to the half-backs but that line isn’t likely to change for the final.
The half-backs were good, I thought, though, in Trevor Howley’s absence, that channel through the middle seemed open for business again today, with many of Sligo’s first half attacks coming via that route. David Heaney did plenty of good work but he’s not the stone wall that Howley can be and he can also be maddeningly slow in releasing possession. Sligo’s first goal chance came from a poor Heaney pass which got turned over rapidly. That said, he has a good track record on Joyce and he’s certain to start on him on July 13th. Tom Cunniffe had a great match, I thought – he’s well able to put himself about and he defended and attacked with plenty of vigor. He was one of our top performers today. On the other wing, Jimmy Nallen did just fine, which just goes to show that Johnno knows more about picking his starting fifteen than I do.
Ronan laboured at midfield and, after getting stupidly booked early on, he struggled to impose himself on the proceedings. It was a little surprising that someone like Seamus O’Shea wasn’t given a run-out instead of him in the second half. In contrast, Tom Parsons was superb – he made a number of searing runs into the heart of the Sligo defence, one of which led to Trevor’s goal and another to Killer’s, he fetched some lovely ball and his two points at either end of the game bookended our scoring.
In the half-forwards, Peadar never got going and looked for all the world like a half-back playing at half-forward. He eventually gave way to Aidan Kilcoyne fifteen minutes into the second half and Killer’s goal showed immediately that our attack had a fresh potency. Peadar will be lucky to keep his place for the final. Pat Harte did okay, I thought, even if centre-forward isn’t his natural position. He got a point as well as the penalty goal, but he was fortunate enough with the spot-kick as he blasted it down the middle and had the Sligo goalie stood his ground, he’d have easily saved it. If Alan Dillon is fit the next day, I say he’ll be back on the forty with Harte at no.10. Trevor had a fine match on the other wing. A huge amount of ball went through him, he gave the pass to Conor for the penalty and he reacted quickly to bag that opportunistic goal just after the restart. It was Trevor’s best performance for us since he was in top form back in 2004.
Conor was in fine form too, scoring five points all of which were from play. They were all typical Conor efforts, with economy of movement and efficient execution. He missed a few frees in the first half and the way he swung at those suggested strongly that his injury hadn’t fully cleared up but Bannon gave us so few frees during the game that he never got one within his range after that. Austie was quieter than he perhaps should have been but the two points he did get were vintage Austie ones. Andy Moran, surprisingly, had a total stinker. He won hardly any ball and seemed to come off second best every time and the only surprise was that he wasn’t taken off sooner than he eventually was.
Killer scored 1-1 in that second half cameo of his and will now be pressing strongly for a starting place in the final. If Andy’s place is now in doubt then we could do a lot worse than Killer in that corner. It was good to see BJ come on, though it was slightly bizarre to see this spring’s full-back come on at full-forward. He’s nothing if not versatile.
I can’t finish up without commenting on John Bannon’s performance. He was absolutely appalling, giving Sligo every possible break (except the penalty which replays on The Sunday Game suggested he got wrong) and he even booked Tom Parsons for executing a perfectly legal shoulder charge. I sincerely hope that’s the last we’ve seen of that portly eejit for a while.
And that’s it. I’m off on my hols at the end of next week and when the holiday was being booked some months back, there was quite a bit of discussion in Chez WJ about the dates for same. My red line in these particular discussions was that I needed to be back in the jurisdiction prior to July 13th and so we’re due to land back in Dublin airport around midnight on the Twalfth. Needless to say, there would have been some mirth at my expense in these parts had we failed to reach the final but it was obvious from very early on today that this was never going to be in doubt.
MAYO: David Clarke; Colm Boyle, Kieran Conroy, Keith Higgins; Tom Cunniffe, David Heaney, James Nallen; Ronan McGarritty, Tom Parsons (0-2); Peadar Gardiner, Pat Harte (1-1, goal from a penalty), Trevor Mortimor (1-0); Conor Mortimor (0-5), Austin O’Malley (0-2), Andy Moran. Subs: Aidan Kilcoyne (1-1) for Gardiner, BJ Padden (for O’Malley), Mickey Mullins for Trevor Mortimor, Mark Ronaldson for Conor Mortimor.
PS: For some reason, the technical explanation for which is beyond me, all of the photos and video clips I took today have disappeared from the memory card on my camera, hence why it’s all words and no pictures on this occasion.