I didn’t make it to Ballyhaunis for this afternoon’s 1-12 to 0-8 win over Roscommon in the FBD League but Edwin McGreal did and I’m delighted to welcome Ed back into the guest slot to provide his take on the afternoon’s proceedings.
It is instructive of how curious people were of this game that despite fears of it being called off, what looked like a crowd in excess of 2,000 converged on Ballyhaunis for the clash of Mayo and Roscommon this afternoon. While Mayo’s campaign got underway last week against GMIT, there is something artificial about the games against the colleges, even if they have their own merits. But, have no doubt, a clash between two counties, certainly ones as cheek by jowl over the years as Mayo and the Rossies will always whet the appetite that bit more.
The result was obviously a positive one from a Mayo perspective but of much greater importance in these opening games of the season, particularly under the new management of James Horan, is how individuals show up. The team element can come in time. What we look for now is how much the newbies make of their chance and how hungry the established players are to hang onto what they have.
Of the Mayo team that started – showing fifteen changes from the GMIT game – only Keith Higgins could be considered a definite starter for the summer. Indeed, the great thing from a point of view of competition for places this year is how few guaranteed starters there are for 2011. Pretty much everything is up for grabs.
And the players appear to know that. A lot of the new players pushed their way into contention and a few established panel players, if not established starters, reminded everyone of what they have to offer.
The story of the game is easily told. Roscommon started well, had Mayo in trouble in the first quarter. By half-time Mayo had them somewhat under control and Mark Ronaldson’s 34th minute goal put Mayo in front for the first time and Roscommon wouldn’t score again as Mayo cruised to victory.
Roscommon sprung from the blocks very quickly and Jonathan Dunning, Kevin Higgins and Donie Shine had them 0-3 to 0-0 up after 12 minutes. Mayo’s goal lived a charmed life too, Kenneth O’Malley seeing one scrambled ball somehow stay out while wing-forward Senan O’Grady crashed another effort off the post. In the first quarter Mayo were on the back foot in midfield where Kevin Higgins was ruling the roost and the Mayo full-back line had a few shaky moments.
But once James Kilcullen set up Mark Ronaldson for Mayo’s opener on 14 minutes, Mayo grew in stature. And it was the two aforementioned who had much to do with it. Ronaldson was a constant outlet at full-forward. Big he may not be but energetic, brave and speedy he is and he was a nightmare for Donal Ward to mark. Kilcullen came into it in the middle, his first Mayo game since the National League Final of 2007 by my reckoning, which was a game, against Donegal, where he was rather shabbily treated. He took time to find his feet but his impressive physique was put to good use around the middle third and he, with help from Barry Moran, saw Mayo take over at midfield.
But key to Mayo’s success was the cerebral display of fine centre-half forward play by Cathal Freeman. It was his first game back in a Mayo jersey since he broke his leg badly in 2009 whilst playing for Aghamore in a league game in Claremorris and, only 19 at that stage, his ability might not have seeped into the collective consciousness of a lot of Mayo GAA fans but today he showed what he can do and more. He has traits you love to see from a half-forward, the ability to retain possession, play with his head up, survey his options and use both feet to execute the pass. He controlled the game and has a lot to offer Mayo in 2011. Of course he’s still only Under 21. His creative spark was a key reason for Mayo being only a point in arrears at half-time, 0-7 to 0-6.
A Mark Ronaldson free had Mayo level on 30 minutes but a fine Kevin Higgins point had Roscommon take a deserved lead, although they will feel it could have been more. Ronaldson kicked five points (four frees) by this stage and, together with Garrymore’s Enda Varley were constant threats inside, Varley kicking Mayo’s other point.
Andrew Farrell at wing-forward – a member of the 2009 minor tea – was industry personified at wing-forward and helped out around the middle while the Mayo half-back line of Trevor Howley, Lee Keegan and Ruairi O’Connor helped to push Mayo forward too.
Fintan Cregg pushed Roscommon 0-8 to 0-6 in front after 32 minutes but, amazingly, that would be their last score.
Mayo’s goal came next and they never looked back. Crossmolina duo Ian Rowland and Brian Benson, who had mixed performances, both did well in the build-up and Benson played Ronaldson in. The Shrule man’s pace saw him get to the ball before Eamonn McGinley, flick the ball past him and finish to the vacant net.
Farrell followed that up with a wonderful point and Mayo turned the screw. David Killeen, the Ballinrobe full-back, showed that he has something to offer with a tremendous performance in the number three shirt, winning several inspirational balls off Donie Shine while Keith Higgins showed up well in the corner as Mayo defended with much more authority in the second half.
In fact the final Mayo tally should have been more, with both Varley and Ronaldson guilty of too many wides. Varley did kick one beautiful point off his left foot as he was running towards the left sideline. Ronaldson would add two more frees while substitutes Jason Gibbons and Aidan Kilcoyne also added to the Mayo tally.
So much for Mayo manager James Horan and his selectors James Nallen, Paul Jordan and Martin Connolly to ponder. They’ve spread the net far and wide and told lads that if they’re good enough they’ll be given a chance to prove it. Plenty are making the most of that chance so far. An encouraging start, and one we’ll definitely take.
Mayo: Kenneth O’Malley (Ballinrobe); Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis), David Killeen (Ballinrobe), Eoghan Reilly (Castlebar); Trevor Howley (Knockmore), Lee Keegan (Westport), Ruairí O’Connor (Ballintubber); Barry Moran (Castlebar), James Kilcullen (Ballaghaderreen); Ian Rowland (Crossmolina), Cathal Freeman (Aghamore), Andrew Farrell (Killala, 0-1); Enda Varley (Garrymore, 0-2), Mark Ronaldson (Shrule/Glencorrib, 1-7, 6fs), Brian Benson (Crossmolina). Subs: Richie Feeney (Castlebar) for Howley, Jason Gibbons (Ballintubber, 0-1) for Kilcullen, Austin O’Malley (St Vincent’s) for Farrell (all 45mins); Aidan Kilcoyne (Knockmore, 0-1) for Benson (50mins); Cathal Hallinan (Ballintubber) for Moran (58mins).
Roscommon: Eamonn McGinley; Sean Purcell, Donal Ward, Sean McDermott; Conor Beirne, Niall Carty, John Nolan; Micheal Finneran, Kevin Higgins (0-2); Fintan Cregg (0-2), James Connaughton, Senan O’Grady; Jonathan Dunning (0-2), Donie Shine (0-2, fs), Cathal Cregg. Subs: T Kelly for Connaguhton (52mins); John Rodgers for Shine (inj. 57mins).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).