Following Mayo's footballers

Mayo 1-13 Down 3-7: gutsy fightback earns deserved draw

When compiling the stats the other day on our previous thirteen meetings with Down, the fact that we’d never drawn a game with them was, I thought, noteworthy (and so I noted it as such).  When The Mournemen broke through for their third goal this evening to send them five clear with 20 minutes remaining, the chances of a first-ever draw coming from tonight’s match with them looked rather slim.  Little did we know then that it’d take a last minute miss from Peadar Gardiner for us to keep it all square at the end.

It sure was an interesting evening’s football as anyone who was there in the large enough crowd will readily concur.  That crowd included a fair few who had made the trek from Down for the occasion and at half-time they would have been happy enough with their decision to do so.

In that opening period, they looked every inch like a side that had had a good championship last year – all busy movement, slick passing and clever running with their main man Marty Clarke conducting the orchestra – while we looked very much like a team that was trying but not succeeding to start anew.

We weren’t helped by the freak goal that put a pep in their step within minutes of the throw-in.  Marty Clarke’s 45 didn’t have the height or the distance but it had plenty of power and when the in-swinging ball cannoned off Ronan McGarrity, Kenneth O’Malley in goals hadn’t a chance to react and Down were a goal to the good, with John Clarke soon after adding to that tally with a pointed free.

A point from play by Andy Moran opened our evening account, with Alan Dillon adding a second soon after.  Danny Hughes – another star performer last year for the Mournemen – got their first from play before Mark Ronaldson pointed after a fine upfield surge from Tom Cunniffe.

We were starting to settle but already it was obvious that our passing in the middle third was giving us serious problems.  Time and again we won ball either at the back or round the middle but every time we had the ball and the opportunity to do something with it, we ended up giving it to them via a succession of ill-judged foot passes.  I lost count at the number of times that we, in effect, kicked the ball to them but I wouldn’t be surprised if the that number was somewhere between twenty and thirty.

To do this against a team like Down who were very comfortable on the ball and good at moving it forward to good effect was, well, problematic.  Just how much so soon became obvious.

Marty Clarke skinned Ger Cafferkey and landed a sweet point with the outside of his boot but worse was to follow when Down broke again leaving our final line badly exposed and enabling Benny Coulter to feed John Clarke for an easy second goal.  Soon after that, Clarke almost got his second when he reacted quickest to a Coulter shot that came back off the upright but this time he was content with the point.

We needed to get some scores on the board at that stage or otherwise we could have been facing a hammering. Alan Freeman – who was excellent tonight – was the man who hauled us back into it with a superb run through the heart of the Down defence which simply parted and let him through.  His shot took a deflection off one of their backs but he’ll definitely claim the goal that brought us back into contention.

A Clarke free, cancelled out by one for us from Mark Ronaldson left us four adrift at the break and with plenty to ponder on.  How many changes would we make before the restart? Who’d be hauled off first?  That kind of pondering.

The team was out again smartly enough but a quick head-count confirmed that there weren’t going to be any immediate changes and when Danny Hughes got the opening point of the second half for them, it looked like the game wasn’t going to change direction either.

We then pegged them back a bit, with frees from Ronaldson and Andy Moran, before we made a curious double substitution.  Ronaldson gave way for Neil Douglas while Richie Feeney, who had been in the thick of it all evening till then, was replaced by Peadar Gardiner.

Soon it all began to look a bit academic when they bagged their third goal of the night, shortly after Andy Moran had pointed another free for us. The gap was now five points and the fightback we’d been threatening to mount appeared to have been killed off before it had ever got the chance to get going properly.

But that wasn’t to be the evening’s script because from then till the end, we completely dominated proceedings.  We won every ball at midfield, every breaking ball, every ball we’d no real right to win and, as an added bonus, we stopped kicking the ball back to them as well.

Another Andy free (he was really getting into the swing of the free-taking now) got us going and then the hard-working Alan Dillon landed a sweet one from play.  Kevin McLoughlin, raiding up the wing, drew a large roar from the home crowd when his effort sailed over to cut the gap back to two.

With fifteen minutes to go, Tom Parsons came on for Jason Gibbons and almost immediately hacked an awful wide at the end of a move he’d initiated with a fine fetch round the middle.  Then Andy showed how much he was enjoying the evening by smashing a delicious long-range effort over the bar to cut the gap to the minimum.

We could now sense that a stirring comeback win might even be in the offing and when Enda Varley arrowed over a monstrous point with his left from well out on the wing on the stand side the chances that we’d do so increased a significant notch as well.

Down had hardly been in our half for the previous fifteen minutes but when they did finally manage to break forward, they inched in front once more through Maginn and they had two wides soon after as well, the second from a long-range Clarke effort.  Then, with the match entering stoppage time who else but MOTM Andy Moran smacked over another super point to claim a deserved share of the spoils for us and to seal a result that I think both sides will be happy with.

There was plenty about our performance tonight that James Horan and his colleagues won’t be happy about, in particular our loose and wasteful approach in the first half.  But there’ll equally be plenty they’ll look back on with satisfaction, as we never let up after the hammer blows those goals must have represented and our hard work eventually saw us completely swamp Down in the final twenty minutes.

In terms of performances, there were a number of positives. Kenneth O’Malley can’t be faulted for any of the goals and he made a hugely brave save at the feet of one of the Down forwards in the first half, at a stage when another goal could have killed the game.  This is a lad, remember, who suffered a truly horrific injury making a similar save in a colleges game a few years ago yet he flung himself at the ball without hesitation.  And won it too.

The full-back line did well.  Tom Cunniffe put in a strong performance on his hometown pitch, Cathal Hallinan enjoyed a good debut and Keith Higgins also did well in the other corner.

Ger Cafferkey was given the runaround for much of the evening by Marty Clarke but the Down maestro’s influence waned sharply once we got a grip on things around the middle.  Richie Feeney was subbed but I thought he was unlucky to be taken off while on the other wing Kevin McLoughlin battled hard and scored a vital point in the second half.

Midfield was a mixed bag.  Ronan didn’t do a whole lot in the first half but when he got going in the second this coincided (no coincidence surely?) with our taking over at the middle.  Jason Gibbons struggled visibly in the first half and more than once was gulity of ceding possession with poorly judged passes but he worked hard and will have learned plenty from tonight’s experience.  Tom Parsons, who replaced Jason midway through the second half, also had a hand in our late comeback.

Andy Moran – who contributed six points to our total – was our star performer on the night (didn’t I say the other day he’s a mighty man in the league?) but Alan Dillon wasn’t far behind him.  Dillon’s man was swinging out of him all evening but he finally managed to slip clear in the second half and his intelligent promptings were at the heart of our attacks as we made our comeback.

Aidan O’Shea, though, had another mare of a performance.  To be frank, he didn’t even look fit and his attempts at handling were truly woeful.  The only surprise was that he ended the match on the pitch and it’ll be an even bigger one if he starts the next day.  Aidan has plenty to offer but there are others in better form at the minute who deserve a shot too and, on tonight’s showing, we need to be looking at other options.

Enda Varley and Mark Ronaldson did okay and both chipped in with important scores and Varley’s second half point was an absolute monster of a score. I don’t know why Ronnie was taken off but Neil Douglas did do okay when he came on.

Alan Freeman ended up going off too (Cillian O’Connor coming on for him) but the Aghamore man put in a great evening’s shift before what looked like a hand injury forced him off near the end.  Freeman is, I believe, the real deal – he’s big, he’s brave, he doesn’t panic on the ball, he knows where the posts are and he’s got a truly fabulous pair of hands.  Hopefully whatever injury he suffered isn’t too serious.

So, a draw it was to start the year and the new era for the team and their manager. It was far from flawless but that’s only to be expected at this time of year.  I suspect we’ll see plenty more flaws as the spring campaign progresses but if we see the same kind of attitude and work-rate as we did in the second half of this evening’s match then we can have every reason to be optimistic for the year that lies ahead.

Mayo: Kenneth O’Malley; Tom Cunniffe, Cathal Hallinan, Keith Higgins; Richie Feeney, Ger Cafferkey, Kevin McLoughlin (0-1); Ronan McGarrity, Jason Gibbons; Andy Moran (0-6, four frees), Aidan O’Shea, Alan Dillon (0-1); Enda Varley (0-1), Alan Freeman (1-1), Mark Ronaldson (0-3, 2 frees).  Subs: Peadar Gardiner for Feeney, Neil Douglas for Ronaldson, Tom Parsons for Gibbons, Cillian O’Connor for Freeman (inj.).

Comments

  1. good come back well done andy mark alans good game just that the defence broke down a couple of times keep the faith and forget the past SAM is comming

  2. Great midfield display McGarrity was brill–forget about the goalmouth problems.
    I am afraid ronaldson wont make it–too light,
    Feeney was excellent as was Moran & freeman.

  3. So much for Andy Moran being over the hill !! We got a fair few soft decisions off the ref but overall it was a great comeback against an experienced Down team.
    Very impressed by Alan Freeman at FF. New captain was pretty good and E. Varley got arguably the best score of the League with that point towards the end. Hopefully will give him big confidence for this year.
    Very disappointed with AOS at CHF. Couldn’t hold onto the ball at all and looked cumbersome against a tough man marker.
    James McCarten called it the AI – mark two. Same mistake they made in AI final came back to haunt them against us – i.e. they ran outta steam with 15 mins to go. Apparantly they had discussed this but he said “obviously it was not discussed enough”.
    Lots to work on though – defence was very questionable I think considering the amount of possession we won at midfield and the fact that we dominated that section for nearly the entire 70 minutes. They will be asked a lot tougher questions in next several games.
    Overall though – a great comeback and point made on the board so good start to the campaign.

  4. I love the league.I haven`t enjoyed a game of football as much since well since the latter stages of the league last year.The way the boys got stuck in with gay abandon after Down got their third goal was great crack.There were a crowd of Down supporters behind us who kept saying how exciting the last 15 minutes were, and it was exciting.
    Over the years I have seen Mayo players taking scores in league games that would take your breath away and then come championship time they wouldn`t kick shit off a rope!
    What came over Andy Moran tonite?Unreal scores!
    I have sworn on more than one ocasion that I would never go to another championship game and I`m not sure that I`ll waste my money this year either!
    If lads could just look back and see that the more you anyalyise the failures of the past the less likely you are to succeed because these same problems will happen again, when the pressure is on ,and you will start kicking wides again like every other year!
    Just go out and play football without worrying about loosing just like you did when we were 5 points down this evening ,and in time when this attitude sinks in we will win!
    Like I said I love the league because it doesn`t really matter a shite if we win or loose!

  5. brighton811 says:

    A gritty second half display against a good team.Our new lads deserve another chance.It takes a couple of games to get used to the speed of intercounty football even if its the league in soggy february.I thought Freeman was outstanding.He has good hands,makes good decisions on the ball and most importantly,he plays with an assured confidence.On the other hand,Aiden O’Shea was awful again.Its hard to think this guy promised so much not too long ago.He was second best to every ball and again his handling was poor.I know hes still young and you can say hes lost confidence and he lacks a bit of cuteness.These are things that can be rectified.But one thing that cant be taught is pace.You either have it or you dont and lads he has none.He looks so slow out of the blocks everytime.The modern game exposes fowards with no speed as defenders nowadays are very quick.I hope to see more of Cillian O’Connor throughout the league,hes an exciting prospect.All in all,a good point rescued.Well done lads!

  6. Sixpointsup says:

    I was impressed with Richie Feeney and Jason Gibbons, Feeney shouldnt have been taken off. I dont know why Aidan O’Shea was left on, he was so far off the pace. Considering his early promise it’s dissapointing the way he is progressing.

    I’m not sure about calling it a point won, we had chances to win the game in the last few minutes, Peadar Gardiner’s shot at the end was very poor.

  7. ontheroad says:

    Great report WJ. Early days though, we werent called the league specialists for nothing. Andy has done well in the league before, we specialise players for that, remember Austin O M in the decade gone by and Ronaldson last year. Lets see how all will do when the going gets firm and the lawns are being mowed. I still dont rate AM but hats off to him last night. If he does the same v Galway come championship then I will eat the mown grass!

  8. I agree with brighton811 about Aidan O’Shea. I think Cillian O’Connor was about to come on to replace AOS when Freeman got injured and he came on for him instead.

    Great game, but I’d like to see more new names get involved. Looking forward to the Kerry game.

  9. a covie supporter says:

    I dont rate Aidan O Shea he was given planty of games with the previous Manager, who persisted with him, and I agree he has no pace, when did he ever get Man of the Match, never, I would not have him near the team, if you remember Salthill a few years ago in Connaught Final v Galway, he showed his lack of pace and vision that day, and as for Parsons I am very very surprised that he is back in the panel, he might be a good club player but has never transferred that form to inter county, I certainly feel that without Parsons and O Shea come ChSHIP, we stand a better chance, they are not even good impact players, I would persist with Gibbons,

  10. remember51 says:

    Good comeback by the lads. Remember it is early days yet. This league is tough and every point counts.
    Keeper was unlucky and did ok but clarke has better handling.
    Backs were under pressure but finished strong. Still think Keith should be at centre back. cafferky is not up to it.
    Midfield needs work. Ronan is so important to us (when he is not scoring ogs)
    alan.andy,freeman very good. Need three more scorers.
    aidan o shea………what is the story?????????
    time to cut our loses or time for him to wake up.
    Hope freeman is alright. Any word on his injury.
    great to be in action again. Roll on the summer.

  11. How is Cafferkey still in the panel, never mind playing centre back. He offers nothig and is far too loose. Not nearly good enough for inter county football. Looks like we are looking for number 6 and 11.

  12. Good report WJ but I thought you were a bit harsh on Gibbons who had a great debut. Apart from one or two loose passes early on he dominated Down’s All Ireland Final midfield on his debut, won lots of clean ball and got back to do some dirty stuff too with a few key blocks and interceptions in defence. Was sorry to see him go off but he had run himself into the ground. One of the club members out in Ballintubber told me in New York in 09 that they had a star midfielder who would be coming through in a few years and based on last night I’d have to agree with him.

    Parsons has a lot to prove but did well last night, he isn’t really a scorer and needs to be told to distribute the ball he wins rather than shoot from range, we have plenty of good forwards who can do the scoring if he can get the ball to them.

    AOS struggled against Dan Gordon but Gordon is a massive full back and he won’t face that every week. I’d give him another go against Galway on Friday to see where he’s at. Remeber it was Parsons and O’Shea’s first games back whereas the others have had a few games together, they are good players but they’re both young and are coming off the back of a bad season last year. It will take time for them to show what they can do.

  13. That’s a fair point Declan – I’m a big fan of Gibbons and was delighted to see him picked, definitely think he’s worth more time there. Didn’t mean to be harsh on him but just thought his distribution was poor in the first half. No doubting his workrate though and he’ll get better as he gets used to playing there regularly.

  14. great fight back last night have to say our centre back was skint last night clarke called all the shots cafferkey is not up to county standard no reading of the game and awareness in defending kept leaving gaps in the centre that down exploited. I would not mind leo keegan getting a chance their next friday night against ucg in fbd kerry will punish us if cafferkey is playing number 6 the next day. There is also a chance to give killicullen a chance also and barry moran in mid field i think james horan will be doing that. It would also be nice to see cathal freeman get a run. ronaldson is to light conditions didnt help . Maybe kilcoyne or doughlas will get a chance to prove. Its all about finding out 30 strong footballers for the championship and build over the next few years.

  15. GlassHalfFull says:

    sadly alan freeman had an operation on his finger this morning. pin had to be inserted will now be out for 5-6 weeks. very disappointing this young man really is special

  16. That’s a pity about Alan Freeman but we saw enough last night to know he’ll be a big part of the plans for the summer.
    As for the lads writing off Aidan O’Shea and, to a lesser extent, Tom Parsons, catch a grip would ye? It is the first game of the national league. O’Shea was terrible last night but he still has a lot to offer once he gets back into his stride. He probably wasn’t helped last night by being marked by two guys – McKernan and McCartan – who were probably as big and as strong as him so they were able to break the ball away from him. It will be a very good Mayo team that James Horan will have found this summer if they can start without him. Today is only Feb 6.
    As regards Tom Parsons, I don’t think he should have been near the team last year but when he came on last night he must have plucked four clean kick outs which was an outstanding contribution. He is by no means a definite for the team but I don’t think e can talk of getting rid of him the way some suggest.

  17. Just to be clear, I’m not writing off AOS, certainly not as someone who could play a big part for us later in the year. The issue for now, I guess, is that he’s playing like he did all year long last year so his poor form isn’t simply a case of not doing it on a particular night. If there is healthy competition for places (which I think there is) then on last night’s form it’s only fair that someone else (Aidan Campbell maybe?) gets a chance while it might be good for Aidan to focus on the U21s, where he’ll be a key player for Ray Dempsey this year.

  18. Thanks for the update re Alan, GlassHalfFull – it’s a bad blow for a player who looked really up for it last night. Here’s hoping he’s back fighting fit before too long and best wishes to him in that respect.

  19. good game last night but as pj says it is only the league .Some of the comments on here regarding some of the players are way over the top and to say that some players should never be let near the panel is crazy.

  20. brighton811 says:

    Unfortunate for Freeman but it could be worse.We need this guy for the summer rather than the winter.Im betting he wont miss much training as its a hand injury.Its all endurance stuff right now so he can easily participate and remain in tip top shape.If i was Horan id give him as much time as possible.Let it heal 110percent and avoid future injury.The last thing we need is one of our few natural fielders losing that edge because he rushed back from a hand injury to play a poxy league game.Hes too important!

  21. AOS hasnt played well in a long time. Great minor but sadly he hasnt established himself at senior grade to date. Heres hoping

  22. Summer Supporter says:

    It was a great comeback and a spirited performance, and it’s encouraging to see competition for places and new faces giving it their best shot. However, have to agree on Aidan O’S being bad, and not just on Sat. There’s a touch of the Robbie Keane itis I think, moaning and falling down instead of getting on with it and giving the markers a hard time. He gives up too easy and my mother moves quicker and she’s 83!

  23. east cork exile says:

    Unfortunatley agreed Ted, it may just be that his relative size was part of his success at minor, I do remember watching him and any high ball tha went near him he got something out of, fellas were bouncing off him. Sometimes a good big player like that doesnt develop their skills as well as they maybe should have because they didnt need to. When the size advantage is taken away its then very difficult for them. Although, he must be doing something in training as I dont believe JH would have him on if he didnt think he was able.

  24. nally_stand says:

    watched the match again last night, couple of points

    – we still seem to be slow off the mark which was a big trait of last years league where we gave opposition 4-5-6 point start before we got to grips with a game, this will kill us come summer is great to be able to come back into a game but how about taking a game by the scruff and dictating it for a change I think unless we can manage to do this we wont move on.

    – I know its the first game of the league but the simple thinks of short passing from the foot were terrible, thought Alan Dillon was a big culprit here too many times he won a free an opted to try and instigate a quick start but kicked it to the opposition, if we are going to make quick restarts we need runners coming off the shoulders of these guys to give more options, if not slow it down keep possession and use it wisely.

    – freeman shows great promise shame about the injury, AOS needs to get fit and they need him to find a style that fits the team, he has no pace, his hands arent great, was disappointed when horan moved him into the FF line and it became route one, its too predictable, hes not good enough to fill that role and its pretty easy to defend against – this was shown last year in the championship, we need to be wiser upfront and work on a couple of attacking options

    thoughts anyone?

  25. AO Sheas best position was discussed at length last year on this site. A lot of people suggestd his best position was in the 1/2 fw line and at CHF as well. Personally I disagree. My own preference for a CHF is someone along the lines of a Marty Clarke who can defend, instigate play and is able to take the knocks as well while keeping onto the ball.
    I guess AOS was tried at FF and it didn’t work out and now Freeman looks like he could be a real threat there so that position is solid. One option I feel that could be investigated is moving AOS back to the FF line with Freeman at CHF.
    Reason I think this is because Freeman seems more mobile than AOS and I believe that the 1/2 FW line has to have that mobility.
    Why ? becasue in modern game they have to be able to get up and down the pitch, i.e. defend back when required against attacking 1/2 back lines.
    But again – this is my own opinion from the ditch and its very early days yet to judge AOS harshly on 1 performance.

  26. jpm its more than one bad performance from AOS. he has been awful for over a year now. Its not down to fitness either…hes playing with 3 or 4 teams all year to hes as fit as he is going to get. He’s just a big boned lad who has no turn of pace. I thought myself CHF was his slot but so far he hasnt filled that role to anyones satisfaction. Im starting to think corner forward. I certainly wouldnt take Freeman out of FF….this lad is showing like he could be the best FF we have had in a long time…leave him there for crying out loud!!

  27. Centre-half forward, wing-forward or midfield are Aidan O’Shea’s best positions in my opinion, certainly not in the full-forward line unless there’s a shaky full-back under the high ball to be exploited.

    The comments on his handling Saturday night are fair but his handling in general is very good, when he’s playing well. Last year he had a bad year with the county, the year before, whilst still 18, he was very good in his debut season. I wouldn’t rush to judge him so quickly for this season on account of one bad performance in February. Maybe a spell on the sideline might help him, as WJ suggests.
    Also remember that he was Mayo’s best player in their U-21 defeat to Roscommon last year, when he was played at chf and also was very good for his club last year too, picking up a clubstar.
    We can be far too quick to build up a fella in this county and then knock him down at the first sign of trouble. He’s still only 20 and has loads to offer the county. Most players don’t come on stream until they’re 21 yet some here are insisting on casting aside a 20-year old with loads of ability. And I think James Horan knows what O’Shea has to offer too.
    Also I was impressed with Ger Cafferkey in the second half on Saturday. He was far too loose on Marty Clarke in the first half but, as if he was told to tighten up, he came out for the second half much more willing to push up on Clarke, whose influence diminished. He looks worth persevering with at centre-half back. Auds I can’t believe you reckon he’s not inter-county standard. They must have awfully high expectations in your part of the county . . .

  28. I think it,s the same way with tom parsons, with people writing him off too soon. Most midfielders only hit their peak at 25 or 26. Ginger will have taught him a thing or 2 in that line!!!……..

  29. it was a great comeback for the lads.unfortunate about freeman but atleast it was only a league game.
    great to see horan introducing some new faces to the team.
    very strong performance from andy moran and to think some people had their doubts about him. he is consistant in every match he plays.

    i dont rate mcgarrity at midfield and think parsons or S’OS needs to be given more of a chance both are still young and have a lot to give.mcgarrity should stick to playing the basketball because he just got lucky the last day.

    as for people writing off aidan o shea i think you need to give this guy a break. it was the first national league match and we have to remember he has been playing sigerson football with DIT so he hasnt had a chance to play with the team. i will agree his handling was not great but he just lacks confidence and was being marked by two big guys.i think he is still a promising young player and has a lot to give he just needs more confidence. he was a great minor and had a super debut season but people just expect too much from him and need to give the guy a break.
    we need more young players like aidan o shea ont the team and for people to knock a 20 year old and to say hes not good enough is beyond me. bringing on the likes of peader gardiner who is by far over the hill is something horan needs to do less of.
    Backs were under pressure but finished strong.ger cafferkey had a much better second half but he needs to be more consistant.
    it was only one performance so lets not get carried away!!!……….

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