James Horan said in the run-up to this match that he wanted to see his team put in a seventy minute performance at the highest possible standard. By the sounds of it, today’s Connacht championship quarter-final clash at Gaelic Park was for long stretches more akin to a challenge match but that still didn’t stop the three-times provincial champions from demonstrating their superiority on the scoreboard, as they waltzed to a 22-point victory over the Exiles.
In the corresponding fixture at Gaelic Park five years ago, the home team established a surprise four-point lead before our lads got going at all. Today, however, it was the visitors who were quickly out of the traps with three points in the opening four minutes. Donal Vaughan got the first, Kevin McLoughlin added a second and then Andy Moran, after an intercept by Cillian O’Connor, put us three clear.
Brendan Quigley smashed a long-range point over the bar to open the Yanks’ account but Donie replied with his second of the day before Jason Kelly pointed a free for the home team.
That, however, was as good as it got for New York and this was in large part their own doing. The home side decided to play thirteen of their team behind the ball, leaving just two forwards in the Mayo half and this kind of set-up was never one that was going to yield any kind of positive return on the scoresheet. It was no surprise, then, that New York failed to add further to their tally before the break.
What this ultra-defensive approach – which Brendan Quigley had hinted at in interviews leading up to the game, when he said that they’d try to disrupt our usual style of play – did succeed in doing, however, was to prevent the concession of any goals in the first half. We did, though, manage to add a steady succession of points to our tally – three (two from play) from Cillian, one each from Jason Gibbons and Lee Keegan and a second point each from Kevin and Andy – to reach the turn nine points to the good.
Kevin had departed with blood coming from his nose by then, Enda Varley coming on instead of him. We made a second change before the resumption with Richie Feeney coming on for Jason Doherty.
We started the second half well too and our first score of the half was a significant one, with championship debutant Diarmuid O’Connor breaching the Exiles’ defensive shield by smashing the ball to the net. Andy followed this up with his third point of the day as we pulled further clear of the labouring home team.
With the result now assured, James continued to ring the changes. Tom Parsons came on for Jason Gibbons and then Alan Dillon made his first appearance since last year’s All-Ireland final when he replaced goalscorer Diarmuid O’Connor.
Photo: @RTEgaa (INPHO/Andy Marlin)
New York finally added a third point but Enda Varley responded for us and then after they got a fourth from Alan Raftery, Cillian replied with his fourth of the day.
Ross Wherity got on the scoresheet with a fisted point for them but Aidan O’Shea pointed at the other end for us. Andy departed the field which ushered in the novel sight of the three O’Shea brothers in senior championship action together for the first time, as young brother Conor joined the fray.
We pulled further ahead when Cillian became the second member of the O’Connor family to raise a green flag, this one coming from the penalty spot after Enda Varley had the legs taken from under him in the square. Brendan Harrison was then given a run-out when he came on for Keith Higgins.
Jason Kelly pointed New York’s seventh point of the day but Cillian added further to his tally, first with a point from a free and then a second goal from a penalty following a push in the back on Brendan Harrison.
With the rain now spilling down in the Bronx, Aidan O’Shea tacked on his second point after an eighth and final point for the Exiles and the bench-running continued when Cillian gave way to Darren Coen. The Hollymount/Carramore man immediately got his name on the board with a point from play before Enda Varley closed out a facile victory with our fourth goal, as we cantered to the winning enclosure on a decisive 4-18 to 0-8 scoreline.
So, job done across the Atlantic. Now we must await the winners from the meeting of Roscommon and Leitrim in two weeks time to see who’ll be facing us, and where, in the provincial semi-final on 8th June.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Tom Cunniffe, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-1), Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan (0-2); Jason Gibbons (0-1), Aidan O’Shea (0-2); Diarmuid O’Connor (1-0), Seamus O’Shea, Jason Doherty; Kevin McLoughlin (0-2), Andy Moran (0-3); Cillian O’Connor (2-5, two penalty goals and four pointed frees). Subs: Enda Varley (1-1) for McLoughlin (blood), Richie Feeney for Doherty, Tom Parsons for Gibbons, Alan Dillon for Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor O’Shea for Moran, Brendan Harrison for Higgins, Darren Coen (0-1) for Cillian O’Connor.