When we got to MacHale Park tonight with a bit less than half an hour to throw-in, the place was humming, the stand was almost full and you could see even then that a crowd in excess of 10,000 was in the house. It looked all set then for a great contest under the lights at Castlebar but what we got instead was a massacre. And we were the ones getting hosed.
We started brightly – Jason Doherty once again bashing over a long-range point within seconds of the throw-in and Kevin McLoughlin adding a second as he zeroed in on Stephen Cluxton’s goal. We looked well up for the battle at that stage.
But then Dublin got going and they simply ripped us to pieces. In a six-minute spell they put 1-5 on the board before we finally got a third score but from then until half-time we were simply engulfed in wave after wave of Dublin attacks.
By half-time – already ten points down – the contest was well over. It didn’t get any better after the break either when, merely playing for pride at this stage, it took us ten minutes to get our first second half score.
The changes we made came far too late. Danny Kirby and Alan Dillon had some good moments after coming on but it was all too little, much too late.
It’s easy to see why we lost as badly as we did: we played straight into their hands. It’s no secret that Dublin’s forwards are fast, that their ball handling and speed of transfer are excellent, their movement busy and inventive. Going man-to-man with that kind of forward line is madness. Yet that was what we did.
Stephen Cluxton is the master – as we know full well, not least from the 2013 All-Ireland – of the perfectly directed kickout. The Parnells man added further to that reputation tonight as Dublin won around 90% of their own kickouts. And what did we do in response? Boom every bloody kickout right down the middle, where we claimed about 20% of it cleanly. That kind of one-dimensional madness will never win you a game.
And then, to staunch the bleeding in midfield, we go and shift Aidan O’Shea – who battled bravely all night – to try to win ball there, thus robbing us of our attacking fulcrum. If old-fashioned primary possession was, we felt, our salvation, then why the hell didn’t we bring Barry Moran on earlier and leave Aidan inside?
When we had the ball, we never looked all that dangerous with it either. Compared to the dizzying speed and variety of movement they had as they came at us, we were as slow as an ould wan wandering around the supermarket. We took forever to get the ball in, all the time turning back inside and looping around laterally, showing no penetration whatsoever. A ten-point return, only half of that total from play, was a fair enough reflection of our woeful attacking efforts on the night.
Set against this, Dublin racked up 2-18 – a point more than the total they recorded in that madcap shootout at Croke Park last year. They could have scored more, but then again their second shouldn’t have stood because there was a double-hop (by McManamon, I think) in the lead-up that wasn’t spotted.
Tonight’s thumping was, for sure, a serious reality-check for us. Dublin needed the win, I know, and so it’s not surprising that they came at us as pumped up as they did but what was a shock was that we wilted so badly when faced with this challenge.
I haven’t got the heart to go back over the records but I’d hazard a guess that it’s been a very long time since we were beaten out the gate in our own backyard. James Horan’s team suffered a bad beating by Donegal back in 2012 but that was up there and neither his team nor any other Mayo team in at least the last ten years ever suffered a hosing like tonight’s on home ground.
It is, of course, too early in the year to say that a defeat like this could have fatal consequences for our hopes in 2015 but at the same time it’s got to be the case that the manner of tonight’s collapse has the potential to be highly damaging. Over 13,500 people – mainly our supporters – turned out tonight and what they saw was a Mayo team getting beaten out the gate on home turf. It’s difficult to take any positives from that.
What’s important – vital, even – now is that we see a visible reaction over our remaining two matches. We travel to Cork next and if we set up there in the hopelessly naive way we did tonight, we could be in for another difficult day then.
Twice already this season, Pat and Noel have been blindsided tactically and they need to start showing over the course of the next two matches that they do have the smarts to cope with the kind of challenges that modern-day inter-county football present. I think it’s safe to say that after tonight the jury is out on that score.
Hopefully, we can use tonight’s scorching as a springboard to greater endeavour and maybe in time we’ll be able to look back on this result as a bizarre one-off event. That will only happen, though, if we are capable of improving every facet of our operation – both on the field and on the sideline – and, on tonight’s evidence, a good bit more than marginal improvement will be needed if we’re going to be able to compete at any kind of meaningful level this year.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Tom Cunniffe, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Patrick Durcan; Seamus O’Shea, Donal Vaughan; Kevin McLoughlin (0-3, one free), Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Mark Ronaldson (0-1), Alan Freeman, Jason Doherty (0-4, three frees). Subs: Danny Kirby (0-1) for Freeman, Stephen Coen for Durcan, Alan Dillon (0-1) for O’Connor, Mikey Sweeney for Ronaldson, Barry Moran for Seamus O’Shea, Ger Cafferkey for Vaughan.