A bumper crowd turned up in the bright winter sunshine at James Stephens Park in Ballina today to see our lads canter to an easy FBD League win over IT Sligo. Leading by four points at the break, Stephen Rochford’s charges pulled away in the second half to win in the end by 1-16 to 0-8.
Over 2,000 souls congregated in Ballina for this afternoon’s game but I wasn’t one of them. As a result, this account is a second-hand one, culled from Twitter updates from various sources and Mike Finnerty’s commentary on Midwest.
The team for today’s match showed six changes from the one that started in the FBD opener against NUIG last weekend. Out from last Sunday went Rob Hennelly, Kevin Keane, Padraig O’Hora, Colm Boyle, Tom Parsons and Conor Loftus while in came Matthew Flanagan, David Kenny, Ger Cafferkey (who captained the team today), Keith Higgins, Caolan Crowe and Andrew Farrell, with full debuts being handed to Flanagan and Kenny.
I’d say a fair few people were expecting to see Evan Regan lining out for the county on home turf today following his injury-ravaged 2015. It was announced ahead of throw-in, however, that Evan’s involvement for UUJ in the McKenna Cup rendered him ineligible to take part this afternoon. No worry, there’ll be plenty of other opportunities for Evan to shine this year.
IT Sligo went down to a heavy defeat to Roscommon in the opening round game last Sunday, most of the damage being done by an early flurry of first half scores by the Rossies. At half-time today the students would no doubt have been a bit happier with how they were going as they only trailed at that stage by seven points to three but when our lads upped the gas after the break the contest quickly turned into another decisive loss for the third-level side.
Killala’s Andrew Farrell didn’t take long to announce his return to the senior inter-county scene when he knocked over our first point of the day less than a minute after the throw-in. Jason Doherty then pointed a free to double our lead and after the students opened their account from a free, Mark Ronaldson – who lined out again today at centre-forward – pointed from play.
Keith Ruttledge added another one for us and after IT Sligo got their first from play via Lee Carr, further points from us, the first by Mark Ronaldson and the second from Keith Ruttledge, extended our advantage in this contest. Another IT Sligo free followed before a third point from play from the influential Mark Ronaldson sent us in four points to the good at the break.
We opted to make no alterations for the start of the second half but the one change our lads did make was to up the tempo on the restart. Three points without reply – from Jason Doherty (a free), Mark Ronaldson and Keith Ruttledge – saw us move to take complete control of the game.
Cathal McGettigan and Kevin McLoughlin then swapped points from play before we made our first change of the afternoon. Keith Higgins, who was named at no.5 today was replaced by the man who has made that particular jersey his own in recent years, Lee Keegan.
The scores kept coming for us. Two more points from play, from Darren McHale and Jason Doherty, were racked up before our second change was made. This was an enforced one, with Shane Nally black-carded for a hand-trip, the Garrymore man being replaced by Colm Boyle. Another championship regular, Donal Vaughan, also came on at this juncture, in place of Shane McHale.
Another Kevin McLoughlin point stretched our lead to eight points and the Knockmore man put the outcome of the game beyond doubt with his next score. The goal was Kevin’s second of the year and it hoisted our lead into double digits.
The changes continued, with Tom Parsons replacing Andrew Farrell, Conor Loftus coming on for Keith Ruttledge and, shortly before the end, Padraig O’Hora replacing Brendan Harrison. They got two points without reply but their eighth point was also their final one of the day. We added two more scores before the finish, points from play from Tom Parsons and Conor Loftus, to close out a facile eleven-point win.
So it’s two from two for us so far in this year’s FBD. With Roscommon beating NUIG in this afternoon’s other Section A clash, this should add a further dab of piquancy to next Sunday’s winner-takes-all (if a winner could ever be said to take all in the FBD) meeting with the Sheepstealers at Hyde Park.
Mayo: Matthew Flanagan; David Kenny, Ger Cafferkey, Brendan Harrison; Keith Higgins, Shane McHale, Shane Nally; Jason Gibbons, Caolan Crowe; Kevin McLoughlin (1-2), Mark Ronaldson (0-4), Andrew Farrell (0-1); Darren McHale (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-3, two frees), Keith Ruttledge (0-3). Subs: Lee Keegan for Higgins, Colm Boyle for Nally (black card), Tom Parsons (0-1) for Farrell, Conor Loftus (0-1) for Ruttledge, Padraig O’Hora for Harrison.