At half-time today I’d happily have taken any kind of win. Fermanagh were well on top with the wind in that opening period and all the problems we’d seen so graphically against Galway three weeks ago were still there. Although we’d have the gale behind us in the second half, it’d require a far better showing to overturn the six-point deficit we were facing. Thankfully that’s what we got as we eventually came out on top by a margin of five points.
The strong wind that blew forcefully down the pitch into the Bacon Factory end of the ground was a huge factor in how today’s contest played out. The visitors had it at their backs in the opening half but it was their sharper teamwork and more clever use of the ball that put us under pressure from the get-go in this contest.
The Ernesiders won the opening ball from the throw-in and that pretty much set the scene at midfield for us. Like Galway had done last time out we were completely cleaned out of it, both in primary possession and for the vast majority of the breaks, in the middle third and it was only when Barry Moran came on early in the second half that we finally started to wrest some dominance in this sector.
With a good supply of ball and some well planned inter-play, Fermanagh were able to skip their way effortlessly down the pitch right through that first half. By comparison, our attacks seemed laboured, as we took forever to get the ball into their danger zone and repeatedly advanced slowly into their smothering blanket.
Our first score of the day, though, was a belter from Diarmuid O’Connor, levelling up the contest after Breen had got them going. They got the next three points but before they could sit back and enjoy their handiwork we got a goal against the run of play at the other end.
Keith Higgins’ initial attempt was saved but Alan Freeman – who’d lined out instead of Jason Doherty – poked home the rebound to tie the game up. We led briefly just after when Cillian O’Connor thumped over a delicious score from out on the left but then the match veered away from us.
It did so in the form of a goal at the other end, with Quigley getting by Colm Boyle – who looked like he’d been fouled but I’d have to see the incident again before saying for sure – and then rounding David Clarke before rolling the ball into the net.
Their three-point lead restored, the Ernemen this time held onto their advantage and then, shortly before the break, added to it. We got two frees from Cillian during this period but they added five points, all of them (I think) from play to send them into the dressing room at half-time with a six-point advantage.
We looked, well, a bit of a shambles in that opening half. But were we? We had managed to clock up 1-4 against that forceful wind and over the course of the second half Fermanagh were only able to add a miserly two points to their half-time total. So, although our performance hadn’t looked all that pretty it was, in truth, pretty crucial to our eventual victory.
We started the second half exactly as we needed to. Another Cillian free and a screamer from Diarmuid that went narrowly over the bar signalled greater intent from the lads in black ‘n’ lime green.
Mulroe responded for them – with what would prove to be their sole score from open play in the second half – but the momentum, like the wind, was now strongly with us.
A super long-range free from Evan Regan and a deliciously clever score by Alan Dillon, soon after coming off the bench to replace Alan Freeman, cut the gap to three. Barry Moran then came on for Stephen Coen and he announced his arrival with a stunning midfield catch, initiating a swift attack that ended with a rash goal attempt by Evan flashing wide.
You could sense the tension in the loud Mayo following – the official attendance today was just over 12,000 but the noise they made today far outweighed the tepid mewling the far larger support had managed the last day – and the locals’ patience wasn’t being helped by an indifferent day’s whistling by Joe McQuillan. Personally, I felt he got a bit more stick than he deserved but we haven’t, I know, got to the game’s major talking points yet.
Two hugely stirring points, the first from Lee Keegan and the second from Colm Boyle, brought us to within a point of the visitors. Was it then or a bit after that the penalty shout for the foul on Cillian occurred? I can’t recall precisely but what was clear was that the rugby tackle on Cillian happened inside the square and that it was a clear penalty. One not, however, awarded.
We kept coming. Pressure forced a ’45 and Cillian nailed it, finally drawing us level in the process:
They got a soft enough free at the other end, converted by Corrigan, to edge them back in front. All the debate about soft awards switched to the other end of the pitch soon after, though, when Aidan O’Shea went down in the square and Joe McQuillan spread his arms wide for the spot kick.
Was there a jersey pull on him? I’m not 100% sure there was but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t. Did the big lad go to ground a soupçon softly? Of course he did but can you blame him? All day today, just like all evening against Galway three weeks ago, Aidan was fouled every time he was on the ball and invariably got nothing for his trouble. It would be churlish to blame him for helping the ref in his decision-making.
The crucial point was that Joe McQuillan, who hadn’t given us a whole pile up till then, saw it as a penalty and so we now had the chance to seize control of the game. There was a longish delay before the penalty was taken, with one of the Fermanagh lads down with cramp and a few others crowding around Andy Moran acting the bollix. Andy (on for Evan Regan) was content, the wily old fox, to draw all the Ernesiders’ ire to him before, once the square had been cleared, handing the ball to Cillian who blasted it emphatically to the net:
We never looked back from there. My heart was momentarily in my mouth as we did a bit of keep-ball for a while but when the Olé chorus failed to materialise we went on the attack again and Lee struck over a delicious one with the outside of the boot to put us a goal clear.
From then till the end the ball rarely crossed the half-way line as we went hunting further scores. They were utterly out on their feet at this stage while our lads had, in contrast, a decided pep in their step as we closed in on the win that would send us into the hat on Monday morning for Round 3B.
Aidan bulldozed forward but then wisely opted to fist over what was surely the insurance score. The grace note, however, was reserved for Alan Dillon – the sole survivor from our first championship meeting with Fermanagh, that qualifier defeat in 2003 – who pointed sweetly from the right to complete the five-point win.
It was, to be sure, a game of two halves. I really did think we were in serious trouble at half-time but fair play to the lads they dug deep and produced the goods after the break when the pressure was on.
I see that Stephen Rochford in his post-match comments has praised our “calm” performance. I’m not sure I’d agree – while hugely entertaining, our second half display was, to my eyes at least, a real seats-of-the-pants ride, though I’d agree with Stephen when he pointed to the big impact our bench made.
Donal Vaughan and Barry Moran made a significant impression around the middle, Andy added nuisance value (if not end product) up front but it was Alan Dillon who made the most substantial impact off the bench, rolling back the years with an influential showing capped by two lovely points from play.
Of the rest, I thought Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor, Keith Higgins (in the second half) and Aidan O’Shea all put in strong shifts. Primus inter pares, for me, was Diarmuid who executed an outrageous steal late on to break up a Fermanagh attack and did loads more besides.
So, we live to fight another day. How many more days we’ll see this year remains open to question – and today resulted in as many questions as it did answers – but the first rule of the qualifiers is to win your matches and this we did today. Now it’s onto Monday morning’s Round 3B draw and see who we’ll be playing this day week.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-2), Colm Boyle (0-1), Paddy Durcan; Seamus O’Shea, Stephen Coen; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-2); Evan Regan (0-1, a free), Alan Freeman (1-0), Cillian O’Connor (1-5, penalty goal and four points). Subs: Donal Vaughan for Durcan, Alan Dillon (0-2) for Freeman, Barry Moran for Coen, Andy Moran for Regan, Jason Doherty for Aidan O’Shea.
Who was our MOTM against Fermanagh?
- Kevin McLoughlin (21%, 118 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (21%, 117 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (12%, 68 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (10%, 57 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (8%, 46 Votes)
- Barry Moran (8%, 44 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (5%, 27 Votes)
- Alan Dillon (3%, 19 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (3%, 17 Votes)
- David Clarke (3%, 15 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (1%, 5 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 5 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 4 Votes)
- Evan Regan (1%, 4 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (1%, 4 Votes)
- Kevin Keane (1%, 3 Votes)
- Alan Freeman (0%, 2 Votes)
- Andy Moran (0%, 2 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 2 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 557