The rollercoaster that is Mayo’s 2019 championship campaign continues … at least for another two weeks. Kerry and Donegal’s enthralling encounter finished in a draw in Croke Park, and so Mayo now know their mission in their final game of the Super 8s – it’s simple; beat Donegal in Castlebar and we will contest an All-Ireland semi-final for the eighth time in nine years.
Mayo took care of their own business in the first game at GAA headquarters today with an impressive final quarter display to see off a vibrant and game Meath side. The evergreen warhorse Andy Moran levelled for Mayo in the 55th minute and Mayo would go on to outscore their opponents by 2-5 to 0-2 from then until Ciaran Brannigan’s final whistle.
James Horan made three changes to the side named on Friday evening. Chris Barrett came into the full-back line with Eoin O’Donoghue making way. Kevin McLoughlin started in place of Keith Higgins with Fergal Boland starting ahead of Ciarán Treacy.
The game stuttered to get going in the early stages with Meath starting the game more brightly. They scored the first two points of the game through a Mickey Newman free and a Bryan Menton long range effort. We responded well with Darren Coen curling over a beauty from long range, which was arguably his most positive contribution where he unfortunately had a rare off-day in an otherwise stellar season.
Shane McEntee restored Meath’s two point advantage in the 12th minute. This lead was reined in with Fionn McDonagh curling over two points in quick succession with his majestic left boot after some nice team interplay.
Mayo’s deficiencies when ran at were soon exposed with Donal Keogan burning Seamus O’Shea for pace and forcing a point blank save from David Clarke. The ball spilled back to Mickey Newman and again Meath could not find the net as he chipped the ball over the bar rather than under.
McLoughlin levelled at four points apiece but Ethan Devine would put the Leinster side ahead again. Seamus O’Shea, on his comeback to the starting fifteen, had an industrious afternoon and almost scored the first goal of the game after a lovely one-two with Cillian O’Connor before hammering the ball against the post. It was a goal chance spurned but Fergal Boland soon equalised again for the Green and Red, cutting in from the left and firing over a nice right-footed point.
Mayo would finally take the lead for the first time with a Jason Doherty special in the 24th minute. Cillian O’Connor, the all-time championship top scorer, increased his tally by popping over his first free of the afternoon to extend Mayo’s lead.
It was 0-7 to 0-5 at this stage and Mayo were adopting a much more patient build-up in their play. This was in stark contrast to the frantic first half tactics they employed in Killarney last Sunday. David Clarke too was able to find his short kick-outs much easier in the first half this week too. However, these kick-outs would come under pressure in the second half.
Mayo should have taken complete control of proceedings at this stage but let Meath back into the game just before half-time. Mayo had a number of sloppy wides, blocked down efforts and balls dropping short during this period and one word permeated my thoughts throughout the first half – wasteful! Indeed Andy McEntee could level the same complaint at his own charges as they’d shot some equally poor wides.
Meath would pull the deficit back to one point through a Cillian O’Sullivan run and score off his left boot. O’Sullivan’s direct running was causing some problems to the Mayo defence. Meath corner-back Seamus Lavin embarked on a foray up the pitch in added time of the first half and his pointed effort meant that the teams would go in level at 0-7 each at the break.
The Meath full-back line were certainly having the better of their exchanges with the Mayo full-forward line and so at half-time James Horan introduced Andy Moran for Darren Coen to try to improve the stuttering attack. It would prove to be a shrewd move as the 2017 Footballer of the Year was in imperious form.
Mayo were again slow out of the blocks and Meath were the better team in the opening exchanges of the second half. Shane Walsh replaced the injured Newman late in the first half and his free would open the second half scoring. Fergal Boland, who was busy throughout, levelled with a left-footed effort before James Conlon and another Walsh free would put the Royal County two points to the good.
Some of the refereeing decisions were questionable at times but Mayo’s indiscipline in the tackle was proving costly. Clarke was also now struggling with his kick-outs as Meath pushed up and some ominous signs were creeping in.
Two more frees, one each from O’Connor and Walsh, left the score line 0-11 to 0-9 in Meath’s favour after forty-seven minutes of the contest. It was from this point onwards that the old dogs for the long road took command for Mayo. Trusted lieutenants O’Connor, Moran, Keegan, Boyle, O’Shea, Doherty, McLoughlin all put their shoulder to the wheel and came to the fore when needed.
O’Connor pointed another free after some hard running from Keegan and followed it up with his first point from play in the 52nd minute after some excellent play from Andy Moran. It was 0-11 each and the game was crackling nicely now. The loyal Mayo support roared into action, encouraged by efforts on the pitch.
Lavin, who was impressive throughout for Meath, popped up with another effort to nudge Meath in front once more. However, this was as good as it got for McEntee’s men as it was a lead they were to relinquish and not reclaim. Andy Moran’s movement was giving untold problems to the Meath full-back line and his beautiful dummy and finish with the outside of the right left the scores at 0-12 apiece.
Shane Walsh kicked two missed frees in succession having been unerring in his first three efforts. Mayo would punish this profligacy with Colm Boyle easing Mayo into the lead in the 57th minute. Boyle was courageous and inspiring throughout, putting his body on the line and making tackles in a typical Boyler performance. His score seemed to inspire the rest of the team and Lee Keegan soon slotted over another boomer and Mayo were finally motoring.
Hero of Limerick, James Carr, was introduced for Boland and he seemed determined to make amends for a disappointing showing against Kerry. Carr was full of strong running underneath the Hogan Stand and he fired over a classy point to give Mayo a three-point lead going down the home stretch.
The pivotal score of the game followed immediately after which saw the Mayo attack cut the Meath defence to pieces. O’Connor saw Keegan in space and he unselfishly popped a lovely hand pass into McLoughlin who was waiting in front of the Meath goal. McLoughlin calmly (and somewhat fortuitously!) hopped the ball before advancing around Meath ‘keeper Andrew Colgan to finish into an empty net in front of the Davin Stand. The Mayo crowd erupted and suddenly we had a six-point lead.
O’Connor coolly slotted over another free before Meath responded with two frees from Walsh. A bizarre moment occurred in added time when Colgan was black carded for body checking O’Connor and the referee awarded a penalty.
O’Connor stepped up and had his penalty saved for the second week running. Replacement keeper Marcus Brennan dived low to his right to keep out the penalty but Cillian was quick to the rebound and slotted it into the far corner to bring his personal tally for the day to 1-5. Jason Doherty would kick the last score of the game and Mayo ran out comfortable (in the end) nine-point victors on a score line of 2-17 to 0-14.
So where does it leave us? Well, I for one am happy to have next weekend off from Mayo action. I’m sure the same is true for James Horan and his troops. Minds and bodies are doubtlessly weary but it is time now to recharge the batteries and refocus. We may even have a few of our wounded soldiers available for selection next day out.
Unquestionably, a big test lies ahead in the shape of the Ulster champions but a knockout game against a big rival in front of a raucous Mayo crowd in MacHale Park sounds pretty appealing, doesn’t it?
Bring on 6pm on August 3rd. Bring on Donegal. Bring on one hell of a partisan Mayo atmosphere! Up Mayo.
Mayo: David Clarke, Stephen Coen, Brendan Harrison, Chris Barrett; Lee Keegan (0-1), Colm Boyle (0-1), Kevin McLoughlin (1-1); Donal Vaughan, Seamus O’Shea; Fionn McDonagh (0-2), Aidan O’Shea, Fergal Boland (0-2); Cillian O’Connor (1-5, four frees), Darren Coen (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-2). Subs: Andy Moran (0-1) for D Coen, James Carr (0-1) for Boland, Eoin O’Donoghue for S Coen, James McCormack for S O’Shea, Michael Plunkett for Keegan, Ciarán Treacy for McLoughlin.
Who was our MOTM against Meath? Pick your top three performers
- Colm Boyle (38%, 834 Votes)
- Andy Moran (21%, 463 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (7%, 157 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (7%, 146 Votes)
- David Clarke (6%, 125 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (4%, 96 Votes)
- Fionn Mc Donagh (4%, 91 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (4%, 89 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (2%, 39 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 32 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 31 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 26 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (1%, 16 Votes)
- James Carr (1%, 16 Votes)
- Darren Coen (1%, 14 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 10 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 7 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 7 Votes)
- Ciaran Treacy (0%, 6 Votes)
- James McCormack (0%, 5 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,188