When you win, the miles fly by. I’m not long back in the door having covered the guts of 500km travelling down to and back from Castlebar for this evening’s Round 3 NFL match against Roscommon but a productive trip it sure was.
There was a nice air of anticipation in the rapidly-filling stand at MacHale Park earlier tonight as the minutes ticked by ahead of the 7pm throw-in. This was an important fixture for both counties, with each having their own reasons for wanting to come out on top in this derby clash.
We made two changes ahead of the off. David Drake, as expected, didn’t start and Conor O’Shea came on for him, with Donal Vaughan dropping back to wing-back, Diarmuid O’Connor taking up a roving midfield role and Conor slotting in at half-forward. The second change saw Evan Regan line out at corner-forward instead of Jason Doherty, who didn’t tog at all, his jersey instead going to sub Adam Gallagher.
Right from the throw-in we were on top in this contest. I haven’t seen any possession stats for the game but it felt like we owned the ball all evening and I’d say that in the opening half we had at least 70% possession.
We snatched a bit too eagerly at the first openings we created, Evan Regan and Conor O’Shea shooting wide and Cillian O’Connor missing a fairly routine free as well.
Having fluffed our opening lines, it was maybe inevitable that it would be the visitors who’d draw first blood. A point from play from Shane Killoran opened their account for the evening.
Andy Moran popped over our first point of the night in reply but Roscommon responded with two more scores into the Albany end. Three attacks, three points for them – an economy of effort that contrasted with our early huffing and puffing.
But then we took a python-like grasp on proceedings and over the next fifteen minutes or so we dominated the exchanges more or less completely. ‘Twas men agin’ boys in this spell.
Eight points on the trot we knocked over during this period. I counted six restarts in a row by Roscommon that we claimed, as we poured forward repeatedly and with effect.
Cillian knocked over the first two, both from play. Fergal Boland then cut through to fire us ahead (for keeps as it turned out) and, after a Cillian free, Fergal rounded off a glorious move to push us three clear.
Jason Gibbons came galloping through the middle to add another one. Then Cillian lobbed one in over the stranded ‘keeper who’d undercooked his restart and was lucky to see Cillian’s pot shot fly over rather than under his unguarded goal.
The last score in this flurry was the best of the lot. Diarmuid O’Connor was almost sent spinning by a robust Rossie tackle out on the right wing but instead he stumbled back, recovered his footing and hooked a glorious shot from long range over the bar.
They finally lifted the siege, via a Donie Smith point, but two black cards in quick succession then followed, with Shane Killoran and Colm Boyle both exiting the contest early. The Rossies were already down to the bare bones in midfield as a result but we had the luxury of replacing Boyler with Lee Keegan, the Footballer of the Year joining the fray to a rapturous welcome.
They cut the gap to four but then further points from us, by Donal Vaughan and Conor O’Shea restored our six-point advantage. That was the lead we held at the break but we had David Clarke to thank for this, as he got down twice in as many minutes just before the short whistle to pull off two incredible point-blank saves.
The big Ballina man scooped another ball to safety soon after the restart but minutes later his opposite number was plucking the leather from the net at the other end of the field. This was from a penalty emphatically converted by Cillian, after Evan Regan had been hauled down in the square as he bore down on goal.
When Kevin McLoughlin pointed soon after, it took our lead into double digits. It was obvious then, with not much less than half an hour still on the clock, that the Rossies knew the game was up.
The pace slackened visibly from there to the finish but we still kept on adding to our total, as the Rossies did to theirs. The lead oscillated between seven and ten points, finally ending the night on an eight-point margin in our favour.
It was the subs who got in on the act in the scoring stakes for us in that second half. Lee Keegan – who looked like he was really relishing being back in the thick of things at county level – raided forward to thump over two great points. Brendan Harrison, appearing for the first time this year as a replacement for Donal Vaughan, showed he has more in his locker than All-Star defensive talents by knocking over two points of his own from play. Conor Loftus proved a thorn in the visitors’ side following his introduction for Andy Moran and he too banged two over the bar before the finish.
We won this one pulling up, a victory that hoists us temporarily to the top of Division One. While that fact is something to be welcomed, what was better was how many good performances we saw in tonight’s game.
David Clarke was, quite simply, magnificent between the sticks tonight. He made four separate one-on-one saves over the course of the seventy minutes, stops that he made look routine but were anything but. Like vintage wine, our All-Star ‘keeper gets better with each passing year.
The tricky Rossie forwards gave as good as they got to our backline, a defensive unit that wasn’t really as tight as it will need to be when facing sterner tests than this evening’s. Where they were great, though, was in initiating lightning fast attacks from the rear, with Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen, Brendan Harrison and Lee Keegan all combining to take the battle to the Rossies. Shane Nally shored up our defence nicely when he was introduced.
Jason Gibbons put in a really solid shift at midfield where we coped without Tom Parsons and Danny Kirby without any trouble. Diarmuid O’Connor – who finally looks back to his old self – was busy and inventive and in the thick of it all evening.
Fergal Boland had his best evening yet in a Mayo jersey. The more I see of the Aghamore dynamo the more I think he could be in this team for keeps. He adds a lovely touch of unpredictable devilment to our attack and for a small, light guy he showed tonight he can take the hits and can give them too.
Cillian’s three exquisite points from play provided welcome proof that he doesn’t solely contribute to the scoreboard from placed balls. He made a fair few scores for us tonight too.
Things didn’t really work out tonight for Andy Moran, Conor O’Shea or Evan Regan (for different reasons – in Andy’s case because he couldn’t buy a free all night despite being dragged back every time the ball was sent into him) but their workrate can’t be faulted. Evan would surely have goaled had he not been hauled to the floor for the penalty that Cillian then dispatched.
Conor Loftus provided us with a different outlet in attack and it’d be good to see the Crossmolina man get plenty of game time between now and summer. I’ve a feeling he’ll blossom in attack if given the chance.
Overall, then, there was plenty to like about tonight’s performance. It sets us up nicely for the next hurdle facing us in this year’s League campaign, our return to HQ this night week to take on our All-Ireland final nemesis. Dublin continue to set the standard in football right now so we’ll see just how well we’re really progressing this year when we lock horns with the champions at Croke Park. Another compelling tussle, I reckon, awaits us then.
Mayo: David Clarke; Donie Newcombe, Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan; Stephen Coen, Colm Boyle, Conor O’Shea (0-1); Donal Vaughan (0-1), Jason Gibbons (0-1); Fergal Boland (0-2), Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1); Andy Moran (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (1-4, penalty goal and one free), Evan Regan (0-1). Subs: Lee Keegan (0-2) for Boyle (black card), Conor Loftus (0-2) for Moran, Brendan Harrison (0-2) for Vaughan, Shane Nally for Boland, Michael Plunkett for O’Shea, Liam Irwin for Regan.
Post-match audio report:
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Roscommon?
- David Clarke (54%, 334 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (10%, 64 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (10%, 59 Votes)
- Jason Gibbons (9%, 58 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (5%, 34 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (3%, 17 Votes)
- Donie Newcombe (2%, 10 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 7 Votes)
- Evan Regan (1%, 7 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 5 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 5 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 4 Votes)
- Liam Irwin (1%, 4 Votes)
- Andy Moran (0%, 3 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (0%, 3 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 2 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (0%, 2 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 1 Votes)
- Shane Nally (0%, 1 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 1 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 621