Mayo opened their inter-county year in the novel surroundings of the Air Dome in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence this evening. Their FBD League semi-final against Galway was a helter-skelter affair on the very fast all-weather surface but it was the more inventive Tribesmen who stayed the distance better, winning by four points.
We’d named an extremely experimental side last night but we still had time to make one change to the starting fifteen ahead of throw-in. For the umpteenth time, James Carr was hooked from the team he’d been named in, this time giving way to Justin Healy as the Cill Chomain man became the sixth player in the starting fifteen to make his debut at Senior level for the county.
The new men were to the fore early on. After Fergal Boland squirmed through the cover before palming over for the night’s opening score, debutant Sam Callinan raided forward to double our lead. Galway were soon back on terms but then newbie Fionnan Duffy swung over a free from the left to edge us back in front.
Padraig O’Hora’s black card on ten minutes altered the tenor of the contest. We were a point to the good when he went off and Galway were one up by the time he came back on. While this of itself didn’t represent a major swing in the game, Galway had taken the initiative in that period and they never really lost it thereafter.
By half-time Galway were leading by ten points to seven and at this stage in the game they were already looking the livelier of the two teams. We were struggling to make headway in the forwards, with attacks repeatedly turning raggedy and breaking down.
We were lucky that Galway’s shooting wasn’t hectic – they had five wides in that opening half – but in the windless Dome that kind of profligacy couldn’t be expected to continue all night. It didn’t.
We obviously needed to shake things up for the second half and Ryan O’Donoghue’s introduction definitely had that effect. He came on for Jack Mahon, with Paddy Heneghan and Rory Brickenden also coming on as Justin Healy and Michael Plunkett were withdrawn.
Ryan immediately gave us greater purpose in the forward line. He was a great outlet for ball pumped in early and the trickery we all know and love from him gave us a cutting edge inside that we hadn’t had before.
Soon the gap was down to one but, despite our greater urgency going forward, we still lacked the kind of cohesion we need to unpick the hard-working Galway defence.
Too often, we came at them in the same way and our running game became more and more predictable as the evening wore on. Allied to this our ball handling under pressure was below par, enabling the Galway backs to turn us over and take the game to us.
There was still just the single point in it at the second water break. From then to the finish, though, we faded fairly badly and they, in contrast, grew in confidence. We’d have needed a goal in the fourth quarter to snatch something from the game but it was Galway who came closest to a three-pointer when sub Shane Walsh squared it for the in-rushing Dylan Canny but his effort saw the ball cannon back off the post.
Our final attack summed up our lack of invention in attack tonight. Three points down and the game tipping into injury time, we handpassed from wide out on the right to as far out on the left, without a hint of anyone trying to work a score. Eventually Galway broke and stole the game’s final point, as they won by 0-17 to 0-13.
This was, of course, no more than a pre-season kickout, one in which we were missing the bulk of our first team. In that regard, it would be unwise to read too much into the manner of our defeat tonight.
That said, the one-dimensional nature of what is now an entirely predictable running game was once more laid bare for all to see. If this is the template we stick to rigidly in 2022, we could be in for a tough time of it this year.
Players who did well for us tonight included Fergal Boland, debutant Sam Callinan – who already looks well up for action at this level – and the irrepressible Ryan O’Donoghue. Paddy Durcan was a prominent presence while Conor O’Shea put in a decent shift at midfield.
So that’s our 2022 FBD campaign done and dusted, with three weeks to prepare before we take on Donegal in the first round of the National League. It’s then we’ll get a more accurate fix on how we’re starting to shape up this year.
Mayo: Rory Byrne; Donncha McHugh, Padraig O’Hora, Sam Callinan (0-1); Paddy Durcan, Michael Plunkett, Eoghan McLaughlin; Conor O’Shea, Jordan Flynn; Fergal Boland (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor, Frank Irwin (0-1); Justin Healy, Fionnan Duffy (0-4, frees), Jack Mahon. Subs: Ryan O’Donoghue (0-5, four frees) for Mahon, Rory Brickenden for Plunkett, Paddy Heneghan for Healy, Conor Loftus for Duffy, Ruairi Keane for McHugh, Stephen Coen for Durcan, Matthew Ruane for Irwin, Darren Coen for Callinan.