When goalkeeper Colm Reape planted a cracking free between the posts from nearly fifty yards out with just four minutes of normal time left, we looked home and hosed against Armagh. Roared on by a raucous home crowd at the Athletic Grounds, however, Armagh bagged five points without reply – all of them from placed balls – to claim a share of the spoils.
Last weekend, we were delighted to snatch a draw and saw the point we’d gained against Galway as a point won. Last weekend, we sniggered at Padraig Joyce complaining about soft frees and too much stoppage time played. Today, the shoe was on the other foot for us in all those respects but an essential truth remains about both matches, in that a draw was a fair outcome to both games.
This afternoon’s match, played in front of over 14,000 supporters at a packed Athletic Grounds, finished in helter-skelter fashion but it was a slow-burner to get going. In fact, it never ignited at all over the course of a rather soporific opening half, at the end of which we were fortunate enough to find ourselves only two points adrift.
We made two changes before throw-in. Diarmuid O’Connor, as expected, didn’t tog and so Aidan O’Shea started instead of him. The big man proceeded to put in a dominant display for us. Our other switch saw Fionn McDonagh start instead of Aiden Orme.
The first half was a cagey affair and, from our perspective, a frustrating thirty-five minutes. There wasn’t much evidence of our supposed new kicking game, as we kept handpassing our way up the pitch and then circling out around the ’45 looking for an opening. It all looked very laboured.
Despite enjoying the bulk of the possession, we hadn’t much to show for our efforts in that opening half. Armagh were happy to sit back and let us play the ball back and over outside our scoring range, then hit us with fast, direct moves on the break.
With ten minutes to go to half-time, there was, though, just a point in it. Aidan O’Shea, the recipient of a few poorly directed balls in, caught one for a mark and converted it. That was our fourth point of the day, the others coming from Ryan O’Donoghue (two frees) and Fionn McDonagh.
Armagh put on a bit of a spurt then, stretching their lead out to four. They were full value for it too, playing down the hill in that opening half – listeners to the ‘Final Whistle’ pod will have heard Billy Joe explain this – where they had the wind with them to boot.
We got the final two points of the half, though, with scores from Jordan Flynn and blood sub Cillian O’Connor. Rafferty gifted his restart straight to Cillian who sought to lob the stranded ‘keeper but he couldn’t keep his effort under the bar.
We were a totally different proposition in the second half. Where before we’d been too slow and too lateral in our movements, now we were quick and direct. Much of the possession we were hoovering up around the middle went through Aidan O’Shea and his aggression and good distribution at last enabled us to open them up.
Now the scores started to come with regularity for us. Armagh had got the opening point of the second half but we then hit back with two. Aidan got the first of these and James Carr ended a great move to bag the second.
They responded with a Tiernan Kelly score and Ryan bagged his third pointed free, after a foul on Aidan in response. Then Rian O’Neill uncharacteristically boomed a scoreable free wide for them.
We were now taking a stranglehold around the middle and we hit them with four points on the spin. Matthew Ruane finished a fine running move to grab the first, Ryan with a free got the second, Jordan Flynn fisted over the third and another Ryan free, after he’d been clattered by O’Neill, got the fourth.
Armagh finally got some respite when Turbitt bagged one down the other end, a move in which Rafferty, roaming far away from home, played a significant part. Cillian, back on again, this time for Jack Carney, squeezed over a lovely score from out on the right.
Two more points from Ryan, one of them from play, stretched our lead to five. Armagh looked all out of ideas at this stage and we began to think that the points were in the bag.
Murnin pulled one back for them but then Colm Reape landed that long free. That seemed to be that and, with just four minutes of normal time left, it certainly should have been.
It’s hard to know what triggered our late, late collapse. We definitely seemed to lose our composure and more clever use of the ball could have seen us strike for a killer blow at the other end. Armagh also didn’t have too much trouble in getting the frees they needed to claw out the draw but we should still have held on and seen out the win.
The bags we made of an attack right at the death, which ended when Eoghan McLaughlin shot wildly wide with Rafferty stranded upfield, opened the way to their last desperate attack. That yielded the free that O’Neill put over to level the game.
The Armagh crowd celebrated that leveller with as much joy as we’d greeted Ryan’s fat-from-the-fire strike last Saturday night. And sure why wouldn’t they? Their team had refused to accept defeat and got their just reward at the finish.
We’ll definitely look on this one as a point lost. But, once the initial frustration of seeing victory slip from our grasp fades, I think Kevin McStay and his management team will be satisfied enough with the return we’ve got from the two League games we’ve played.
We’ve yet to win but we’ve yet to lose either. We can see already that we should be able to do enough to survive in the division while, hopefully, also doing enough to avoid having to contest a League decider.
In that latter regard, we may have inadvertently helped our League final avoidance plans today. That wasn’t, needless to say, what we were aiming to do in a game we had the winning of but in which we didn’t have the composure required to see out the win that was fully within our grasp.
Mayo: Colm Reape (0-1, free); David McBrien, Rory Brickenden, Jack Coyne; Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus, Enda Hession; Matthew Ruane (0-1), Aidan O’Shea (0-2, one mark); Jack Carney, Bob Tuohy, Jordan Flynn (0-1); Fionn McDonagh (0-1), James Carr (0-2), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-7, six frees). Subs: Cillian O’Connor (0-1) for Carr (blood) and for Carney, Eoghan McLaughlin for McDonagh, Darren McHale for Tuohy, Conor McStay for Carr, Donnacha McHugh for O’Shea.
Who was our MOTM against Armagh? Pick your top three performers
- Aidan O'Shea (29%, 951 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (19%, 633 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (14%, 451 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (6%, 212 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (6%, 204 Votes)
- Jack Carney (5%, 175 Votes)
- Enda Hession (5%, 172 Votes)
- David McBrien (2%, 80 Votes)
- Bob Tuohy (2%, 69 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (2%, 67 Votes)
- Colm Reape (2%, 60 Votes)
- James Carr (2%, 52 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (1%, 32 Votes)
- Jack Coyne (1%, 31 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 28 Votes)
- Rory Brickenden (1%, 26 Votes)
- Darren McHale (0%, 16 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (0%, 14 Votes)
- Conor McStay (0%, 12 Votes)
- Donnacha McHugh (0%, 10 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,795