Photo: Sportsfile/Paul Mohan
As the last frantic seconds played out up at Celtic Park today, I was stuck in a Sunday afternoon traffic snarl at Clare Hall on Dublin’s Northside. I had the commentary from Midwest going on the iPhone and the tension was fairly palpable as the lads were willing the ref to blow the full-time whistle. When he eventually did so, I let out a great bellow of relief, startling a woman in the car pulled up beside me in the next lane. Nothing beats being there, eh?
A full domestic schedule this weekend, coupled with an early flight tomorrow morning, meant that I was never going to get to see today’s League encounter with Derry up in the Walled City. But even though I was sad not to have been there to see the lads grind out what certainly seemed to be a flinty enough result, I have to admit that the match I did get to – an U12s girls football game between St Vincents and Trinity Gaels – was one I’m glad I didn’t miss. My youngest daughter was playing for Vinnies in this game and it was she who kicked her team’s winning point late in the second half. What a proud Dad moment that was.
Up in Celtic Park, meanwhile, we won by two points and from the bits of the game that I heard about on Midwest – where I have to say I thought the commentary provided by Mike and the lads was superb throughout – it was a tough, tense encounter. It sounded like we deserved the narrow win that we eventually claimed but tight games can, as we know full well, go the other way too and this one could well have done so too. The lads deserve great credit for closing out the two-point win in the way that they did.
Jason Doherty’s point right from the throw-in was just the start we wanted. Playing with the aid of a stiff breeze in the first half, we needed to get scores on the board and build up a bit of a buffer for the second period.
Frees from Heron and Lynch put Derry in front but we got a decent grip on proceedings, with Cillian O’Connor levelling from a free after Colm Boyle was taken down and then Mark Ronaldson, from an Aidan O’Shea layoff, edged us in front again.
Another Cillian free sent us two clear and Aidan responded to a Craig point with one from play. Cillian then banged over one from play to stretch our lead to three. Soon it was back down to one, though, via points from Lynch (a free) and McAlary.
We then broke through for the game’s first goal. The score sounded fortunate enough, with Cillian’s free rebounding off the upright to Mark Ronaldson who pounced to poke it into the net.
Heron pointed a ’45 into the wind but we had the final say of the half, a point from Aidan O’Shea, to leave us nicely positioned at the break, even though we’d be facing that breeze in the second half.
We kept them at bay well into the second half too. Points from play from Aidan O’Shea and Mark Ronaldson and a third Cillian free, with two points in reply from Heron for them, saw us enter the final quarter with a five-point lead. That looked like more than enough to seal the deal but substitute James Kielt had other ideas as he inspired the Oakleafers into a gutsy fightback.
Five unanswered points – four from Kielt himself (all but one from play) and the other a fisted score from sub Fergal Doherty – hauled the home side level. With all the momentum behind Brian McIver’s side, a second defeat of this League campaign now looked likely to be our lot.
But we steadied the ship at that juncture, an absolutely crucial point from play from Kevin McLoughlin swinging the contest back in our favour. The Knockmore man followed this up with a free soon after to give us some more breathing space and as tempers rose and the contest strayed into messy territory, first Mark Ronaldson and then our tormentor Kielt were ordered off on black cards.
Mark was replaced, as he was last Sunday, by Mikey Sweeney and, just like the last day, the Kiltane man wasn’t long on the pitch when he found the net.
Five up and time up, that surely felt like game over but they then bundled in a goal at the other end and Doherty tried to barge his way through for a killer blow before ref Ciaran Branagan blew for time and the spoils were ours.
I can’t say anything about individual performances as I didn’t see any of today’s game, though I’ve paused the TV so hopefully I’ll see some highlights shortly. But it’s obvious it was another team effort, one that keeps us at the top of Division One and has all but guaranteed us our top flight status for another year.
Our focus can now start to turn towards securing a play-off spot and a giant leap in that direction could be taken under the lights at MacHale Park next Saturday night when we face Dublin. After today’s doughty win over the Derry lads, this surely is a contest we’ll relish in what is becoming a very positive League campaign for us.
Mayo: Kenneth O’Malley; Tom Cunniffe, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Ger Cafferkey, Colm Boyle; Seamus O’Shea, Danny Kirby; Kevin McLoughlin (0-2, one free), Aidan O’Shea (0-3), Micheal Forde; Mark Ronaldson (1-2), Cillian O’Connor (0-4, three frees), Jason Doherty (0-1). Subs: Alan Dillon for Forde, Barry Moran for Kirby, David Drake for Cafferkey, Alan Freeman for O’Connor, Mikey Sweeney (1-0) for Ronaldson (black card).