There were, from my perspective, a few interesting sub-texts to tonight’s challenge match with the Dubs at Portmarnock. Which side would the little lad opt to shout for? Would we get to the final whistle before darkness fell? And would Mayo manage to beat two separate Dublin teams in a single match?
Let’s deal with the upcoming generation first. The two girls, bless ’em, came in their Mayo clobber and generally stayed true to the cause – even if they’d largely lost interest in the on-field action by half-time – but the small fella (let’s call him BJ for the crack) sailed a bit closer to the wind in this respect. He arrived at the match in an Ireland jersey (little BJ likes the oval ball game, thinking as he does that it solely involves Ireland winning the Grand Slam) but brandishing a Dublin flag that somehow had taken up residence Chez WJ. As the visiting team took control of proceedings in the first half, he decided that this flag was surplus to requirements and so instead he commandeered one of his sister’s Mayo flags. You can appreciate, I’m sure, the enormous sense of pride I felt as BJ rooted for his heroes in the Green and Red all the way to the break. But then a few of his cousins showed up in their Dublin jerseys at half-time and the little bugger promptly changed sides again, just in time to cheer the home side to victory in the second half. Kids, eh?
As regards the darkness, the final whistle did sound just before nightfall but it was a close run thing. They don’t have floodlights out at Portmarnock so I thought for a while there that we’d have to improvise with some strategically positioned car headlights and it nearly did come to this. Whatever about trying to watch a match in the fading light, attempting to play in such rapidly deteriorating conditions must have been great gas altogether. And I’m still scratching my hair because of those bloody midges.
And, of course, you know that we didn’t quite manage to beat the two Dublin teams that showed up this evening. We beat the first one alright – on a half-time scoreline of 0-7 to 0-5 – but their alternative fifteen took the second half by a decisive 0-10 to 0-5 scoreline to give the two home teams a 0-15 to 0-12 victory on the night. For a match that was billed in advance as a “serious” challenge game, Pat Gilroy’s decision to swap out his entire playing personnel at half-time was, to put it mildly, a bit of an odd one. Apart from anything else, it completely negated the usefulness of the match from our perspective as our lads ended up playing two completely different teams over the course of the seventy minutes. Sure, the opposition were all in the same blue jerseys and they all referred to each other by nicknames ending in the letter O but apart from that they were completely different outfits.
As the scoreline would suggest, the second half Dublin team looked a whole load better than its first half alternative, despite the fact that most of the names you’d expect to see starting in the championship for them played in that opening period. The two Brogans were in this first cohort and while Alan gave Liam O’Malley plenty to think about as he knocked over three first half points, both brothers missed a few howlers over the course of the opening 35 minutes.
We did well in that half, with Pat Harte – who was superb for us all evening – keen to get on the ball at every opportunity and looking to open up what appeared to be quite an unsettled Dublin backline. Alan Dillon looked sharp too and it was this pair that stood out for us throughout the match tonight. They contributed most of our first half scores as well, with Pat – who ended up as our top scorer on the night with four points – having three points to his credit at the break, while Alan had two. Peadar Gardiner and Aidan Kilcoyne got the other two, both of which were fine efforts from play.
The match was nicely poised at half-time but, of course, the complete swap-out on the Dublin team made the second period a little bit surreal from the perspective of our lads. I though it was a bit odd that Johnno didn’t respond in kind but instead he kept the same fifteen on the field until well into the second half. It was only after Trevor Howley got clattered (he went down and stayed down for a while but then played on so I don’t think he did any real damage) that the first change came, with David Heaney switching to centre-back thus allowing Seamus O’Shea to get some very welcome and long overdue game time. He really looks like he could use some time on that side of the white line, which made the decision to start David Heaney in the middle ahead of him more than a little strange.
Once the substitutions started, they began to come thick and fast. Austie became the umpteenth Vincent’s man to make it onto the field, coming on for the hapless Killer who, despite scoring that first half point, saw everything else go awry for him this evening. Mikey Sweeney came on too (for Mark Ronaldson, I think) and so did Barry Kelly though I’m not sure who he replaced.
Dublin’s second half team featured a number of canny operators, such as Shane Ryan, Mossy, Jayo, Conal Keaney, Paul Casey, Eamon Farrell and that Bonnar guy. It was obvious that a fresh team featuring these kind of lads would be able to put it up to our fellas who had already gone toe-to-toe with the other Dublin team in the first half and it was little surprise to see such an obvious scenario come to pass. We didn’t help our cause by hitting a number of truly dreadful wides when the game was still there to be won in the final quarter but Dublin’s tally of five unanswered points, that saw them turn a two-point deficit into a three-point winning margin, tells you all you need to know about how the denouement was reached.
In the end, despite little BJ’s unconstrained joy at the final whistle, it was a bit of a strange evening’s football and I can’t see that Johnno and his colleagues will have learned too much from this Double Dubs encounter. The good displays put in by the likes of Pat Harte, Alan Dillon, Trevor Howley and Ger Cafferkey will have been noted, as will the less-than-happy evenings that the likes of Aidan Kilcoyne and Barry Moran in particular endured but I can’t see that tonight’s match will have had too much bearing on our line-up for June 20th.
No doubt more challenge matches lie ahead between this and then but it’ll only be when the ball is thrown in at McHale Park on June 20th that we’ll really be any position to gauge how we stand in terms of our ability to compete for honours this year. At least we’ll only be facing one team from Roscommon or Leitrim that day and little BJ will definitely be shouting for us in that one. Where is he, by the way? I know he’s only gone four but surely he should have caught his bus home by now?
MAYO: David Clarke; Liam O’Malley, Ger Cafferkey, Kevin McLoughlin; Peadar Gardiner (0-1), Trevor Howley, Andy Moran; David Heaney, Pat Harte (0-4, two frees); Aidan Kilcoyne (0-1), Trevor Mortimer (0-1), Alan Dillon (0-3, one free); Mark Ronaldson (0-1), Barry Moran, Billy Joe Padden. Subs: Austin O’Malley (0-1) for Kilcoyne, Seamus O’Shea for Howley, Mikey Sweeney for Ronaldson, Barry Kelly.