As far as I know, this year is the first season in which London are involved in the FBD Connacht League. If that it is the case – and I think it is – then they made their debut in this pre-season tournament in the best possible fashion, by dethroning last year’s winners Mayo in today’s quarter-final meeting at the Dome.
It was a fully merited win by the Exiles too. They settled into the contest right from the off and the extremely experimental Mayo team they were up against looked nervy and largely at a loss about how to break down the well organised, deep-lying London defence.
Kevin McStay’s team only showed their potential in flashes. Cillian O’Connor’s goal – the only major of the afternoon – was followed by two further goal chances which, had at least one of them gone in, would surely have resulted in a win for the Green and Red. But we were wasteful throughout today and especially so in the second half when we kicked ten wides, many of them pretty awful ones.
We made two changes to the team selected in advance of throw-in. For the second successive week Tommy Conroy didn’t line out and, as for the charity game last weekend, he was replaced in the starting team by Cillian O’Connor. Rory Brickenden didn’t tog either, with Kuba Callaghan starting instead. He took up station at wing forward, with Conor Reid shifting to midfield and Donnacha McHugh going to full-back.
The Exiles opened the scoring from a free awarded for some off the ball pulling by one of our backs. Cillian O’Connor opened our account, also from a free, following a foul on Kevin Quinn.
Shay Rafter – who would end the day on six points and was named Man of the Match by Colm Boyle on the Connacht GAA stream – then put them back in front when he converted a mark.
Already the contours of the contest were emerging. The visitors were sitting deep, with everyone back, and we – like last year – were full of lateral handpassing out around the fifty, with no obvious sign of being able to penetrate their blanket.
One man who did, though, was Jordan Flynn. He dummied nicely and then shot from distance to level it up. They went down the other end, however, and bagged one from play straight away after.
They kicked a wide and we kicked two – Kevin Quinn’s effort was just off but Conor Reid’s was a long way from the target – before Jordan Flynn burst through again to fire us into the lead for the first time.
London responded with a super long-range score. Then debutant Darren Quinn, fed by Cillian, edged us back in front.
Conor Hunt was harshly penalised in a central position. Rafter drilled over the resultant free. We then got what also looked a softish free and Cillian made no mistake. That score sent us in a point in front at the break.
By then we’d made two changes. Conal Dawson replaced Kuba Callaghan in the forwards and Eoin O’Donoghue came on for Tomás Fahey in the backline.
As they’d done in the opening half, London started the second half brightly. They bagged three points without reply, controlling possession for much of this time, to open up a two-point gap on us.
Donnacha McHugh shot over the cover with a real boomer for our first point of the half. This came after Cillian had missed a routine enough free which was a bit out on the right but still well within his range.
We made two further changes then, both of them seeing FBD action for the first time. Darragh Reilly replaced Darren Quinn while Ciarán Boland came on for Ruairí Keane.
The goal we scored was pure simplicity. Rob Hennelly drove his restart long, Jordan Flynn took it and fed Cillian who finished it in a no-nonsense way. Surely now we’d kick on?
We had chances to as well. Darragh Reilly made a great burst but the goal chance, which I think fell to Kevin Quinn, was spurned. A bit later Eoghan McLaughlin shot for goal but the ‘keeper batted it away.
By then, though, London, had scored twice to edge back in front. The possibility of a major upset was now very much on the cards.
Seemingly sensing this, our shot conversion went south. Cillian hacked an effort wide, then Tom O’Flaherty and Conal Dawson both missed the target.
Conal Dawson pulled us level with a free from the right-hand side. That was, though, our final score of the day and only our second point after the break.
We came hunting for a winner but we couldn’t locate the posts. They could, with Rafter claiming the mark and the sole London player with Mayo connections knocked it over to seal victory by 0-12 to 1-8.
The fact that this was only the FBD and that we fielded an extremely inexperienced team has to be borne in mind in relation to how this game played out. But so too is the realisation that, regardless of who lines out for us for any given day, the same problems remain for us in breaking down deep lying defences.
When asked about the desirability of avoiding a National League final this year, Kevin McStay retorted by questioning which matches people might like his team to lose. I’m not sure today’s would have been one of them, the result denying us the chance of two further pre-season outings in the Dome before our opening League match against Galway at Pearse Stadium.
Those plans now have to be re-worked in light of today’s unexpected reversal. So too must London’s travel plans, as it is they who now take on Roscommon in next weekend’s semi-final. Good luck to them then and well done to them too on claiming the spoils in the Dome today.
Mayo: Rob Hennelly; Aaron McDonnell, Kuba Callaghan, Ruairí Keane; Tomás Fahey, Conor Hunt, Eoghan McLaughlin; Jordan Flynn (0-2), Donnacha McHugh (0-1); Conor Reid, Frank Irwin (0-1), Tom O’Flaherty; Darren Quinn (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (1-2, two frees), Kevin Quinn. Subs: Eoin O’Donoghue for Fahey, Conal Dawson (0-1, free) for Callaghan, Darragh Reilly for Darragh Quinn, Ciarán Boland for Keane.