Gutsy minors have to settle for a draw

Well done to the lads today who came within seconds of landing the All-Ireland minor football title but who in the end had to settle for an 0-14 each draw.  We’ll win the replay, don’t worry, because (a) we’re far the better team, (b) we won’t be outnumbered in terms of support and (c) sure won’t the Nordies be on the beer for the week after the exploits of their seniors?

A point up with two minutes of injury time played: you can’t come much closer to winning an All-Ireland than this.  In those frantic last few seconds, it really did seem as if we’d done enough to claim our seventh All-Ireland minor title and our first for 23 years but this wasn’t to be the case.  Tyrone proved to be the stickiest of opponents and they just refused to surrender, taking full advantage from one final throw of the dice deep in stoppage time when half-forward Matthew Donnelly fired over a long range point to level the match at 0-14 each.  In truth, it was no more than they deserved but we’d still have been more than happy to come away with victory by the narrowest of margins.  Instead, we have to do it all again next Saturday at Pearse Park in Longford where I’m confident enough we’ll finish the job.

We looked like winners for most of the 60 minutes today, with two early Cathal Freeman points from play helping to put us 0-3 to 0-1 up after ten minutes.  They cut the deficit to two just after but we then hit a purple patch over the next five minutes, with this point from play by Aiden O’Shea and two from Aiden Walsh, this one from a free, to send us four points clear.  When Cathal Freeman restored our four-point advantage ten minutes before the break, just after Paddy McNeice had pulled one back for them, we looked like we were cruising.

It turned out we weren’t as they hit us with five points without reply in those final ten minutes of the half and, in doing so, ended up going into the break a point to the good.  We’d dominated much of the half but our inability to cope with their tactical shift after twenty minutes – when they stopped pumping the ball in and started running at us instead – had robbed us of the initiative at the halfway stage.

A point from play from captain Shane Nally seconds after the restart was a good statement of intent and the teams went at each other with abandon from here on in.  We traded points to leave it at nine each then they pulled two clear before Cathal Freeman got his fourth from play and then Aiden Walsh bagged another free to level it up again with ten minutes to go.  Aiden O’Shea then hit a monster point from play to edge us back in front with eight minutes left on the clock and it began to look like it might be our day.

But again Tyrone came, with two points to edge them in front by one and, with Croker now filling up, the huge Red Hand support was threatening to overwhelm us, even if we were getting some lackadaisical backing from the Kerry crowd to augment the noisy Mayo following. Now it was our turn to come at them and we didn’t have long to wait as sub Dean Gavin fired over a point from play to level the match again.  Then we won a free thirty or so yards out on the right and Aiden Walsh atoned for an earlier miss from little more than14 yards by cracking this pressure score over.

That looked to be the winner and it would have deserved to be so as we twice withstood their last gasp attempts to break us down.  However, both times we succeeded in breaking up their attacks and reclaiming the ball, we then ceded possession back to them cheaply.  The second time this happened we paid the full price for it as they worked the ball into a scoring position and Donnelly shot bravely from distance into the Hill to secure a second bite of the cherry for the Ulster champions.

It felt cruel to see victory snatched away from us at the death but looking back at it now we have no reason to feel sorry for ourselves.  Six minutes from time – when we were a point behind – we’d’ve gladly taken the draw and it was obviously a match we could as easily have lost as won.  Sure, it would have been great to see them lift the cup today in front of the big Croke Park crowd and the far bigger TV audience but this team can still win their All-Ireland and coming away from Croker later this afternoon, I felt convinced – and I’m still convinced now – that win it we will.

The lads did us proud today with a display of open, honest and brave football and they more than matched everything that a very good Tyrone team – who had the benefit of that enormous Nordie support – had to throw at them.  We had plenty of heroes today, notably goalie Robert Hennelly, full-back Kevin Keane and forwards Cathal Freeman and Aiden Walsh but the hero of the hour was undoubtedly Aiden O’Shea.  The big Breaffy youngster played today with a still-broken thumb (I know for sure now that it was broken as he told me so himself at the official function tonight) and, despite this, he put in one of the finest performances seen in the colours in Croke Park for a very long time.  He was truly awesome.

So now it’s onto Longford next Saturday (throw-in 2.30pm) where there’s a job of work to be completed.  All Mayo people who consider themselves as supporters need to make it their business to be there next Saturday as Tyrone will bring a huge, euphoric following and will be looking to clinch a notable double.  We need to match them on the terraces as well as on the field and, after their heroics in this campaign, these lads deserve all the support we can give them for this final, decisive push to glory. Our title haul will be more modest than Tyrone’s this year but as far as I’m concerned they had their fun today – and, boy, did they have fun in that compelling and wonderfully absorbing senior final – but next Saturday down in Longford it’s going to be our turn.

I’ll leave the final word for tonight to the County Board Chairman James Waldron who, in addressing the official dinner tonight, said that although it’s been 23 years since we last won a minor All-Ireland, “we’ve only six more days to wait for our next one”.  He’s right, you know, and it would be a real shame for any Mayo supporter to pass up on the chance of seeing it happen. I, for one, don’t intend to miss it.

17 thoughts on “Gutsy minors have to settle for a draw

  1. watched it on the telly listning to midwest commentry the 1st one i missed being at.
    what a game again yesterday our lads stepped it up and boy did they need to, they came so close but still they are there and no doubt next saturday the papers will still be banging on about this terrific tyrone team kylie kooney et al, while our lads will arrive with quiet steel and finish them off.
    the mid west commentry was a bit dissapointing
    didnt seem to know our players names I dont know what happened to Mike Finnerty who usually does a good job.

  2. It’s a pity you missed it, Albany – the atmosphere inside the ground was unreal, especially in the second half when all the Tyrone support had showed up. It really looked like we had it but I’m very hopeful we’ll finish the job in Longford.

    Mike Finnerty is definitely due a break after being on duty all year long!

  3. First time I got to see these cubs in action last night, from my couch in Sydney. Boy, am I excited by some of the talent – Full Back (Keane, I think) looks excellent, Freeman, Walsh and of course the giant O’Se were all standouts but there were stars all over the field.
    I know you shouldn’t expect to see too many minors making the grade at senior level but if we can manage to hold onto these lads the future looks bright. Enjoy the replay lads – I’l be in communicado at a wedding so will have to rely on text messages 🙁

  4. You’re right to be excited Stephenite – this is the most promising group of young lads I’ve seen in the Green and Red since the U21s in 1983. They’ve talent, character and size and I can’t see Tyrone – and they’re a very, very good team too – living with them next Saturday. I’m sure their class will shine through on the text messages that get to you from Pearse Park!

  5. Unfortunately couldnt make the function last night in the Louis Fitzgerald WJ….Was it any good?

    Brilliant match and performance by the lads….The future is bright..the future is Green and Red!

  6. The official event was enjoyable, enough, Mayoman – they replayed the game on a big screen and the team had good fun taking the mick out of each other over some of the incidents. Poor old Aiden Walsh got a particularly hard time over that close-in free that he missed. The atmosphere at the event was very positive, I thought, and nobody seemed too downhearted about the draw. Ray said a few words and he directed his words mainly to the players about what needs to be done the next day. I like the way he talks – no political spin there.

    That’s bad news alright about the ref – we’ll have to make sure that there’s no pick-ups off the ground. In fairness to the guy, I think he was incompetent rather than biased against us in any way but I’d prefer someone who knew what he was doing all the same.

  7. Thanks for your excellent report on the on the match
    W J far better than anything on the papers.
    Great that you got a ticket. I liked the reference
    to the truffle rooting by The Brother. I think I knew
    him when he was a young fellow. Did he deal in
    donkeys in an other life? !!. Looking forward to the
    replay on Saturday. I have no doubt we will win.
    Keep up the good work.
    “Akamore Man”

  8. I think he’s one and the same alright – the asses were good preparation for sourcing tickets obviously!

  9. I like Ray Dempseys style…

    He seems to be constantly talking on the earpiece to “someone” who is probably up in the stands and can see how the match is panning out from a different perspective…..And I noticed in the first game against Kerry he has two if not three “water carriers” who are always running out to the players with instructions…..

    His post-match interview on the Sunday Game was refreshing to hear…”there’ll be no slaps on the back or congratulating each other on a job well done, we’ve won nothing yet”….

  10. So do I, Mayoman – his speech at the function last night was very understated and he’s obviously got a great rapport with this bunch of lads who clearly want to play for him. It’s a funny old game but who would have thought at the start of the year that Ray Dempsey would be the rising star on the sideline for us, just at the point where the Messiah is losing his lustre?

  11. well done WJ on all these great articles u do on the games. very well written!

    Was in the lower canal yesterday and very proud of the lads. We did well but defo room for improvement from a few of them. Lets hope we get a big crowd to longford on saturday…

    very disappointed about the choice of referee…maybe he will allow us a few open handed “fisted” points to make up for his disastrous display a few mnths back in croker…he was bordering on farcical that day – reminded me of mcananey(the most overrated ref in the country) in the 96 replay.

  12. Thanks for the kind words, Mayonaze (love that moniker by the way). We need a big crowd at Pearse Park alright, as they’re sure to bring substantial support with them.

    The ref’s a disappointment, for sure – he was so incompetent in the senior match that we’re probably going to see all manner of inconsistent decisions. Maybe our lads should practice throwing the ball over the bar (one of Kerry’s points in the second half yesterday came via this route as well). At least he wasn’t biased – it was a case of a fool rather than a knave but I’d prefer if we didn’t have a fool in charge of such an important match, knowing that one bad decision could cost us the final.

  13. Oh please hold the ref bashing at least until he calls a few howlers in pearse park maybe then let him have it.
    to sugggest he was the vilan in croker against tyrone in the qf is a bit rich… blatent pick ups and a disinclination to score when almost imposible not to had from my view in the cusack, had more of a bearing on that outcome ..any way best of luck to the lads on sat I KNOW THEY CAN DO THIS WHATEVER IS THROWN AGAINST THEM.

  14. agree with you albany. The ref didnt loose the senior match against tyrone for us….we need to look closer to home for the root cause of that particular result. David heaney blatant pick up off the ground was the turning point in that game and the refs decision was correct. Next saturday our fate will be decided by us, no one else. Remember the ref tried to bring Kerry back into the semi final replay but the mayo players themselves saw to it that the ref would have no bearing on the result. that is the attitude that they should approach this game with. no excuses…play flat out for 60 mins and if your beaten well fair enough. there is significant room for improvement the next day but I wouldnt expect another “limerick” job. Tyrone are simply better than Kerry but if all underperformers(and there were a handfull it has to be said) up the standard and the performers perform, we will win for sure. wasnt it great to see other counties hopping off us in the physical challenges for a change.

  15. You’re right, of course, lads – we shouldn’t be looking for excuses before we even take the pitch. My problem with him is that he reffed the senior match poorly but, then again, when have any of us last seen a good refereeing performance?

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