Today’s Christy Ring Cup final against Kildare was always going to be a difficult assignment for Mayo’s hurlers. The Lilywhites – who had won this title twice in the previous four years and had competed at the Joe McDonagh Cup level last year – were streets ahead of everyone, ourselves included, in the group matches and they came into today’s title decider as unbackable favourites. Realistically, the result was only ever going to go one way.
That’s the thing about hurling – if you put two teams that are mismatched in ability up against each other, the better team will win, every single time. There was clearly a significant gulf between Kildare and Mayo in today’s Ring Cup decider and it was apparent as early as ten minutes in that the Leinster team were going to prevail, and handily too.
By then, they’d bagged their opening goal. Corner forward Brian Byrne found the net for them on eight minutes and two quick points afterwards opened the lead out to seven points.
Our lads battled manfully to stay with them from then on. Kildare’s ball handling and their crisp, confident stick work kept them constantly on the offensive, however, and the scores continued to rack up. Plenty of high-quality ones too, including from classy centre-forward James Burke, who landed a free from just outside his own ’45.
The Naas clubman was on fire for the Lilies today, ending the game with ten points to his credit, all but two of which were from placed balls. Wing forward Gerry Keegan went one better, though, claiming eleven points, all from play, in a shoot-the-lights-out personal display.
For us, Shane Boland was our main scoring outlet. He bagged six of our first half points, all but one from frees, with Eoin Delaney – who turned his marker nicely before shifting to strike off the left – and Joe Mooney, from a super sideline cut, getting the other two before the break. Shane would, once again, be our top scorer on the day, weighing in with ten points, seven from frees.
Kildare had got a second goal, batted to the net by the other corner forward Cathal Dowling, before the break and they went in a yawning 15 points in front. By now, it was clear that the only objective facing our lads for the second half was to keep the scoreline to respectable proportions.
And, to their credit, that’s exactly what they did. The tempo dropped, for sure, in the second half, as Kildare, now sure of victory, eased off on the throttle but we bagged a number of cracking points, adding a further eleven points to our tally before the finish, with Kildare claiming the silverware on a scoreline of 2-29 to 0-19.
Losing a final is never easy – no Mayo supporter needs reminding of that fact – but today’s defeat to such superior opposition negates in no way what has been a great Christy Ring Cup campaign for this Mayo team.
After suffering relegation from Division 2B in the spring, largely due to issues of player unavailability at the time, it was expected that they’d struggle in what was always going to be a very competitive environment in the Ring Cup.
The 30-point drubbing they received from Kildare in the opening round seemed to bear this out. A second relegation of the year – this time sending them back down to the Rackard Cup level – looked to be on the cards then.
But that was when their year finally took off. Wins on the road, against Wicklow in Aughrim and London in Ruislip, breathed life into their campaign, while home wins after that over Sligo and Derry saw them first retain their Ring Cup status for next year and then claim a spot in the competition’s final for the very first time.
So, when the pain from today’s defeat eases, which it should do quickly enough, Derek Walsh and his charges will be able to reflect on what has been a very positive summer campaign for them this year. It leaves them with loads to build on in 2023, first by seeking promotion in the League and then having a right cut at the Ring Cup once more next summer.
Hard luck today, lads, but well done for getting as far as you did and congrats on what has been a very positive year for the county’s hurlers.
Mayo: Bobby Douglas; Gary Nolan, Stephen Coyne, Paul Kirwan; Mark Phillips, Ger McManus, David Kenny; Keith Higgins (0-1), Daniel Huane; Seán Kenny (0-1), Joe Mooney (0-1, sideline), Adrian Phillips; Eoin Delaney (0-1), Joe McManus (0-2), Shane Boland (0-10, seven frees). Subs: Kenny Feeney (0-3, one free) for Kirwan, Eoghan Roe for Mark Phillips, Conal Hession for Huane, Patrick Lyons for Delaney, Brian Hunt for Seán Kenny.