Except for the prevailing weather, it sounded like today’s Connacht final bore a fair few similarities to last year’s provincial decider which also took place at Hyde Park. Last year, the bulk of the support was against us. From what I could hear on the radio, this was also the case today. Last year the ref was atrocious, as today’s appeared to be too. And last year we nosed our way to a hard-fought narrow victory which we did again today to seal back-to-back Nestor Cup victories and our 44th Connacht title in all.
As I said yesterday, it’s pointless – from a remove of at least 2,000 miles – for me to try to write any kind of comprehensive account of today’s provincial decider. I followed most of it on the radio, the first half on Midwest – is Paddy Henry really the best deputy for Mike they can find? – and then (thanks to the tip-off from Colm Gannon) after the break I tuned into NewsTalk. From the combination of the two (more the latter than the former) I got the gist of what happened, but it was no more than that so what I have to say here is as a result going to be brief. Aside from this it’s our final night of the hols tonight and there are some beers to be downed a bit later on.
There seemed to be a few talking points from today that are worth recording (well, it’d be an odd Connacht final if there weren’t). Obviously you guys who were there are much better placed to provide your own take on proceedings and once this has gone up on the site, the floor’s all yours.
Barry Moran was, I think, named as Man of the Match at or about the time he received his second yellow deep into stoppage time. His encouraging performance – coming on top of his very strong display against Leitrim – is obviously a real plus for us and with Aidan O’Shea back in the engine room too, we’re starting to look formidable enough in this sector.
Springing Aidan clearly had a big impact. We seemed desperately flat in the opening half but once he was on it sounded like we had far greater urgency about us. Hopefully he’s now ready for a full 70 minutes stint because I’d say we’ll need him.
Also on the plus side, PJ expressed himself very happy with how Lee Keegan nullified Alan Costello – so much so that the Balla man eventually got the curly hook – and with how Ger Cafferkey gave no change to David Kelly. Who picked up Adrian Marren, by the way? He didn’t seem to have an enormous impact on proceedings so that seemed to be a job well done too.
Did we look as bad in that first half as it sounded on the radio? The Brother said that we were trying to walk the ball into the net all through the first 35 minutes – Going for Goals was obviously Plan A – and it definitely seemed as if it was our wastefulness that enabled Sligo to reach the turn two points to the good.
Indeed, our profligacy over the seventy minutes was pretty noteworthy. Shooting twelve wides in any game won’t do you any favours and in a close fought Connacht final it could easily have been the difference between winning and losing. It’s to the lads’ credit, then, that they still dug deep enough to eke out the win.
In this respect, our forwards didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory today. With Enda Varley and Jason Doherty in such subdued form (both were replaced in the second half), it’s fairly clear that the issue of Mort and all that is going to remain a live one between now and the August Bank Holiday weekend. We were without doubt the poorer for his absence today – he’d have made a great impact sub – but surely the same applies to Conor himself. Had he come on this afternoon and banged over some vital second half scores he’d be getting all the plaudits now and would, to boot, be a shoo-in to start in Croke Park. But, I suppose, that’s one for another day.
When it came to the winning scores, Lady Luck certainly appeared to give us a fairly outrageous wink with a wide from Colm Boyle signalled as a point to give us the lead for only the second time with fewer than ten minutes remaining on the clock. But, by the sounds of it, that was one of the few breaks we got from the officials and I don’t think Cormac Reilly will have gained any new members to his fan club after today’s performance with the whistle.
At the outset of the championship, common consent had it that the Gods had granted us a free pass into this year’s All-Ireland series. As is often the case, however, common consent was up its hole in this respect. Being left sitting on the sidelines for weeks on end and then coming into the provincial decider having only had to brush past a very limited challenge from Leitrim did us no favours at all and Sligo came close to being the beneficiaries today. But they didn’t come close enough and while I doubt that today’s match will go down in the annals as one of the greatest Connacht finals of all times, it’s another one that we’ve got in the sack. That’s got to be good enough for us.
The beers are now calling and the first toast of the evening will go to the lads who did the business for us today. Well done, lads, on another Connacht final win (and hard luck to the minors who came up short against yet another strong Roscommon team) and here’s to some more memorable exploits when we get to Croke Park.
Mayo: David Clarke; Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-1), Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle (0-1); Barry Moran (0-1), Danny Geraghty (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor (0-2, one free and a ’45), Alan Dillon (0-2); Enda Varley (0-1), Andy Moran (0-1), Jason Doherty. Subs: Aidan O’Shea (0-1) for Geraghty, Michael Conroy for Varley, Alan Freeman (0-1) for Doherty.
Photo credit: The Brother