How many times have we seen Mayo struggle in the League against suffocating Ulster opposition in games where we eventually fell to frustrating defeat? That seemed to be the narrative for long stretches in today’s Round 4 clash with Armagh at Dr Hyde Park but the difference today was that we eventually found a way to win.
The stand was filling up rapidly when we took our seats high up in it an hour ahead of throw-in. The pitch was deserted then but after the warm-up stuff had been set out Rob Hennelly and Rory Byrne spent some time practicing kick-outs.
That wasn’t noteworthy in itself but then, just after the National Anthem had been played, it was announced that Rory was starting instead of Rob. It’s not clear why the switch was made but I heard afterwards that the cause was illness rather than injury-related.
Rory wouldn’t have chosen the first touch he got in this game. This was his picking the ball out of the net at the graveyard end, as a looping shot for a point by Mackin – in the first attack of the game, straight from the throw-in – dipped at the last second and flew into the net.
We opened our account soon after. Ryan O’Donoghue claimed a mark from a ball punted in and fired it over.
They got the next two scores, though, with a fisted score from Duffy and a fine strike by Grugan sending the visitors five clear with ten minutes played.
It was already a curious aspect of the game that Armagh’s talisman Rian O’Neill was operating far out the field. It was he who gave the offload to Mackin for the goal and later in the opening half the Crossmaglen player was in the pocket back near his own 21-yard line to intercept an attempted pass inside from Lee Keegan.
We slowly got a toehold in this contest. Ryan pointed a second free and then he banged over one from play, taking a super pass from Frank Irwin, then spinning away from his marker and shooting over. The Belmullet man was the main reason we kept in touch in that opening quarter.
Armagh’s scoring had dried up after that early blast and it would be close to the break before they troubled the umpires again. They had an effort at the posts that, from where we were sitting, looked like it could be over but it was flagged wide.
At the other end Mattie smashed over a boomer from distance. Then Diarmuid O’Connor drove in from the wing on a powerful run, shooting over emphatically off his left, to cut the gap to one.
We made two replacements in the second quarter. The switch that saw Frank Irwin replaced by Kevin McLoughlin was a blood substitution but the Stephenites man never subsequently reappeared.
A bit later, Paddy Durcan came on for Rory Brickenden. As Ed McGreal pointed out on the pod after the game, this was a move that made eminent sense, seeing as Rian O’Neill was still stationed way out the field. As events transpired, Paddy would play a decisive role in our late comeback in this game.
It was Rian O’Neill who ended Armagh’s long wait for a score with a fine strike from distance. A free from close to the ’45 metre line from Ryan answered that and we could have drawn level when we got a free closer to their posts soon after.
This was when Armagh’s midfielder Mackin picked up a black card for a stupid third-man tackle on Kevin McLoughlin right in front of the ref. Ryan butchered the free, though, and then O’Neill drove over a free from distance at the other end to send the Orchard in two points ahead at the break.
We had plenty to think about at that stage, as the triumphant Kilmeena lads, proudly hoisting their three trophies, came out onto the pitch where they got a warm reception from the huge crowd. Proper order too – it’s only right and fitting to celebrate our clubs’ exploits on the national stage.
It was no surprise to see that we’d shuffled the deck for the second half. Aidan O’Shea came on for Conor Loftus and stationed himself around the middle, with Jordan Flynn pushing a bit further forward. Sam Callinan was also withdrawn, replaced by his combative clubmate Padraig O’Hora.
With a more battle-hardened line-up on the field for us, we now sought to reel Armagh in while they were a man down. A point from a mark by Aiden Orme and another one from Diarmuid O’Connor, after Aidan O’Shea had made a strong, line-breaking burst, drew us level.
But we failed to push on from there. As Mackin was shaping up to come on, Swanny swung out of his man unnecessarily and Grugan nailed the free. Then Turbitt, only just on the field, won a ball out front, turned and fired over.
Another Ryan free cut the gap back to one again. The game was becoming scrappy now and a longish period passed before the next score.
When it came it was for Armagh. The large Mayo following was fairly incensed at Coldrick’s award of a free for what looked like a fair challenge. The free was from well out on the right-hand side but O’Neill drove it over off the outside of his boot.
Into the final quarter now and, while the game was still there to be won, it was starting to look like one of those days for us. Armagh had defended the D like demons right from the start and we were getting clogged up as we sought, with little success, to drive through that central channel.
Our shooting wasn’t helping either. After playing the ball around looking for an opening, possession ended with Paddy on the right wing but he screwed his shot badly wide.
Jack Carney was on for Fionn McDonagh now. With less than ten minutes to go, Kevin McLoughlin skipped impishly through the suffocating cover and pointed off his right. But they responded in kind from the restart and then followed it up with another one.
That score had an element of finality about it, their ‘keeper having provided the assist to the shooter. Three up now, the visitors were looking good for the win, not least because, from our perspective, it was hard to see where the scores might come.
But come they did because, all of a sudden, it was Mayo time. And we proceeded to Mayo them, banging over the final five points of the day to win it by two.
A foul on Jordan Flynn gave Ryan a chance to narrow the gap and he made no mistake. We turned over their restart and Kevin was fouled as he tried to squirm clear. This one was from no more than 14 yards out and Ryan slammed it over too.
Ed was chatting with an Armagh man sitting behind us and was saying that we’d happily take the draw now. “So would we!” the Armagh man answered with alacrity, knowing full well that the tide was now going out rapidly on Kieran McGeeney’s team.
With three minutes of normal time to go, we were level. Paddy – from roughly the same area he’d missed earlier on – took aim and the ball narrowly made it inside the near post.
We kept possession for a while after that, now patiently looking for an opening that would see us get the lead. But we eventually lost the ball, with nothing to show for our time on it, giving them a rare chance to attack.
But we quickly won it back and now, their defence pulled out of position, we played it forward rapidly. Jordan came onto it in the right place and fired it over to put us ahead for the first time. Mayo-OH time. But with five minutes of injury time still to be played.
Paddy missed a chance to put us two up. Then, as they attacked at the other end, Swanny won a stirring turnover and it now began to look like our day.
Danger still lurked, however, and Rory Byrne won the second of two difficult balls pumped his way to keep our lines intact at the back.
Armagh got a free out between the ’45 and midfield. With only seconds left, O’Neill went for it but Aidan rose to fetch it in the square. When we broke out, it was like a cavalry charge as we swept downfield, necklacing handpasses before Paddy provided the grace note to seal a two-point win.
This wasn’t a great performance by us but, you know, that made the win all the sweeter. We were asked plenty of difficult questions by a resolute Armagh this afternoon and for long stretches we were left scratching our heads.
But eventually – thanks in large part to the experienced operators we were able to spring from our bench: what a bench we have now – we found a way to win and it was that ability that made this win so satisfying.
With seven points out of a possible eight from our first four games, we’re not just guaranteed our place in Division One next year – a consideration that’s even more important, in light of the vote at Congress yesterday – but we can now have a right cut at this National League.
We’re now one of just two unbeaten teams in Division One. Kerry, who hosed Monaghan up in Iniskeen today, head the table on points difference and it’s them we face next, in Tralee in a fortnight’s time.
That one is set to be a searching test of our capabilities, as it will be for Kerry too lest we forget. Today was a tough test as well and although we weren’t as fluid as we maybe should have been, it was a test we were eventually able to come through. That, ultimately, made today’s win such a gratifying one.
Mayo: Rory Byrne; Lee Keegan, Rory Brickenden, Michael Plunkett; Oisín Mullin, Stephen Coen, Sam Callinan; Jordan Flynn (0-1), Matthew Ruane (0-1); Fionn McDonagh, Diarmuid O’Connor (0-2), Conor Loftus; Aiden Orme (0-1, mark), Frank Irwin, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-7, five frees and a mark). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin (0-1) for Irwin (blood), Paddy Durcan (0-2) for Brickenden, Aidan O’Shea for Loftus, Padraig O’Hora for Callinan, Jack Carney for McDonagh, Fergal Boland for McLoughlin.
Who was our MOTM against Armagh? Pick your top three performers
- Aiden Orme (20%, 691 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (18%, 635 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (13%, 457 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (13%, 440 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (5%, 179 Votes)
- Mattie Ruane (5%, 177 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (5%, 173 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (5%, 165 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (3%, 107 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (3%, 98 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (3%, 89 Votes)
- Rory Byrne (2%, 75 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 32 Votes)
- Frank Irwin (1%, 30 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 25 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (1%, 18 Votes)
- Sam Callinan (0%, 15 Votes)
- Jack Carney (0%, 14 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (0%, 13 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (0%, 13 Votes)
- Rory Brickenden (0%, 11 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,716