When I took my seat in what was possibly the windiest spot of the pretty impressive new stand at McHale Park this afternoon, I never expected that the match I was about to see would outdo the fun and games I’d had at Croke Park 24 hours previously, where the rather indifferent rugby was but a backdrop to the very memorable Father and Son’s day out I’d had with the small fella. But it did, you know, because what all of us in the crowd of 5,962 at McHale Park this afternoon got to witness was a rare enough bird – a match in which we’d Galway well beaten with most of the second half still to be played.
It could, and probably should, have been a real hammering because when Trevor Mortimer scored our second goal in as many minutes with only ten minutes or so played in the second half, we were all of 13 points up and were utterly in command all over the pitch. But then Trevor got a straight red – I didn’t see the incident myself but have now done so on the television and it looked like no more than a mistimed tackle, hardly straight red territory, you’d have thought – and that changed the strange ecosystem that had prevailed until then out on the pitch. Galway went on to outscore us by 1-3 to 0-1 over the time that was left on the clock but they were, of course, playing for their pride by then as well.
That late urgency they found meant that they ended up suffering a seven-point trimming rather than one that was double that. But it was, nonetheless, a hammering and having thought about it a bit in the hours (and the miles I’ve travelled) since then, I’m not quite sure how or why this happened. Big Joe said on the news that Galway weren’t as bad as they looked today and that’s undoubtedly true but they wouldn’t want to be or else the Fat Controller could be out of a job this side of Easter. Johnno was quick to dampen expectations on the news tonight too (isn’t he always?) but he’ll clearly be well satisfied that he’s marked Kernan’s card good and proper. Well, at least until the FBD final is played in two week’s time.
The foundations for this comprehensive win were laid early on and, by the end of the opening quarter, we were travelling very smoothly while they were already visibly floundering: the first substitution they made came as early as 25 minutes into the game. They did manage to open the scoring, though, with Sean Armstrong landing the first blow of the day but a smart fisted point from Peadar, this Mark Ronaldson free and one from play from the already prominent Andy Moran got us nicely settled into the contest. Michael Martin pointed a free for them before Ronan boomed over a lovely one in reply and a fine, elegant mark from the Stephenites man was the genesis for our next point as he laid it off to Andy who put over his second of the day. Another Ronaldo free followed and now we were four clear.
Kevin McLoughlin – who was excellent throughout today – then stole forward and thumped over a beauty from out on the wing. Seamus O’Shea – who also has a very productive day operating as an out-and-out third midfielder in a sector we were now dominating utterly – then released Tom Parsons for a heartwarming point for the Charlestown man. Soon after Donal Vaughan sprinted forward to land a real gem of a point and Enda Varley – another star for us today – marked his NFL debut by screwing over a delicious left-footer, our tenth score of the day, to put us eight ahead.
Galway had gone around 30 minutes without a score at this stage but then Nicky Joyce pointed when a goal looked as easy an option and Garreth Bradshaw stole up from corner-back to nab a Vaughanesque score. Kevin McLoughlin answered that one swiftly enough but then Bradshaw burst forward again, took around twelve or thirteen steps and promptly collapsed in a heap, a move that impressed Marty Duffy sufficiently to earn him a free which Nicky Joyce pointed to end the half’s scoring.
The game wasn’t quite in the bag at half-time but we were certainly sitting a whole load prettier at that stage than we’ve been in most contests with the Herrin Chokers in recent times. The first ten minutes in the second half were obviously going to decide what kind of contest we’d have for the remainder of the afternoon and decide it this segment of the game quickly did. The decision was an emphatic one too: we were going to have no contest at all.
Ronaldo – who had already blasted one scoreable free wildly off-target late in the first half – had a pointed free on the board before I had retaken my windy seat on the resumption and I was barely hunkered down properly again before the Shrule-Glencorrib man knocked over another. Michael Meehan had joined the fray for them at half-time, with Barry Cullinane and his outsized arse having also come on (before half-time, I think) and when Michael Martin got a free back for them, we could have been forgiven for thinking that this was the start of the fightback. Instead, it was the lead-in to the two hammer blows at the other end that ended the match as a contest.
Enda Varley smashed home our first goal with more than a little aplomb and then barely a minute later Trevor bundled in a second to hoist us a full thirteen points clear. Now we were approaching Roscommon June 2009 territory and those who like this particular kind of blood sport – PJ, sitting beside me, is one of that fraternity – started to lick their chomps in anticipation. But then Trevor came steaming into one of their lads like a bull with no brakes and we were down to fourteen. In that instant, all those unneighbourly thoughts of a truly historic hammering went out the window.
Instead, we went into containment mode as they started to claw back some inches of all those acres of lost ground. A Nicky Joyce free was followed by a Mike Meehan goal, a score which showed yet again why Keith Higgins should never be in the corner. Keith stood miles of Meehan – as Keith does with whomever he’s meant to be ‘marking’ – and once the Caltra man had the ball so close to goal, there was only one place it was going to finish up.
Meehan also got all three of Galway’s remaining points, two from frees, while we failed to get the ball much beyond the halfway line during that unsatisfactory final quarter. Aidan O’Shea – who had an unhappy time against Finian Hanley today – did, however, burst through for this fisted point, our final score of the day with under ten minutes to go.
There were plenty of strong performers out there for us today. I was impressed with Donal Vaughan (although the merits of placing him at corner-back will be tested more rigorously in the weeks ahead), who was calm and astute throughout and who stole forward for a fine point late in the first half. Kevin McLoughlin was full of running at wing-back, as was Peadar Gardiner on the other flank, and both provided an added edge to our attacking thrusts.
We were all over them at midfield, where Seamus O’Shea made an excellent return to the fray after a too-long absence and his standout display made an interesting contrast to the kid brother’s frustrating and largely unproductive afternoon. Ronan was good too and he’s clearly a player that’ll have great fun with the mark over the course of this league campaign. He was catching them for fun today and made good use of the resultant free kicks too. Tom still seems to be lacking in confidence but he got a nice score today and is, I think, working his way back into more productive territory. Time will tell how far down this path he gets this season, hopefully it’ll be all the way.
Andy was, I thought, our main man today. He was in the zone right from the off; claiming ball, laying it off, making scores, scoring scores and he kept working right to the end. So often in the past, we’ve seen Andy run himself into the ground and have bugger all to show for it but today the fruits of his efforts were there for all to see. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Ballagh man back in the half-backs any time soon.
Enda Varley had the kind of league debut he must have been dreaming about and if he can produce this kind of performance on a regular basis, we’ll have ourselves a whole new offensive option in the forwards. His eye for goal is impressive and his finish for today’s major was ice-cool.
Negatives? Keith’s defending at corner-back is, I think, worthy of a second mention as it’s an itch which never seems to subside. He seems to be unable or unwilling to stick in close proximity to whatever corner-forward he’s marking, even if it’s one as lethal as Michael Meehan. His failure to close down Meehan was the direct cause of the goal we conceded and I’m beginning to agree with PJ that the only lingo the Ballyhaunis man is going to understand is a few matches on the bench.
Ger Cafferkey and Trevor Howley were okay but only okay and the latter’s lack of height was kinda obvious for the key position he’s being asked to play. Would it be an idea to move him to the corner, switch Caff out to 6, Alan Feeney to 3 and Keith to the bench? I think it might.
With the other Trevor now out of the picture for a few games, we have a hole to fill in the half-forwards. Barry Kelly will probably slot in there the next day but, you know, in an ideal world wouldn’t it be great if we could just beam down Aidan Campbell into that position? He’d be tailor-made for the job and we’d also have someone to take those frees that Ronaldo was punting all over the shop in the second half. It won’t happen, I know, but how much longer can we leave such a talent out of the picture?
Anyway, back to the game and, if we’ve any sense, back to reality too. A few Galway lads in front of us today were winding us up that Mayo would now be sure certs for the All-Ireland this year on the back of this performance but, as Johnno said after the game, nobody will remember this result come next September. It’s a win, and a good win too, but now it’s done with and what we now need to focus on is our next challenge, which is the formidable one that Tyrone will put up to us next Sunday up in Omagh.
We can’t exactly forget about Big Joe and the Herrin Chokers either (that sounds like a good name for a showband, doesn’t it?), as we have a rematch against them as early as a fortnight from now in the FBD final. Joe spoke about using today’s hurt in a productive way and you can be sure they’ll come at us with renewed vigour the weekend after next. It’s when they do and when, by extension, we see how our lads cope with them that we’ll know better whether or not we’d really want to play them every week.
Mayo: David Clarke; Donal Vaughan (0-1), Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Peadar Gardiner (0-1), Trevor Howley, Kevin McLoughlin (0-2); Tom Parsons (0-1), Ronan McGarrity (0-1); Andy Moran (0-2), Seamus O’Shea, Trevor Mortimer (1-0); Enda Varley (1-1), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Mark Ronaldson (0-4, three frees). Sub: Alan Freeman for Seamus O’Shea.