We’re off and running again. The first, and most important, priority today was simply to win and, with a flattering nine points to spare over Sligo in this afternoon’s Connacht SFC quarter-final at MacHale Park, we did that. The performance may have been less than impressive but it was good enough to get us the win we needed.
There’s been a definite changing of season across the country since I last took the road west for a match at MacHale Park. Gone are the dun-coloured fields and bare trees, replaced by greenery everywhere and the riot of whitethorn in glorious bloom. There was rain, though, after I’d crossed the border on the N5 near Charlestown so it was from a perfect summer’s day.
The stand was filling up rapidly when I got to my seat high up in the stand at MacHale Park well ahead of throw-in. The flags fluttering down at the bacon factory end showed there was a strong wind blowing that direction and it was into that end that Sligo opted to play in the first half.
They got the game’s opening point right from the throw-in but a free from Cillian O’Connor and a trademark, outside of the boot effort from out on the right by Andy Moran put us briefly ahead. They leveled and then when Lee Keegan fumbled a quick kick-out from David Clarke, Marren claimed possession and belted it over.
Kevin McLoughlin missed a twenty-yard free out on the left – wouldn’t Cillian be a better option for these, even if they are on the wrong side for him? – but he made amends soon after by pouncing on a breaking ball and firing over. Marren put them back in front but then a nice, rapid flowing move by us ended with Paddy Durcan banging over the equaliser.
After that bright opening quarter from the visitors, they began to shrink back into ultra-defensive mode, swamping their backline behind a shield on the 45-metre line. We made a few forays at speed beyond this line, yielding fouls and from two of these Cillian pointed, though Marren knocked over a long-range free for them. Around that time the injured Kevin McLoughlin was replaced by Jason Doherty.
It looked like there’d be little or nothing between the teams at the break but then Seamus O’Shea fed the galloping Diarmuid O’Connor who fended off the despairing cover before drop-kicking a rocket of a shot to the net. Diarmuid was clearly fouled on his goal-ward burst but ref Sean Hurson allowed the advantage and appeared too to allow the Ballintubber man a generous helping of steps before he got his shot away.
Four up at the break and with the wind behind us in the second half, the task facing us looked straightforward enough. Sligo would have to defend higher up the field, otherwise we’d be able, with that wind, to find the target with ease from around 45-metres out. If that was the plan, it wasn’t how it went.
Sligo ‘keeper Aidan Devanney knocked over a long-range free into the wind, cutting across the ball beautifully to send it on a low, rising trajectory over the bar, to start the second half scoring. We’d already fluffed one or two scoring chances at the other end by then and we missed a few more soon after but then Fergal Boland banged over his first championship point, followed soon after by a second point of the day from Andy.
Diarmuid got into a tussle on the end-line, where he appeared to be fouled as he waited to contest a hopeful ball in and he ended up getting his head stood on. Blood flowed profusely from the resultant injury as he trotted off and Aidan O’Shea came on to join the fray. Diarmuid eventually came back on whereupon Aidan came back on again, this time as a replacement for Andy Moran.
By then we were four points to the good – they got two and looked to be thinking about possibly making a right effort at winning the contest, but then Fergal Boland snuck inside and fisted over – and another Cillian free stretched our lead to five once more.
Soon after it was back to three and we still hadn’t shaken them off. We’d run the bench at this stage with Stephen Coen, Donal Vaughan, Danny Kirby and Conor Loftus now all on the pitch.
A close-in free by Cillian extended the lead to four points. Finally, we cut loose, with a super point from play by Cillian – fed beautifully by Aidan – before the same player (touch of square ball, anyone?) palmed the ball to the net after it was lofted across the goal by Conor Loftus.
They got a final point at the other end but then the grace notes were applied for us via two lovely long-range scores, one from Danny Kirby (his first championship score) and the other from Jason Doherty. We won by nine at the finish, on a scoreline of 2-14 to 0-11.
Best for us today, I though, were Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan, Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons and Fergal Boland. There were no stand-out performances from within our ranks today and much about us this afternoon was disjointed enough but it was still good enough to get the win we needed.
Along with the win we now get the right to turn our attention to Galway, whom we’re set to face at Pearse Stadium in three weeks time. They’re still on a high from beating us last year – their subsequent collapse against Tipp seems to have been air-brushed from their collective memories – and are fully determined to double the dose on us on 11th June.
For us, it’s a revenge mission (of sorts) but more importantly it’s the game we need to win to make the Connacht final. One game at a time, folks – the one now facing us is, for sure, one that demands 100% focus from us.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Fergal Boland (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor (1-0), Conor O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (1-6, five frees), Andy Moran (0-2). Subs: Jason Doherty (0-1) for McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea for Diarmuid O’Connor (blood) and for Moran, Stephen Coen for Boyle, Donal Vaughan for Conor O’Shea, Danny Kirby (0-1) for Seamus O’Shea, Conor Loftus for Boland.
Who was our MOTM against Sligo?
- Paddy Durcan (40%, 291 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (13%, 92 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (11%, 77 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (8%, 57 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (6%, 41 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (4%, 29 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (4%, 29 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (3%, 24 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (3%, 20 Votes)
- David Clarke (2%, 17 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 10 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 9 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 8 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 5 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (1%, 5 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 5 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 4 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 3 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (0%, 3 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 2 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 732