It’s good to be back.
Today was the first Mayo match I’d been to in 16 months, the first since Covid struck, and while today’s match-day experience was very different and it was a good bit wetter than I’d have liked in the first half it still felt bloody great to be there.
So first off I’d like to pay tribute to those doing the heavy lifting on the stewarding side of things at MacHale Park today. We all take this thankless, voluntary work for granted but we shouldn’t, as today’s match couldn’t have gone ahead without all the advance prep that was done and the efficient arrangements in and around the ground. Well done to all on that, it was all top class.
Our seats were in Zone 1, high up on the bleachers in the Albany end over towards the stand side with a diagonal view down onto the pitch. This meant we got to see most of the action in the first half, as the ball was down that end virtually all the time.
It also meant we were exposed to the elements when the heavens opened soon after throw-in. I knew that one day that Cairde Mhaigh Eo umbrella would come in useful. That day was today.
We made two changes to our starting line-up, with Jordan Flynn and Darren Coen starting, while Eoghan McLaughlin and Bryan Walsh didn’t. They weren’t on the bench either and neither was Rory Brickenden, with Aiden Orme, Fionn McDonagh and fit-again Diarmuid O’Connor added to the list of replacements.
We got into the groove right from the off and shot for points at will in the opening quarter. We had eight points racked up before they got their opener, from a free, just before the water break.
Two more points followed on the resumption before our opening goal, scored by Darren Coen. It looked like we’d messed up the chance, with Conor Loftus passing the ball to a Leitrim player but he wasn’t ready for it and it bounced into the grateful arms of Darren Coen who finished to the net.
Darren added a point soon after and then Darren McHale grabbed two goals in less than a minute to push us out of sight with just half an hour played. The first one of these saw great combination play from Paddy Durcan and Oisín Mullin, who drove hard at the Leitrim defence, before the tap-in finish from the Knockmore man.
Tommy Conroy instigated the second one. He already had three beauties from play to his credit but he now had his sights on a major as he bore down on goal rapidly from the right wing. He lost control of the ball before he could get his shot away but Darren was there to finish it to the net.
A mammoth sixteen points to the good at half-time, the question now cannoning around the podcast Whatsapp group was how far we stood off our all-time winning margin in the Championship. Thanks to the search tool on the results archive (thanks, Mark!) that was a question easily answered – we had 29 points to spare over Sligo in 1949 so a second half like the first one would see us into that kind of territory.
Two further goals early in the second period saw our lead stretch further. The excellent Ryan O’Donoghue – who, in Cillian’s absence, has emerged as a real leader in attack for us – bagged the first one and Tommy smashed home the second one. That put us 24 points ahead.
And that was the margin at the end of the game too. We didn’t break the record and this was mainly due to Leitrim reeling off four points in a row from then till the second water break, a period when we hit the pause button and invited them onto us.
By now Colm Boyle was on – I let off a roar of ‘Boiler’ as he trotted on to replace Paddy: it almost felt like old times – and so too was James Carr. Fionn McDonagh, Aiden Orme, James McCormack (blood) and Jack Coyne all got a run-out before the finish.
Although the game was long over as a contest we continued to press and harry the opposition into the final quarter. Four late points saw our lead widen to 25 points before they had the final say on the scoreboard with a neat point from play with just seconds to go.
I haven’t time now – as I still have to drive back to Dublin – to launch into a rant here about Championship structure. Our two matches in this year’s Championship have, though, added to this debate and have provided weight to the increasingly persuasive argument that this farce has to stop.
So, after two lopsided victories, we now head for a Connacht final showdown against old rivals Galway in a fortnight’s time. That one is sure to be a far keener contest, one that could easily go either way.
Today’s big win shows that, despite our bad luck this summer on the injury front, we’re humming nicely. We’ll be well up for the fight when we take on Galway and I, for one, can’t wait for it. Having made the trip west for today’s mismatch I’m hoping to be there to see the Nestor Cup decider too. Yes, it sure feels good to be back.
Mayo: Rory Byrne; Enda Hession, Padraig O’Hora, Michael Plunkett; Paddy Durcan, Oisín Mullin, Jordan Flynn; Mattie Ruane (0-2), Stephen Coen (0-1); Conor Loftus (0-2), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Darren Coen (1-3); Tommy Conroy (1-3), Darren McHale (2-1), Ryan O’Donoghue (1-6, three frees). Subs: James Carr (0-1) for Conroy, Colm Boyle for Durcan, Fionn McDonagh for Ruane, Aiden Orme for Darren Coen, James McCormack for Flynn (blood), Jack Coyne for Mullin.
Who was our MOTM against Leitrim? Pick your top three performers
- Ryan O'Donoghue (25%, 557 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (18%, 412 Votes)
- Darren McHale (11%, 237 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (10%, 227 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (7%, 162 Votes)
- Mathew Ruane (7%, 161 Votes)
- Oisín Mullin (5%, 112 Votes)
- Darren Coen (5%, 109 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (3%, 67 Votes)
- Rory Byrne (1%, 33 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 27 Votes)
- Enda Hession (1%, 20 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 20 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (1%, 16 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (1%, 15 Votes)
- Jack Coyne (1%, 15 Votes)
- James Carr (0%, 11 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (0%, 11 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (0%, 10 Votes)
- James McCormack (0%, 7 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (0%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,087