While our semi-final opponents in this year’s Connacht championship were making themselves known over at soggy Ruislip this afternoon, closer to home our challenge match campaign continued apace. Today’s official reopening of Ballaghaderreen’s GAA pitch was the excuse for today’s run-out as James Horan had another look at his options ahead of our championship opener.
I’m sure the irony wasn’t lost on our opponents today at Ballaghaderreen – Westmeath – that they’re already out of Leinster while we’ve yet to raise a gallop in Connacht. I know there are many things to love about the summer football but, for me, the ludicrous scheduling of matches that the lopsided provincial system throws up sure isn’t one of them.
I’m not sure if our respective positions in the scheme of things as far as this year’s championship is concerned was in in any way significant in explaining today’s result. What is clear, though, is that – thanks to a glut of goals – we won the match very decisively.
Last spring, Jason Doherty and Alan Freeman were the main men in our attack with the former in particular showing a keen eye for goal, raising seven green flags over the course of that league campaign. Neither of them have had a particularly happy time of it since then so it was good to see both of them wreaking a bit of havoc up front today.
Jason bagged three goals this afternoon and Alan ended up with 1-2 to his credit, with both lads showing well in the forward line. The other goal came late on from second half sub, Michael Conroy.
The main talking point in the team that was named to start was sure to have been Ronan McGarrity’s welcome inclusion at midfield alongside Barry Moran. Shane McHale started at 3, with Ger Cafferkey switching across to 4. Donal Vaughan was on the bench and so Keith Higgins lined out a centre-back.
We hit the Lakesiders right from the throw-in, with the Doc notching 1-1 to get us going and then a free from Cillian and one from play from Ronan following before the Goal Machine banged in his second major of the afternoon.
After that opening barrage, Westmeath finally got going with a point but we then responded with a third goal, this one scored by Alan Freeman. Another Cillian free added to our tally but the visitors then reeled off three points without reply. Andy Moran got us going again by claiming a point on his home pitch and they replied with a point before Cillian pointed his third free to send us in ten points to the good at the break.
This being a challenge match, it was obvious that there’d be major changes for the second half and that there were. Six replacements – Robbie Hennelly, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Michael Conroy and Danny Kirby – trotted out after the interval, with a seventh – Michael Forde – having come on for the injured Kevin McLoughlin during the first half.
The Ballycastle man was the first to raise a white flag after the break and Alan Freeman followed this up with one that @MayoGAA (great scores updates on Twitter again, lads) described as an excellent effort from out on the sideline. The visitors then hit back with two points but their task was made even more hopeless when Danny Kirby set up Jason for his third goal of the afternoon.
In fairness to the Lakesiders, they immediately cancelled out that goal with three points on the spin but the final one of that trio was also the last contribution they made to the scoreboard. We continued to pile on the pain at the other end, with further points from Alan Freeman (a free) and Michael Conroy before the Davitts man added a goal to complete the rout.
It was obviously a good win but equally clearly the fact that it was a challenge match means that the result counts for very little. PJ, who was there (and who took the two photos I’ve used here), reckoned we were good at the back and he liked what he saw of Barry Moran at midfield but he felt we were lacking in invention in the half-forward line. Indeed he felt that on today’s performance any of the top teams in the country would have had little bother in snuffing out whatever offensive threat we could come up with. In particular, he reckoned that our inability to score regularly from distance – which isn’t a new problem for us but is a problem nonetheless – is a real concern and one that was painfully obvious again today.
That said, it’s good to see Jason and Alan put in a productive day’s work and that both were able to do some damage on the scoreboard. Both players will surely have given James Horan something to think about as the manager starts to turn his thoughts to the team sheet for the Leitrim game in three weeks time, when the lads will finally get to play a match that counts for something after a ridiculously long break from competitive action.
Mayo: David Clarke; Kevin Keane, Shane McHale, Ger Cafferkey; Richie Feeney, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle; Ronan McGarrity (0-1), Barry Moran; Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor (0-3, frees), Pat Harte; Alan Freeman (1-2, one free), Andy Moran (0-1), Jason Doherty (3-1). Subs: Michael Forde (0-1) for McLoughlin, Robert Hennelly for Clarke, Chris Barrett for Cafferkey, Lee Keegan for Feeney, Donal Vaughan for McGarrity, Michael Conroy (1-1) for O’Connor, Danny Kirby for Barry Moran.