For the second time in less than a week a Mayo team today found itself having to undergo trial by shootout. This time it was the women’s football team and the shootout involved free kicks rather than penalties but, from our perspective, it finished in the same happy way.
That wasn’t the only point of commonality between today’s LGFA SFC clash with Monaghan at Ballinamore and Tuesday’s Connacht U20 semi-final against Galway. Another one was that in both fixtures it was a Knockmore player who dispatched the vital kick to secure victory for us.
In sweltering Ballinamore this afternoon – with the temperature only a little shy of thirty degrees and with little or no breeze – it was Shauna Howley, one of Mayo’s outstanding players to date this year, who kept her cool, thumping the ball over the bar off her trusty left foot with some aplomb. It was the only free kick that was converted in the shootout.
Commitments elsewhere kept me away from this game until well into the second half, although I was following the score updates on Twitter. I picked up the radio commentary midway through the second half but was then able to jump over to the live stream for the second half of extra-time and the shootout.
In light of our respective results last weekend, I expected we’d come out on top in this one without too much trouble. That assumption proved well wide of the mark, though, as Monaghan stayed with Mayo from start to finish. In fact, there were never more than three points between the teams at any stage in the game.
That three-point gap was opened up early on as the Westerners bagged the first three points at sun-drenched Seán O’Heslin Park. Shauna Howley, from a free, got us going and this was followed by scores from Rachel Kearns and Sarah Rowe, the latter having started instead of Fiona Doherty. Ciara Whyte and Sadhbh Larkin had also started in the half-back line, replacing Eilis Ronayne and Kathryn Sullivan respectively.
Ellen McCarron hit back with two frees – she would go on to land ten points, all but one from placed balls – and by the first water break the gap between the teams was just a single point. By half-time it was all square on six points each.
The second half was equally tight and getting more tense all the while with the gloriously hot summer weather making it a taxing one for players on both teams. But they continued to slog it out all the way to the end of normal times, which ended at ten points apiece.
I assumed then – and I clearly wasn’t alone in this – that, seeing as this was a group stage game, that would be that and both teams would get a point each. Soon, however, it became clear that, for whatever reason, extra-time would instead be played.
Mayo had the better chances to nick it in extra-time, especially when Monaghan lost a player to the sin bin. Sara Rowe had a great chance when through on goal but unfortunately she fumbled possession and the opportunity was gone.
When Rachel Kearns was ordered off on yellow it looked like our chances might be going with her. With the dead-eye McCarron in the Monaghan ranks, we were now at a disadvantage as Rachel wouldn’t be allowed to take part in the shootout.
It finished level at twelve points each after extra-time. Then there was another surprise – it wouldn’t be penalties, instead the shootout would be a free-taking one, with kicks taken from the ‘D’.
Monaghan won the toss and opted to go first, with McCarron first up for them. After her strong scoring contribution in the match she’d have been well fancied to hit the target but her effort sailed wide.
In the event, it was only Shauna Howley’s free, our second one, that went over the bar and so we won the shootout 1-0.
It’s an important win too, as it means we now have two wins from two outings. As far as I can discern, that means we’re in the knockout stages, whereas had we lost the shootout we’d have needed to get something from our final game against Armagh – who beat Cavan today – to advance.
Armagh knocked us out in the group stages last year and had the shootout gone the wrong way for us this afternoon then there was a real danger that the same fate could have awaited us this year. Thanks to Shauna and her trusty left peg, however, that’s something we don’t have to worry about now.
Mayo: Aisling Tarpey; Saoirse Lally, Clodagh McManamon, Ella Brennan; Tamara O’Connor, Ciara Whyte, Sadhbh Larkin; Ciara Needham, Sinead Cafferkey; Sarah Rowe, Rachel Kearns, Mary McHale; Grace Kelly, Shauna Howley, Tara Needham. Subs: Fiona McHale for Ciara Needham, Kathryn Sullivan for Larkin, Fiona Doherty for Tara Needham, Lisa Cafferkey for McHale, Marie Corbett for Brennan, A Geraghty for Doherty.
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On a separate note, mention has to be made of last night’s awful tragedy involving Gaelic football in Monaghan. Hours after captaining the Monaghan U20 team to victory over Donegal in the Ulster final, Brendán Óg Ó Dufaigh lost his young life in a car accident on his way home. He was just nineteen years old.
As a parent of kids in that same age cohort myself, I cannot even begin to comprehend the staggering scale of the loss his family and friends are feeling. It’s awful beyond words and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s a loss the entire country shares today.
May Brendán rest in peace and may his heartbroken family one day gain some solace following the awful, terrible loss they have suffered with his untimely passing. RIP.