In the Melian Dialogue Thucydides wrote that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer as they must.”
That observation had more than a little relevance to this afternoon’s lopsided Connacht quarter-final at Markievciz Park. The vast gulf in class between the teams was apparent right from the start of a game that Mayo won by as much as they wanted. Sligo, powerless to prevent this drubbing, had no option but to endure it to the bitter end.
We were expected to win this game decisively and that we did. We wanted to see that our attack, cruelly shorn this summer of Cillian O’Connor, could function effectively and that it did. We wanted to see a better defensive display and, in large part, we got that too.
We could maybe have won by more. We certainly passed up a number of good chances to bag a fourth goal and Sligo got a few more points than we may have liked, as well as rasping our crossbar in the first half. But that’s just carping – we won this game by twenty points, kept a clean sheet and saw full debutant Darren McHale enjoy a dream first Championship start in the forward line.
We made one change ahead of throw-in, with Jordan Flynn starting at wing-forward instead of Bryan Walsh. Aidan O’Shea had the no.14 on his back but he operated, for the most part, further out the field – though that didn’t stop him running up his best scoring tally in ages – while Darren McHale stationed himself closer to the posts.
The Knockmore man got the day’s first score, spinning sweetly to fire over off the left. Niall Murphy – who ended the day with six points to his credit, all from play – broke clear at the other end and pointed the equaliser.
Already, the home team were defending in numbers but Ryan O’Donoghue picked the lock with a brilliantly weighted handpass to Darren McHale. The Knockmore man made no mistake.
He had his third point on the board soon after. Tommy Conroy knocked down a high ball played in and Darren scooped it before knocking it over.
We were applying serious pressure on Sligo’s restarts at this stage, Kilgannon having no clear targets to aim at as we applied the squeeze with intent. Claiming possession, Aidan O’Shea offloaded to Tommy Conroy who sped forward and fisted over.
As another attacking wave came within range, the ref spotted that Kevin McLoughlin was being held closer to the posts. Ryan O’Donoghue couldn’t have asked for an easier first free and he popped it over without ceremony.
Ryan’s next effort sailed wide but from the restart we got our first goal. The Sligo ball receiver found himself gobbled up by three Mayo players and Aidan O’Shea emerged with the turnover ball. He was fouled as he bore down on goal but just shrugged off the attention and planted the ball in the net.
Now we were motoring. Murphy responded for them but then Paddy Durcan – who was everywhere in the first half today, with more possessions than anyone else on the field – ended a long, patient piece of probing by curling a beauty over.
Sligo almost had a beauty of their own soon after when Murphy’s piledriver thundered off Robbie Hennelly’s crossbar. That was a let-off for us.
Tommy, cutting in from the right, found the target to push us eight clear. We took that lead into the first water break.
Carrabine, from a knockdown by the big full-forward Gorman, got Sligo’s third point on the resumption. But before they scored again, just six minutes later, we’d added 1-4 to our tally.
Aidan got the first one, swivelling and shooting after collecting a sweetly-measured pass from Kevin McLoughlin. Then Paddy saw his goal effort come back off the crossbar with Jordan Flynn gathering the rebound and belting it over.
From the restart we got our second goal. Ryan O’Donoghue came onto the ball at pace and drove right at the heart of the defence. He offloaded smartly to Aidan who finished to the net from close range. Seconds later Aidan had the ball over the bar, following a super fetch and pass into him from Michael Plunkett.
After that fusillade, Sligo got five points, all from play, before the break. Every one of them were high-quality scores, banged over from distance. The problem for them was that we kept scoring too, adding another 1-2 to our tally before half-time.
Darren McHale got our third goal. Tommy Conroy burst in along the end-line and his goal effort rebounded out to the Knockmore man who poked it home. A great ball in from Paddy Durcan soon after left Darren with little to do and he pointed with ease. Our final point of the half came from a Ryan O’Donoghue free after Tommy was fouled.
Fourteen points ahead at half-time, this match wasn’t just as good as over. It was over. Mindful, though, of how we’d lost our way so badly after the break against Clare, we still needed to see that the lads could close out the expected big win with efficiency.
The tempo certainly dropped after the break but that was perfectly understandable. We had no need to keep the foot to the boards and they looked gassed after what must have been a very rough half from their perspective.
We had loads of time on the ball in that second half. Frequently we were content just to play it back and over across the middle as Sligo, shell-shocked from the mauling they’d taken in the first half, huddled back in their own half in numbers.
We added five more points to our total before the second water break was called. A free from Ryan, another point from play by Darren, taking his tally for the day to 1-5, a neatly taken one from sub Fergal Boland after a nice Aidan O’Shea offload, a super score by Eoghan McLaughlin after a hard run upfield and another Ryan free, after Tommy was dragged down, hoisted us seventeen points clear at the end of the third quarter.
With the result beyond doubt, James was now running the bench. As well as Fergal Boland, who replaced Jordan Flynn, Padraig O’Hora came on for the impressive Lee Keegan, while Stephen Coen, Paul Towey and James Carr all saw action before the end.
Stephen Coen was only just on the field when Aidan O’Shea slipped the cover and passed to him, the Hollymount/Carramore man finishing with ease. Just before than Eoghan took off on another run right at Sligo’s throat, with the goal opening up in front of him. A goal was definitely on but the Westport player drilled it over.
Conor Loftus got two points in that spell too, the second one a delicious curler after a patient period of play, in which we tossed the ball back and over waiting for an opening to appear. When it did, Conor’s finish was exquisite.
Our final score of the day came from James Carr, following yet another strong run by Eoghan. A few minutes before that the Westport man let off another rasper which seemed destined for the net but Kilgannon did superbly well to deflect it onto the crossbar and away to safety.
This was the easiest of easy wins. In many ways, it was the perfect kind of game for us to get ourselves moving in a campaign where we have to make do without our main man in attack. We needed to rack up a big score today and we needed to see others step up to fill the void in Cillian’s absence.
In that sense, it was mission accomplished today, albeit against extremely modest opposition. You could, I guess, argue that the paucity of the challenge that Sligo gave us meant we learned little or nothing today. Maybe so and it could well be the same against Leitrim in a fortnight too.
What we did learn, though, is that our Championship campaign of 2021 is up and running and that we’re heading full steam ahead towards the Connacht final. We’ve one more hurdle to get over before the Nestor decider but on today’s evidence this is a test we should pass without a whole load of trouble. Indeed, this could be another match where we’ll get to do what we like and the opposition will just have to grin and bear it as best they can.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Enda Hession, Oisín Mullin, Lee Keegan; Michael Plunkett, Paddy Durcan (0-1), Eoghan McLaughlin (0-2); Matthew Ruane, Conor Loftus (0-2); Kevin McLoughlin, Darren McHale (1-5), Jordan Flynn (0-1); Tommy Conroy (0-2), Aidan O’Shea (2-2), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-5, four frees). Subs: Fergal Boland (0-1) for Flynn, Padraig O’Hora for Keegan, Stephen Coen (0-1) for Durcan, Paul Towey for O’Donoghue, James Carr (0-1) for McLoughlin.
Who was our MOTM against Sligo? Pick your top three performers
- Darren McHale (30%, 660 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (26%, 556 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (11%, 237 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (9%, 193 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (5%, 103 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (4%, 95 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (3%, 73 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (2%, 47 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (2%, 43 Votes)
- Enda Hession (1%, 26 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (1%, 26 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (1%, 21 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (1%, 20 Votes)
- James Carr (1%, 17 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (1%, 13 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (0%, 9 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 9 Votes)
- Paul Towey (0%, 9 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 6 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (0%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,034