Too close for comfort in Carrick

Mayo’s U20s are through to the Connacht final – where they’ll face Sligo – but what was, midway through the second half, heading towards a routine, unspectacular victory veered off in a very different direction, with the result that we only emerged victors over Leitrim by a single point. We eventually scraped through this evening’s semi-final on a scoreline of 0-16 to 2-9.

From the midway point in the second half Leitrim outscored us by an astonishing 2-5 to 0-1, paring what was then an eleven-point deficit right down to just a single point. But they’d left it too late – by the time they netted their second goal from a penalty (a soft award, in truth), the time was up and the final whistle sounded as soon as the ball was kicked out.

At half-time few would have foreseen the mad scramble that ensued in the final quarter. At that stage we were eights points to three ahead and this looked to be an extremely untroubled assignment for Maurice Sheridan’s team.

His side had performed well in that opening half. When we had the ball, we tended to keep it – all those handpasses weren’t easy on the eye but it was an approach that ensured we retained possession – and, when they had it, we defended in numbers and were tigerish in the turnovers. Time and again, Leitrim came up against a backline that held firm, turned them over and attacked at pace.

We got the game’s first three scores. Frees from Frank Irwin and Cian MacHale were followed by a nice one from play by Tom O’Flaherty from distance.

They opened their account on eleven minutes, McKiernan clipping it over from an acute angle off the left. We responded immediately, Cian O’Connell, fed by Frank Irwin, firing over to restore our three-point advantage. Donnacha McHugh, off his left, following a good upfield burst by Sam Callinan, pushed us four clear.

After Leitrim pulled one back, McLoughlin smashing over from nearly 45 metres out, Sam Callinan went on a surging run up the other end, did a give-and-go, and fired over.

Our next score summed up our tactics in that first half. We won a great turnover on the Leitrim ’45, Paddy Heneghan pouncing on the loose ball and then feeding Frank Irwin who pointed to stretch our lead to five. A soft enough free for us, converted by Cian MacHale, upped our lead to six.

It was then that Sam Callinan got injured. He intercepted a loose pass and drove clear but then, with no-one around him, he collapsed to the turf. It looked for all the world like a hamstring pull and that obviously was the end of his involvement in the game and, perhaps, this U20 campaign too.

Although it wasn’t apparent at the time, Sam’s departure clearly had an unsettling impact on us. Our backline was never as solid after he went off and we also missed his offensive contribution further up the pitch.

Early in the second half, though, we seemed to have no worries about seeing out the game. Leitrim’s McGreal was black carded for a third man challenge shortly after the resumption and, for a time, it looked like we were going to break through for a goal or two.

We nearly got a fluky goal, when Fintan Kelly’s attempt at a point dipped late on and came back off the crossbar, and then Paddy Heneghan cut through their backline but his effort produced a good save from their ‘keeper. Leitrim were living dangerously then.

The home team had got the opening score of the half but in that third quarter we added seven points without reply, a scoring burst that seemed to put the game to bed. Frank Irwin got four of those (three frees and a superbly struck ’45, followed by another free) and Paddy Heneghan got one. I couldn’t make out who got the other one.

That pushed us a full eleven points clear but, from then to the finish, it was one-way traffic in the other direction. We’d run the bench far too soon and we looked disjointed and more than a little panic-stricken as a suddenly rejuvenated Leitrim went for us.

Their opening salvo was three points on the spin but when Dylan Thornton boomed over a great score at the other end, that seemed to settle us once more. After all, with less than ten minutes of normal time to play we were still nine points to the good.

But then they got their first goal. A lofted ball into the square was met by the gangly Quinn who got his paws to it and batted it to the net. Two more points flew over our bar after that and now, with the match in injury time, we were looking increasingly desperate as we sought to hold out.

The last-second penalty award to Leitrim was hugely generous, as McGreal drove into his man and fell over. Casey’s spot kick was top class, low and hard into the corner to cut the gap to one. But it was all for naught, as the time was up and the whistle sounded as soon as the ball was kicked out.

Photo: Mayo GAA

The drama in Carrick was, if anything, overshadowed by the high-octane ending to the Sligo/Roscommon semi-final. That one was tight from first to last but the Yeats lads won it with a dramatic long-range score in injury time and so it’s them we face in the Connacht final this night week.

Sligo are the only county not to win a Connacht U20 title (the old U21 grade) but you’d have to think they’ll fancy their chances against us next week. After the high of beating a fancied Galway in such dreadful weather in Bekan last week, tonight’s near-miss with disaster against Leitrim will have brought Maurice Sheridan’s charges down to earth with a bit of a bump.

That said, however, this is knockout football and Mayo are still in this Championship, now with a great chance to claim our first Connacht title at this grade since 2018. It’s going to make for a fascinating provincial decider in a week’s time.

Mayo: Bryan O’Flaherty; Alfie Morrison, Ruairí Keane, Conal Dawson; Fintan Kelly, Sam Callinan (0-1), Aidan Cosgrove; C Dawson; Frank Irwin (0-6, four frees and a ’45), Donnacha McHugh (0-1); Tom O’Flaherty (0-1), Dylan Thornton (0-1), Seán Morahan; Cian MacHale (0-2), Paddy Heneghan (0-1), Cian O’Connell (0-3, two frees).

Subs: Paul Walsh for MacHale, Niall Treacy for Callinan, Bob Tuohy for Dawson, Mark Cunningham for O’Connell, Conor Reid for Keane.

Our Final Whistle podcast for club members went online on Patreon soon after the match ended in Carrick this evening. To get access to this and other great content, join the club here.

29 thoughts on “Too close for comfort in Carrick

  1. As you say WJ some of our play was not easy on the eye. In fact I can’t recall a more negative approach from a Mayo team for a very long time. It’s sad if this is being coached into them. We might win Connacht but a different attitude will be needed if we’re to have a chance of progressing further.

  2. First time I will have said something like this. If we play like that in the Connaught final I hope we’re beaten by Sligo, to learn a harsh lesson of the limitations of this playing style.
    Underage football is not about Connaught titles. It’s about player development.
    If we beat Sligo playing a more expansive style, that would be positive obviously.

  3. I wont mention names out of fairness to what is an amateur coach, but the “trainer” of the u20 management team also trained our local club last year. Endless sideways handpassing game after game. When knocked out of championship I met numerous older club stalwarts leaving the game who said they would never attend a club game again while that managment were in place. Thankfully they have been replaced. Pat spillanes “puke football” comment would be a generous description. Such a shame to see soo many young talented footballers being subjected to such negative play. Hopefully for mayo and our club this may not have a longer lasting effect on these young guys!

  4. Why can’t they play the ball in direct to the full forward line. Simple game strategy. This negative hand passing is killing the game

  5. We won The panel will learn much more from a one point win than if they had won by a landslide

    To be honest we are not performing at underage since 2016 which when you compare Kerry to ourselves well we
    are miles behind

    Horan is doing a unbelievable job with the available talent

  6. I think it’s incorrect to say that , a lot of people say we haven’t had a good under 20/21 side since 2016 but 2018 side were damn good too and came within a couple of points of winning an all Ireland . Ryan o donoghue and Tommy conroy are probably the best two forwards we have produced in a while . Jordan Flynn ain’t too bad of a baller either like .

  7. Positives-Frank irwin-Talented boy
    Sam callinan-Lets hope its not as bad as it looks
    the fitness levels are good
    2 all star minors in ethan henry and oisin tunney were not on the field last night
    errrrr…it stops at that really
    You could find lots of negatives after yesterdays close call but ill leave it at one
    the complete lack of ambition to get the ball inside
    handpassing off the shoulder will only get you so far..

  8. Is Maurice Sheridan the likely successor to Horan.?
    If that style of football is his mantra then I’m certainly not enthusiastic about the next 2/4 years of mayo senior teams success . Or maybe its a horses for courses case. Can’t see the future for it. Then winning a sigerson with UCG suggests he knows his stuff. Didn’t think that they were as negative as that u20 team were.

  9. You can only dance with the girls who are at the hall and we still don’t look like we have any marquee forwards in that under 20 team. This could be an element to why we have played with such a negative style.
    On a more positive note we do have a lot of industrious looking players.
    Morrison, Keane, Callinan, Cosgrave, Irwin, Mchugh, Flaherty, Fallon (hopefully fit for next week), and Heneghan all look good footballers without setting the world alight.
    Leitrim appeared to put a lot of bodies back so hopefully Mayo can open up a bit more in line with the opposition.

  10. Reid and Tuohy have impressed a lot off the bench in the two games also. A little surprised they haven’t made it into the starting 15

  11. @clubman51 – thought Tuohy looked promising when introduced.

    I would also like to see Luke Jennings get a run out in goal at some stage, lot of people have tipped him to push for a starting spot in the seniors in the future but he hasn’t started for u20 in the past 2 campaigns, is he carrying a knock or just out of form ?

    Ethan Henry is another player we could do with getting back, i think if Henry, Jack Fallon and Callinan are fit and we get no more injury’s to key players we have a team that could contest outside of Connacht.

  12. At Minor level, Paul Walsh, Dylan Thornton, Ciaran Mylett and Rory Morrin all looked like potentially top class forwards and were top class at that level in the style of play Tom Morley was espousing to the squad. Also Paddy Heneghan and Frank Irwin looked brilliant as athletic creative scoring half forwards with Ethan Henry a rock at midfield.
    The current tactics don’t look to be working to maximise the forward talent available (more sitting on the chairs complaining about the girls not dancing with you than dancing with the girls in the dance hall) and was seen against a gutsy Leitrim who Mayo handled easy at minor level with the same squad. Maybe we don’t have any good forward talent but bar a generational Michael Murphy or David Clifford type I can’t think of forward that would prosper due to the slow lateral handpass dominated attacking plan.
    On the positive side I think we did improve from the Galway game so maybe we make another jump against Sligo but I just can’t get the Connacht final last year where we had the same problems with a different squad with different players!! Logically you would look at the attacking plan, being the constant from last year, must be problematic not the players which have changed??

  13. Very good post crete boom , after watching last night I’d totally agree . This bloody obsession with ridiculous caution to actually kick it in , I understand the game has evolved to an over emphasis on possession but you still have to go for creating goal chances at times . Very frustrating to watch , jp makes a valid point though in fairness in the lack of big leg players with burst of speed . Lacking one of those type of players ,a name escapes me ex cork player looked like he was carrying weight but what a burst of pace he had .

  14. Hopefully they will mix it up and well see a balance between the ‘bread and butter’ hand passing and accurate foot passing. You cant create goal chances from our current over – indulgence in the hand pass. Callinan a vital cog.
    The final between Sligo and Mayo has been fixed for next Wednesday, April 20th, in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence, at 7:30pm. It will be broadcast live by TG4.

  15. Poor performance overall.

    16 scores for Mayo and by my rough count they butchered 7 or 8 other attacks on top of kicking 7 or 8 good opportunities wide.

    While management have to take some responsibility, not sure you can criticise too much when players are put in a shooting position and dont score. A certain player who was with the senior panel earlier in the year scored 1 from 4 attempts. Not criticising the young lad, but I dont think you can fully blaim management for that.

    As another poster said, you can only dance with the girls in the hall. I saw no Tommy Conroy or Ryan o D out there last night, nor did I see a Fionan Duffy or Conor Loftus

    Also, all teams now play defensively. Leitrim had alot of men behind the ball, as did sligo and Roscommon in the other under 21 game. Kicking long ball is high risk when teams have an extra man sitting on front of full forwards.

    We saw it with the senior team v Kerry. We couldnt get the ball to Ryan O D because Kerry had an extra man there

  16. Mayo2022, but teams move forward en bloc too. And the response on turnover has to be quick counter attack some of the time at least. Otherwise the game becomes totally predictable as it was last night. Well get very few goal scoring chances as defences are given time to organise themselves. A team has to have more strings to its bow..

  17. Very easy for Leitrim to get bodies behind the ball when backs and midfield handpassing the air out of the ball … No defender in the full back line likes the 30 or 40 yard pass into the forwards.. it may be old fashioned but quick ball into forwards works … a blend of both is very doable…

  18. @Sean Burke, where my interest got further piqued about leg power and GAA was in Jack OConnors book. The trainer he had in Pat Flanagan was a former sprinter, several Kerry players have commented he was “big into legs”.
    They were playing a team one time, my suspicion is it was Laois. Befure the game Flanagan said to OConnor “look at their legs, they’ve done too much long running”.
    Look at players like Cormac Costelloe or Niall Scully they don’t strike me as guys that without the work would be bringing anything other than slim stamina type slow twitch build to the table.
    But, they’re agile, able to power out of tight cover and they’ve more balance of weight to their legs than upper body.
    I don’t honestly see that much with Mayo.
    I could of course be wrong with all this if it was measured.
    I think Mayo the way we are developed we’d be too in things like 10 * 100m for time, aiming to be under 3 mins, and that is a test we do.
    But how would we fair in speed from a standing start over 20 metres and vertical leap?
    All those you need explosive fast twitch legs and the balance of weight more towards your legs than upper body.
    It’s not that you can make everyone a flyer, but you can have lads more balanced towards raw pace than grunt stamina work.

  19. @mayo2022 – it is not a risk kicking long ball into your forward line. That kind of attitude is what’s ruining the game as a spectacle. Conditions last night were perfect and we were up against a game, but fairly limited Leitrim side.

    Maybe there’s no superstar forward in the side, however from what I’ve seen over 2 games Cian O’Connell has pace and is well able to win his own ball. In the first 10 minutes he was fouled twice for scored frees and got a point himself. Yet there was barely any ball played into him for the rest of the game until he was taken off.

    Everything was geared towards hand passing and runs off the shoulder. With Callinan injured that will have to change now if there’s to be any success.

  20. Could and should have been a comfortable Mayo win, Switched off for the final 10 minutes and it highlights the strength in depth is not great.

    I think Mayo will win the final and then probably lose to the Leinster winner, watched Roscommon v Sligo earlier and the Rossies will be kicking themselves. 16 wides and 6 into the keepers hands.

  21. Agree that it ruins the game as a spectacle

    But you cant play like Kerry did last year v Tyrone in the semi or like we did v Tyrone in the final. Trying to hit inside forwards time and time again when opposition have additional players back – results in turnover and then being out of shape for the counter attack

    It takes alot to get it right, there is a balance to be achieved and as others said ball has to be moved quickly.

    But it takes time to coach that. Look at jim mcguiness in his first year, got defence set and then in year 2 went more expansive

  22. The style of play obviously a big factor in not creating as many goal chances as many of us would have liked but one of the worrying things yesterday was lads refusing going for openings when they were on and already made. We actually had a scary amount of opportunities given we didn’t convert one.

    Sam Callinan made a great burst through on 19 minutes. He popped the point over on the 20 while their was only a single defender between he and the goal, with the defender moving away from his line to goal tracking Frank Irwin’s run. All but a tap in for one of the two lads if he’d kept the run going.

    On 23 minutes Paddy Heneghan pounced on a turnover and made a great break before fisting it inside to Irwin. At that point we were two on two with both defenders drifting over to block Frank Irwin and one already committed to a superman dive. Any type of dummy or sidestep there and again a tap in but Frank popped it over instantly without a sniff of thinking about a goal chance.

    Very unfortunate on 29 minutes with Sam Callinan picking up his injury (looked like the left hamstring went) when latching onto a turnover that left him still a fair bit out from goal but one on one with the keeper (even without his blistering pace). Fingers crossed it’s a minor tweak rather real damage.

    On 35 minutes Fintan Kelly had the point drop short and hit the crossbar with Cian O’Connell the first to react and fetch the rebound. The less said about the missed point here the better but it was alarming to see a corner forward of his ability not even attempt to take on his man 1 on 1 at the edge of the square for a shot at goal. Generous to call it a chance but well more than a half chance.

    On 36 Paddy Heneghan was unfortunate not to score his goal chance. After receiving a ball in space in the middle backed himself to beat his man, which was shockingly rare given how much the lads looked like they had the beating of their men one on one, and was only prevented with a great save. Hit it at a nice height for a keeper but definitely one that goes into the great save column rather than a poor miss for me.

    On 44 minutes Paddy Heneghan tapped over a point when a pop handpass would have had Cian O’Connell clean through on the keeper for a goal. A few seconds earlier in the same move Tom O’Flaherty played a 2 meter handpass to Niall Tracey on his shoulder (slightly overhit pass to a man under pressure) when a ball inside would have opened a great goal chance for Paul Walsh.

    From that restart Paul Walsh won a great turnover and picked out Fintan Kelly with a fantastic ball. Kelly took a point when he and Cian O’Connell were two on two and had a solid opportunity to create a goal chance. It wasn’t even considered before the point was taken.

    Hard to imagine that many refused opportunities (Paddy’s the only one actually attempted) was purely player choice or heat of the moment poor selections. Have to imagine it’s team instructions and muscle memory from training patterns.

    Hopefully it’s something they can work on and great for the lads to be in a position where they can work on it. More than enough talent there for them to create a consistent number of goal chances in a game even with the current slow buildup and possession focus. The sharpness or desire to convert the chances a big question mark at the moment. Hard watch, fingers crossed we see a bit more from them in the final.

  23. Well put TsuDhoNim,very well analysed. We were and are, missing at all the grades and out and out 2 footed ball wining, full forward.a hard no nonsense type, We have to go back to Ray dempsey,Joe mcgrath .Willie mcgee.last nite we had no such type no one to keep backs n goalie fixed in place.
    Maybe I am using old tactics, but you got admit, it can be effective.

  24. That’s a great overview of the game there TsuDhoNim.

    Agreed that it was a very hard watch, the constant lateral hand passing and kicking frees backwards were particularly frustrating.
    We should wait and see how they perform in the final, but it’s hard to see the style of football changing.
    I put the Galway performance down to the conditions, and maybe even the strength of the opponents, but there was no excuse last night.
    It’ll be interesting to see some U20 games from other provinces, to see if this style of play is endemic across the board with youngsters.
    It’s not great to watch, particularly when the previous U21 competition was usually the most entertaining football you’d see across all of the grades.

  25. TsuDhoNim that is a brilliant breakdown.

    Shows the amount of opportunities missed and what needs to be worked on. It’s on both players and management. 16 scores plus so many missed chances, so opportunities are being created.

  26. Paul Kerrigan was the footballer I was trying to think of . JP , I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about that end of things but would I be right in saying the glute muscle is also vital in this regard to burst of speed .

  27. @Sean Burke, overall leg strength, sufficient fast twitch fibres and good running technique.
    A sprint coach in Offaly is having a lot of success with teams.
    Mayo has always underrated pace.
    Kevin Keane Swinford, quick, strong, scorer, never tried.
    Tomas Griffen Claremorris, carved out of granite, champion hurdler, inside line player, never used despite consistently being a heavy scorwr from play.
    Around these times we were too much into long stamina running fitness.

  28. Maurice Sheridan has played these tactics with every team he has managed. The kick pass doesn’t exist in his mind and who are these coaches he has with him… .Let’s not forget the display against the rossies last year, a connacht title left behind potentially an all Ireland who knows. There is no change in the sheridan style. They may beat Sligo but won’t go no further in my eyes . The lack of a scoring forward is a concern no threat at goal from our half forward line aside from Irwin’s frees. Heneghan is playing around the middle and the two inside are firing. The subs introduced didn’t do themselves any favors also. Let’s hope Sam Callinans injury isn’t to bad looks a top prospect

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