U21s suffer Northern exposure

mayo-v-down-1With Down having played in the Ulster final only the other evening, it was reasonable to expect that we’d see a tired team performing in Pearse Park, Longford, this afternoon. We did but unfortunately that team was Mayo, as our lads failed to keep pace with their livelier opponents for much of the hour and in the end were slightly flattered by the losing margin of only three points, in a match where Down ran out winners by 1-15 to 2-9.

It was a glorious day for a game of football, with the sun still high in the sky and only a slight breeze blowing across the field as the ball was thrown in at Pearse Park at five this evening. Cork had just edged out Dublin in the day’s first semi-final and so we took the field aiming to make it a repeat of the 2006 decider at this level. Unlike the last day the county had contested a match here, today’s crowd at the nice, compact midlands venue was a very small one – I’d say it was under a thousand – split evenly enough between the two sides.

The first half turned out to be an even split too: we stayed with them for the first fifteen minutes but they then sped away from us over the next fifteen, building up a lead that we’d never manage to reel in. We got the day’s opening score – a free from Kevin McLoughlin – with Aidan O’Shea landing our first point from play after they’d levelled. A Jason Doherty free from well out brought us level after two Paul Devlin scores had edged them in front and then this collector’s item, a ‘45’ from goalie Robert Hennelly, cancelled out a well-taken point from play from their midfielder Peter Fitzpatrick.

We had been doing okay in that opening fifteen minutes, with Kevin Keane expertly marshalling the full-back line and Aidan O’Shea in the thick of it further out but already there were signs of a lack of punch in our forward line, with players turning into tackles and labouring to make any progress at all in the final third of the field.

mayo-v-down-2What we didn’t expect was a Down blitz but that’s what hit us over the next ten minutes or so. Paul Devlin started it off with a free after Kevin McLoughlin handled the ball on the ground and three rapidly-taken points from play followed as they went four clear. Mikey Sweeney pulled one back but this was immediately answered at the other end. Points were now being traded in quick succession, with Down extending their lead to five before Aidan O’Shea boomed his second of the day over with his left to cut the gap to four.

Their full-forward, Paul McComiskey, pointed from play to move Down five ahead again but just before half-time we broke through for a morale-boosting goal, with a slick series of passes putting in Cathal Carolan whose thunderous shot smashed off the underside of the crossbar and Neil Douglas palmed the rebound into the net to leave us just two points adrift after what had been a fairly ropey first-half performance.

There was plenty to ponder on at half-time but as it turned out, I hadn’t much time for pondering as TIALTNGO and myself had arranged to meet up for a brief Mayo GAA bloggers’ plenary session. We agreed the team was in a bit of bother and would need to take a leaf from the seniors’ copybook in terms of their second half performance but the resumption of play then brought our plenary to a rapid conclusion.

Cathal Carolan got us off the mark quickly on the resumption with this score from play to bring us within a point of them but they then struck decisively at the other end. First came a fisted point from McComiskey and then they worked the ball from one end of the pitch to the other, with Paul Devlin fisting it home for a goal to give the Ulster champions a five-point cushion.

They notched another from play soon after and the writing now appeared to be on the wall for us. But just as we might have been forgiven for thinking that the match was over, Mikey Sweeney rounded off a fine move to fist home our second goal of the day.

Down’s centre-back, John Fitzpatrick, was then ordered off when he picked up a second yellow for hauling down the goalbound Donal Vaughan. Kevin McLoughlin pointed the resultant free but then a minute later missed another one from exactly the same position.

The momentum was now with us but we couldn’t make it count as the Mourne lads broke up a succession of attacks and then their half-forward Conor Maginn ran a full thirty yards without a Mayo hand being laid on him before firing over to extend their lead to three.

With the extra man, we were winning more ball but we couldn’t get it into the danger zone as Down showed they were no slouches in the Nordie black arts department, with a series of carefully executed fouls committed well outside our scoring range which broke up our momentum. To make matters worse, at least three frees we won from such fouls were pumped aimlessly into their full-back line only to be gathered gratefully by a Down defender and cleared.

(Speaking of black arts, have a look at this distracting run by Down’s Conor Maginn, which was clearly aimed at putting off Robert Hennelly as he was about to take his second ‘45’ of the day. It worked, as this one tailed off wide and the ref never spotted this achingly obvious yellow card offence).

With time running out, we needed a goal to keep us in it but all we could manage was another Aidan O’Shea point from play, while they closed out the day’s scoring with a McComiskey free to seal a three-point win.

It was a disappointing result as this team had – or so we thought – a genuine chance of going all the way this year. However, we were well and truly ambushed today and we simply had no answer when Down upped the ante midway through the first half and again early in the second period. In truth, we never looked like winning today and but, for the two goals, we could have taken quite a beating.

In terms of performances, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Kevin Keane had his hands full with Down’s dangerman Paul McComiskey – whom a Down man told me after the match was their new James McCartan – but he still showed more than a few touches of class at full-back. Donal Vaughan and Kevin McLoughlin did okay in spots too but neither were as prominent as they might have been expected to be, given their positions as senior panellists.

mayo-v-down-3Tom Parsons was a real disappointment, not least because he was the side’s captain. While he fetched a few lovely balls, he was in no way dominant in midfield and was unable to make any of those penetrating runs that have become his trademark at senior level. Beside him, Aidan O’Shea worked tirelessly and shot three great points but at times he looked utterly knackered. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that his stellar performance for the seniors last Sunday told against him today. He now clearly needs a bit of a rest from football and not just because of his upcoming Leaving Cert either.

Cathal Carolan and Mikey Sweeney were the pick of a forward line that never got motoring at all. Carolan got subbed in the second half, which I though was odd as he’d showed a fair bit appetite for the game unlike most of his colleagues in the attack. Aghamore’s Cathal Freeman, who was named in the subs but was obviously not fit to take any part in proceedings, was a huge loss to this sector.

The other odd thing – and a factor that arguably cost us the game – was our lack of a reliable free-taker. We missed at least five scoring opportunities from frees today, including sitters from Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin, and, had all those gone over, it could well have been a different result. When you think back to how Aiden Walsh repeatedly kept the minors in it last year with a succession of booming long-range frees (including this spine-tingler at Croke Park), you’d wonder why he didn’t feature in the U21 panel this year. The lack of a free-taker is, of course, also a problem for us at senior level and it’s one that needs to be addressed. Time for a Maurice Sheridan travelling workshop, I think.

mayo-v-down-4So that’s the end of the road for this year’s U21s and unfortunately today’s loss means that we’ve now racked up three All-Ireland semi-final defeats on the trot at this level. This repeated failure at national level takes the shine somewhat off our provincial dominance at this level but today at least we were simply beaten by a better team and there’s no shame in that. I’d expect Down to have a right crack at Cork in the final in two week’s time and if they do manage to go on and claim their second U21 All-Ireland, we will I suppose be able to bask in their reflected glory. But we’ll also have other fish to fry ourselves over the coming summer and, in this respect, I think we may have reasons for cautious optimism about what the rest of the year might hold for us.

MAYO: Robert Hennelly (0-1, a ‘45’); Eoghan Reilly, Kevin Keane, John Broderick; Donal Vaughan, Lee Keegan, Kevin McLoughlin (0-2, frees); Tom Parsons, Aidan O’Shea (0-3); Cathal Carolan (0-1), Frank Burke, Brian Gallagher; Mikey Sweeney (1-1), Neil Douglas (1-0), Jason Doherty (0-1, free). Subs: Sean Prendergast for Broderick, Niall Prenty for Gallagher, Alan Freeman for Carolan.

12 thoughts on “U21s suffer Northern exposure

  1. all i can say is that I’m disappointed felt this team had the makings of something special but obviously we came up against a superior force! so good luck to down and I hope we can put the positives into the senior championship panel.

  2. Wow. Talk about a lesson on how to close out a match and protect a narrow lead (with 14 men to boot).
    Are we out there to win a popularity contest or win a game?

  3. Williejoe, your report says it all. Possibly the real Mayo failed to turn up or got sucked into the two games in a week would leave Down tired scenario. Amazingly I think Down had only two wides and no other clear cut chances. In other words they took ALL their offerings. We missed a 21 yd free in front of the post, we missed another two easy frees plus Hennelly kicked two 50s wide. Throw in or subtract one of Downs late points which was clearly wide and we would have won. By the way we also got a goal chance with 4 mins left but the forward took a watery shot at goal. In Mayo we are not happy just to play good football, we have to embroider and over do it. Three times the half backs won great ball, soloed away and promptly placed it in the chest of a Down half back. They(Down) kicked at least 7 long range points. They won an amazing amount of high ball at midfield. Poor Aiden O shea is knackered and if we keep using him as a get out of jail card then I pity the lad. All in all we have been at this station before as Mayo people. Sadly I note a little acceptance creeping into us, myself included.

  4. I said after the galway u21 match that not having a free taker could cost us down the line and yesterday my fears were realised. Down knew that they could do what they wanted to us and get away with it on the scoreboard and they did. No team that i can remember won and all ireland without a recognised freetaker. This is the same at any level. There is obviously no specialist free taker at this level( and senior ) in the county and in fairness to management they tried all the options but in a game like this where scores were hard to come by we were alway going to struggle without a place kicker. All that said Down were the better side and thoroughly deserved to win. I hope they win it out now and i have to say that even if we made it through yesterday I dont think we would have beaten cork. OShea did all he possibly could but i was surprised he wasnt thrown in at ff for the last 5 mins. He was knackered and could do no more at MF. Im convinced now more than ever that he will be more effective for mayo in the future as a FF, not a MF.

  5. 4 connaught titles in a row doesnt matter a sh1te when its followed by 3 semi-final losses in a row. THIS MAYO TEAM WAS OVER-RATED

  6. sorry…….post not complete.
    Its all well and good beating a poor sligo team in a connaught final and the likes of sweeney,doherty,douglas being praised from the heavens above. You gotta ask yourself, is the opposition good enough to test those forwards? With all due respect to the weaker counties in connaught, they dont have good enough players to match other counties from other provinces. Mayo wernt strong enough down the centre of the pitch i.e centre half back, forward and full forward performing poorly. More physical forwards is what is needed even at u-21 level

  7. We do have tendency to sit back and admire our football in Mayo while other counties seem to concentrate on winning titles. And while that may be the case, we do like good football from our teams.
    But yesterday we came up against a team that was clinical in its approach. A semi final is for winning – nothing else – and Down had only that aim in mind. And you are right, in the second half they traded the clinical for the cynical, but it was all in the cause of winning the game. However, we should know that the Nordies are not the only ones who do this – remember Galway under Peter Forde? I’ll never forget the way Galway rolled us over in Salthill in 2007.
    I love the pure game as much as the next man, but we have to wake up if we want to win titles. The only way to do this is to play the game on the extreme edge of the rules. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective. At present everyone loves playing Mayo because we play to the rules and are niaive enough the expect the opposition to do the same. But now that the GAA has collectively decided that the new rules took the “manliness” out of the game, we have to play the game the same way as everyone else if we want to win anything.
    And that means resorting to the sly tackle, the off the ball dig, the deliberate foul, the name calling and all the other shite that has crept in as well. Not a pleasant prospect!

    Or we could try to win just by playing football…….

    Keep the Faith!

  8. Williejoe … seems from your report that we got what we deserved …. just a quick note though … I like yourself could not believe Aiden Walshe was not part of this team and shane nally also … cant help feeling thy could have made the difference … Also alan freeman was top scorer for aughamore and indeed the entire intermediate championship last year …. gets 4-5 mins when all is lost ???

  9. I think it’s fairly clear now that I was incorrect in crediting our first goal to Cathal Carolan: everyone is saying that it was Neil Douglas who applied the finishing touch to it. I’ve amended the match report accordingly.

  10. Defo Neil Douglas who pulled on it when AFTER it hit the cross bar. But was it over the line at that stage?? I thought it was our # 12 who hit the inital cracker of a shot.

  11. Just watched it again on TG4. It was Sean Prendergast that hit the rasper off the bar and the commentator credited the finish to Niall Douglas

  12. Did anyone else notice that at times the (very effective) Down fielding had an Oz rules style to it?..the way they jumped and seemed to linger in the air for that extra moment?

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