The notion behind The Underdogs show on TG4 is that it provides a platform for footballers who haven’t made it at county level to showcase their talents. Tonight’s televised match between a Mayo selection and the Underdogs at MacHale Park was, however, as much about the emerging talent in the Green and Red jerseys as it was the lads in the rather lurid playing kit they were up against.
James Horan’s experimental team won this evening’s game with considerable ease, on a scoreline of 3-11 to 0-8. I think it’s fair to say that a number of the lads who lined out for the county tonight did their chances of a 2020 call-up no harm at all.
The match itself was a bit of a non-event. From the outset, it was apparent that the only shot the Underdogs had in their locker was a handpass-laden keep-ball effort but they were unable to make any real use of this possession. Outmuscled in the physical stakes and frequently caught flat-footed by Mayo’s rapid movements, the contest was quickly and efficiently resolved.
Mayo’s first goal arguably shouldn’t stood. Fionn McDonagh burst through at speed but, with the cover converging a few feet from the goal, he lost control of the ball, which then bounced off him and dribbled over the line.
There was nothing wrong with our second goal. A quickly worked move ended with Brian Reape laying it on a plate for the in-rushing Gary Boylan who placed it expertly into the corner of the net.
Brian Reape turned finisher early in the second half. Another quick attacking move ended with the Moy Davitts man in on goal and he buried it emphatically.
By then the bench was being run in earnest. Stephen Coen, Fionn McDonagh and Matthew Ruane had all started the game and between them they’d exuded an air of calm authority as the team went about its business of getting on top. Job done, all three were withdrawn at the break.
Long before the finish, the match had become little more than a kick-about. From our perspective, it gave us the chance of tipping more and more lads into the fray to give them a run-out in the county jersey.
Several of the fringe players did well this evening. Gary Boylan, who posted 1-5, was obviously the pick of the bunch and he looks like a player who is well ready to make the step up to county level straight away. I reckon we’ll be seeing plenty of him in 2020.
Others who did well on the night included Padraig O’Hora, Ben Doyle, James Stretton, Oisin Mullin, Darren McHale and Jordan Flynn, while Rory Byrne – who came on after the break – was calmness personified between the sticks. All in all, it was a very useful night’s work as we look ahead to next year.
The night’s opening match was, by contrast, an unabashed trip down memory lane. A Mayo 04/06 Legends selection took on a Club Selection XV in a game held to honour the memory of the late John Morrison, whose family made the trip down from Armagh for the occasion.
So under the MacHale Park lights – which weren’t even there when those icons were in their pomp – the lads from the Noughties got to strut their stuff one more time. Time stands still for no-one, however, with the Legends eventually losing out narrowly to the club lads.
This, though, wasn’t a game where the result was of any consequence. It was instead an opportunity to play tribute to a special group of players who represented the county with considerable distinction and also to the big-hearted man from Armagh who played such a significant role in the 2006 team’s run to the All-Ireland final. Thanks for the memories, lads.