There was much more than football involved in today’s proceedings at the Robert McCallion Memorial Pitch in Swinford – the centrepiece of which was the dedication of the Swinford GAA ground to the memory of the late Garda Robert McCallion, performed by local legend Dr Padraig Carney – but the football part of it was still interesting enough and it provided a useful workout for a number of the panel as they put last weekend’s league final behind them and start to think ahead to the upcoming summer campaign.
Challenge matches are always odd enough animals. Shorn of the normal competitive dynamic it’s impossible to read much into either individual performances or, indeed, the final result. So the fact that Donegal came away from the East Mayo venue this afternoon with a one-point win – on a scoreline of 1-14 to 3-7, in a match where they trailed by a goal at the break – probably isn’t all that relevant in the greater scheme of things.
The fact that we were able to give game time to twenty players today is probably of more importance. With one of these being a certain D Kirby of Castlebar Mitchels – incredibly making his first senior appearance since blasting four goals past GMIT in the FBD back in January – I’d say there’s a good chance that the 1,000 or so punters who turned up today (that’s PJ’s estimate, by the way – he was in Swinford today but I wasn’t) went away thinking about how the players who had turned out did today rather than brooding on another defeat.
The team we fielded today was, predictably enough, one that bore very little resemblance to the one that had started at Croke Park last Sunday, with only three of that league final starting team – Colm Boyle, Barry Moran and Cillian O’Connor – also lining out this afternoon. Fittingly enough, today’s side was skippered by local clubman Aidan Campbell and it was equally appropriate that the players from both sides got a formal handshake from the Flying Doctor before the ball was thrown in.
We were well on top in that first half at we went in 2-4 to 0-7 in front. Peadar Gardiner, who lined out in his customary wing-back position, was our unlikely scoring hero in that opening half, bagging 1-1. The other goal, set up by Aidan Campbell, was scored by Cillian O’Connor (who also got a point from a free), with Enda Varley notching two points, one from a free.
We may have held sway in the opening half but the visitors were well on top for most of the second period. According to PJ, they had the bulk of possession and won everything that was breaking around the middle of the park. Our third goal – blasted home emphatically from the penalty spot by Pat Harte, following a foul on sub Danny Kirby – kept us in it but McFadden had equal success with a penalty for them and it took two late points, by Alan Freeman and Enda Varley (another free), to cut Donegal’s final winning margin to just the single point.
As I said, I wasn’t there so I can’t provide any worthwhile insights into who performed well for us today. PJ – who was there – liked the cut of Michael Forde, who played at wing-forward in the first half but was replaced for the second period by Fergal Durkan, and he also thought that Barry Moran had a reasonably productive afternoon. He, like the rest of us I’m sure, was glad to see Danny Kirby back in action and he was impressed with how the young Mitchels man performed in the second half. I doubt, somehow, that this is the last we’ll see of Danny this summer and if I were him I’d be having a good, hard luck at that new square-ball rule and thinking about how best a man of his disposition might best be able to exploit it.
Mayo: Robert Hennelly; Michael Walsh, Shane McHale, Eoghan Reilly; Peadar Gardiner (1-1), Colm Boyle, Richie Feeney; Pat Harte (1-0, penalty), Barry Moran; Aidan Campbell, Cillian O’Connor (1-1, point a free), Michael Forde; Enda Varley (0-3, two frees), Alan Freeman (0-1), Jason Doherty. Subs: Danny Kirby (0-1) for Doherty, Ruaidhri O’Connor for Boyle, Fergal Durkan for Michael Forde, Conor O’Shea for Campbell, Kevin Keane for Gardiner, Jason Doherty for Cillian O’Connor.
Photo credit from match: @MayoGAA, which was also an invaluable source of information on today’s match.