The Kevin McStay era got off to a positive start today, as a youthful Mayo team had it pretty much all their own way against Sligo in this afternoon’s challenge game at James Stephens Park in Ballina, played in conjunction with Mayo’s charity partners Mindspace Mayo. We led from first ’till last and had eleven points to spare on the Yeats County as we ran out winners by 1-20 to 1-9.
There was a large attendance in bright winter sunshine at Ballina for today’s New Year encounter. We came out of the blocks fast from the throw-in, which was won by debutant Bob Tuohy. He fed Matthew Ruane who fired over with just thirteen seconds on the clock.
Four further points from play followed in short order. Jordan Flynn, finishing from range after a nice passing move, Conor McStay after a super Diarmuid O’Connor pass, James Carr who was played in by a quick-thinking free from Ryan O’Donoghue and Jack Carney, fed by Jack Coyne, all posted scores as the home team raced into a five-point advantage in as many minutes.
Sligo had scarcely advanced into our half at that stage and already the gulf in class between the two teams was painfully apparent. It wasn’t just that, though, as our crisp passing and high workrate in the tackle evidenced the amount of work the panel appears to have already done.
The Yeatsmen, by contrast, kept fumbling the ball, which they had difficulty to keep possession of, and struggled to string together passes in any kind of coherent fashion.
Our next score came thirteen minutes in, when Conor McStay bagged our only goal of the game. Jordan Flynn, Diarmuid O’Connor and Stephen Coen were all involved in a well-worked move, finished with aplomb by the Stephenites player as we eased eight clear.
Sligo eventually opened their account, with a free from David Quinn after Luke Towey was fouled. We added two more points – a free from Ryan and a fisted score by Mattie – before Niall Murphy pointed a 14-yard free for them. That was awarded when ‘keeper Colm Reape dropped a ball he’d done well to catch, then touching it on the ground outside the small square.
Another Ryan free and one from play from Conor McStay brought our lead briefly into double-digits. The visitors responded just before the short whistle, though, Niall Murphy bagging their first from play as we took a nine-point lead into half-time.
As became apparent over the course of the second half, a major consideration for today’s game was to give as many players as possible a run-out. We started to run the bench at the start of the second half and, by the finish, we’d made eleven replacements.
The players we brought on (those whom they replaced are in parentheses below but the changes weren’t announced so I haven’t got them all) in the second half were Enda Hession (in place of Donnacha McHugh), Bryan Walsh (for Conor McStay), Rory Brickenden (for David McBrien), Paul Towey (for Ryan O’Donoghue), Jack Fallon (for Jordan Flynn), Jack Tuohy (for Conor Loftus), Aaron McDonnell (for Diarmuid O’Connor), Fenton Kelly, Alfie Morrison (for Jack Coyne), Rory Byrne (for Colm Reape) and Ciaran Boland.
There’s not a whole pile to be said about an increasingly disjointed second half. The result was beyond doubt at this stage and the constant changes on both sides meant there was no clear flow to this period of the game.
Jack Carney’s eye for the posts – he ended up with four excellent points from play – was, however, noteworthy and so too were second half scores from Jack Coyne, raiding upfield, and from James Carr, who shot languidly over from way out on the right, as well as nice late points from subs Jack Fallon and Fenton Kelly.
On the debit side, our clumsy concession of a goal – from a high ball pumped in by David Quinn, which Colm Reape claimed but then fumbled, allowing Donal Conlon to punch to the net – won’t have impressed the brains trust on the sideline. It was the only time the visitors got within sight of goal and, in light of our long-standing record of coughing up cheap three-pointers, you’d have to think that a clean sheet would have been a box we’d have liked to tick today.
That aside, though, this was a highly satisfactory run-out for the lads. There was an obvious hunger to our play today and on this early evidence it looks as if we’ll be ready for the serious action once it gets underway at the end of this month.
Best for us today were Jordan Flynn, named Man of the Match by John Maughan on Mayo GAA TV, Diarmuid O’Connor, Mattie Ruane, the young full backs Jack Coyne and Sam Callinan, while Jack Carney, James Carr and Conor McStay all impressed up front.
The paucity of the opposition helped, of course, in making our lads look good but from our perspective there was nonetheless plenty to be encouraged about in some of today’s individual performances. Now it’s onto the Dome for the FBD as our preparation ahead of the start of this year’s National League continues apace.
Mayo: Colm Reape; Jack Coyne (0-1), David McBrien, Sam Callinan; Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus, Donnacha McHugh; Matthew Ruane (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor; Jack Carney (0-4), Bob Tuohy (0-1, mark), Jordan Flynn (0-2); Conor McStay (1-2), James Carr (0-2), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-3, two frees and a mark). Subs used: Enda Hession, Bryan Walsh, Rory Brickenden, Paul Towey (0-1, free), Jack Fallon (0-1), Jack Tuohy, Aaron McDonnell, Fenton Kelly (0-1), Alfie Morrison, Rory Byrne (GK) and Ciaran Boland.