Horan hails Mayo’s composure as they storm back against Roscommon

Eye gouging incident mars competitive clash played out in atrocious conditions

Mayo 1-8 Roscommon 1-7

“That is the strongest breeze we ever played against,” allowed James Horan late on Saturday night as a full force gale sped through the tunnels in MacHale Park as plastic coke bottles rattled through the stands among a wasteland of discarded umbrellas. It wasn’t the kind of breeze you’d try flying a kite in.

Horan will never make it as a meteorologist but this was an encouraging start to his second term in charge of Mayo. Brian Reape’s ferociously struck 64th-minute goal gave the home team an unassailable lead and instantly revived hopes that the green and red will be there or thereabouts when, and if, the sun ever shines again.

They met a game Roscommon outfit here filled with players hell-bent on impressing Anthony Cunningham; weathered a brutally challenging first half and calmly imposed themselves once they had that breeze at their backs, putting up 1-7 on a night of driving rain.


“You are 0-5 to 0-1 down against that, it was a very good score to be honest,” said Horan.

“We were very composed. Roscommon went very deep with that wind. So we just played outside them for long periods. The crowd and the people were getting very agitated but it made sense to do that. The players managed the game very well.”

The season began with the unpromising news, via the stadium announcer, that a Mayo season ticket had been lost in the stands – before a ball had even been kicked. The more blackly comic observed that the poor soul simply realised that they couldn't take the hope – the lurching league form, the crashing early-championship disappointment, the wild rides of Croke Park knock-out days and, perhaps, a return to the All-Ireland final. The madness, in other words, that comes with following the green and red. But there's something of the Hotel California about Mayo: you can discard your season ticket any time you like. But you can never leave.

Roscommon’s four-point advantage originated in relentless defensive work with Conor Hussey, Niall Daly, Niall Kilroy and Gary Patterson prominent as they repelled Mayo’s methodical build-up playing into the wind.

Colin Compton struck a glorious point to get them going but their scoring abruptly halted in the 19th minute and they would pay for seven wides, including two missed frees. A bout of pushing and shoving broke out when Roscommon’s Donie Smith was involved in an eye-gouging incident which left Keith Higgins on the ground.

“No, I didn’t see it, no and we wouldn’t approve of that or say that to anybody and that wouldn’t have happened from our players from what I know of the guys to be honest,” said Cunningham.

“There was a lot of physicality there and a lot of stoppages and a lot of players getting around the ball, so there was going to be more contact this evening than there would be in any match because of the conditions.”

Horan was aware that there had been an incident but wasn’t familiar with the details.

“Some of the guys watching the monitor mentioned something, yeah. But I didn’t see it.” It was an ugly moment. Higgins’s outraged reaction told its own story. Struggling to retain possession while on his knees, he turned and thrust himself after Smith’s gloved hands covered his eye area. Smith then went to ground himself.

The main drama of the evening lay in whether Mayo could catch Roscommon’s half-time lead. They went about it sluggishly at first and then all at once. Jason Doherty woke the county up with two monster frees and after that, the home team began to dominate.

Donal Vaughan and Aidan O’Shea took control of the middle area and Brendan Harrison, utterly in control at full back, ghosted forward unnoticed to clip a crucial point and then made a one hand-catch while holding off Ultan Harney before setting Doherty up for the score of the game.

Curiously, Mayo’s most fluid patch coincided with a sin-binning for Colm Boyle in the 58th minute. In the next 10 minutes, Mayo reeled off 1-3. Reape’s ferocious strike came from a huge kick-out by Rob Hennelly and an assist from Doherty. With that, Mayo looked to be home and dry.

“You can learn a lot,” Horan said of the value of these mental January league nights.

“The players tried very hard. They kept at it very hard. Diarmuid O’Connor covered huge ground again. Brian Reape is a very dangerous player. He was thinking goal when he gets the ball. It’s just the way he is. A really, really good goal finisher. Conor Diskin as well. So delighted with some of the new guys.”

The sight of Hennelly’s kick-outs covering the entire field was the best advertisement for the crazy wind. Roscommon just about had time to make it work for them when a hopeful ball was sent floating into the Mayo goal. Shane Killoran did well to claim possession and then watched his shot hop off a Mayo body and fall lethargically over the line.

A loud moan of worry, despair and here-we-go emanated from the Mayo faithful in the crowd of 10, 941. Just a point between them on a treacherous night: anything, they realised, could happen now. They go again.

MAYO: 1 R Hennelly; 2 E O'Donoghue, 3 B Harrison (0-1), 4 K Higgins; 5 L Keegan, 6 C Boyle, 7 P Durcan (0-1); 8 D O'Connor (0-1), 9 D Vaughan (0-1); 10 F Boland, 11 A O'Shea; 12 J Doherty (0-3, two frees); 13 E Regan (0-1, free), 14 B Reape (1-0), 15 C Diskin.

Subs: 26 Andy Moran for F Boland (h/t), 21 S Coen for 9 D Vaughan (68 mins), 22 F McDonagh for 15 C Diskin (70).

ROSCOMMON: 1 D O'Malley; 17 G Patterson, 3 C Daly, 4 E McGrath; 5 C Hussey, 6 N Daly, 7 R Daly; 8 T O'Rourke, 9 E Smith (0-2, one free); 10 N Kilroy, 11 C Compton (0-2), 12 S Killoran (1-1); 13 D Smith, 14 C Lennon, 15 C Cregg (0-1).

Substitutes: 21 Ultan Harney (0-1) for 14 C Lennon (h/t), 22 H Darcy for 15 C Cregg (60 mins), 18 D Neary for 17 G Patterson, 19 C Fitzmaurice for 8 T O'Rourke ( both 68)

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times