Mayo 0-15 Armagh 1-10
A first league defeat for Armagh and when Kieran McGeeney reflected on the closing minutes of their contest against Mayo at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday he spoke of how poor decision-making and poor execution of skills was the key factor in his side’s concession of the last five points in a row.
“We weren’t even under a huge amount of pressure, Mayo backed off us, but there were hand-passes straight to a Mayo man, foot passes straight to a Mayo man, terrible decisions on the ball,” lamented the former All-Ireland winning captain.
But there was more to it than that. As they had done all year, Armagh played an expansive style of football and caused Mayo plenty of problems. But there is a unique, almost animalistic drive in Mayo football to finally scale the top of the sporting mountain, and that was in full evidence in those closing exchanges.
Renovation works at MacHale Park has seen James Horan’s side take their home games all across the western province but they have made these other venues their home, and when the clock ticked past the hour mark at Dr Hyde Park, the advantage of the Mayo-heavy 11,000 strong crowd came to the fore.
Every turnover was greeted with a thunderous roar louder than the last, while it seemed, too, that each substitution made the team stronger.
To see players like Paddy Durcan, Pádraig O'Hora, Aidan O'Shea and Kevin McLoughlin make an impact was a surprise to no one, but even Jack Carney played a key role after being introduced, playing a perfect ball to set up a score for McLoughlin and then hoovering up a sloppy Armagh kick-out and initiating an attack that yielded a pointed free.
By the end, the stylish, direct football that had been the hallmark of Armagh’s play during this league campaign was nowhere to be seen, while Mayo galloped over the finish line, Paddy Durcan’s second point of the day putting the final stamp on their victory.
"We were very slow to move the ball in the first half, they gave us all short kick-outs so they dropped men back and we played into that," said James Horan.
“We found it very difficult to get shots off, so it took us a long time to figure that out. But we just had a bit more energy and movement in the second half, and some of the subs that came on made a huge difference to the game.”
Certainly changes were needed, because in the early exchanges, Armagh were in control. Barely eight seconds were on the clock when they found the Mayo net through Ciarán Mackin, a nightmare start for last-minute replacement Rory Byrne.
An injury to Rob Hennelly in the warm-up led to a last-minute call up for the Castlebar custodian and his first act was to pick the ball out of the net after Mackin took a layoff from Rian O'Neill and floated the ball into the top corner from 25 metres out.
Scores from O'Neill, Rory Grugan and Stefan Campbell all followed to make it 1-3 to 0-1, despite Mayo playing with the wind, and it took some hard-earned and difficult strikes from Ryan O'Donoghue for the Connacht champions to grind their way back into things.
One by one, Horan addressed the weak spots on the field, though Armagh were by far the happier side at half-time, leading by 1-5 to 0-6, even allowing for Ciarán Mackin’s black card in stoppage-time.
The extra man on the field helped Mayo to draw level, while even after Mackin’s return, O’Shea’s introduction completely changed the dynamic of the game at midfield, giving Mayo a solid foothold in terms of possession.
Yet they faced huge numbers in defence, and Armagh continued to pose a threat on the break. A free from over 55 metres out from O'Neill illustrated the size of the 'scoring zone' in front of the town end goal, and two good scores from Aidan Nugent pushed the lead out to three. It should have been enough, and against a lot of teams, it would have been. This Mayo side however, were only warming up.
MAYO: R Byrne; L Keegan, R Brickenden, M Plunkett; O Mullin, S Coen, S Callinan; J Flynn (0-1), M Ruane (0-1); F McDonagh, D O'Connor (0-2), C Loftus; A Orme (0-1, mark), F Irwin, R O'Donoghue (0-7, six frees).
Subs: K McLoughlin (0-1) for Irwin (20 mins), P Durcan (0-2) for Brickenden (25), P O'Hora for Callinan, A O'Shea for Loftus (both h-t), J Carney for McDonagh (60), F Boland for McLoughlin (70+2).
ARMAGH: E Rafferty; P Burns, A Forker, A McKay; N Rowland, Connaire Mackin, J Óg Burns; Ciarán Mackin (1-0), B Crealey; S Campbell (0-1), R Grugan (0-2, one free), T Kelly; J Duffy (0-1), R O'Neill (0-3, two frees), A Nugent (0-2).
Subs: C Turbitt (0-1) for Duffy (43 mins), J Morgan for McKay (49), S Sheridan for Crealey (54), O O'Neill for Rowland (64), C O'Neill for Forker (70+2).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).