Mayo reinstate pecking order
Mayo 3-11 Sligo 0-7:THE OLD order is back to business in the West. Mayo will play Galway in the Connacht final on July 13th, a match that will, hopefully, bring a few sparks to what has been a forgettable series of games in the province.
Sligo could bring none of the passion and conviction that made them the great story of last year's All-Ireland. On a subdued and wintry June day in Castlebar, they lapsed into stereotype and lived out their underdog status from the beginning to the end. It was a grim way to surrender the Connacht title that caused such jubilation 12 months ago and it signals an end to their All-Ireland campaign as well. Gone in late June!
Manager Tommy Jordan faces a tough job now to convince his squad there is still something worth playing for in the Tommy Murphy Cup. For Mayo, this is a small step towards atoning for a campaign that was over before it ever really began last year.
Comfortable as this victory was, it sets up a genuinely attractive clash here in Castlebar with Galway, who have shown considerable flair and ambition under Liam Sammon this year. The Connacht championship was always likely to boil down to this traditional rivalry and so it has proven.
Sligo have not win a match in Castlebar since 1975 and the long wait continues.
"You have to give credit to Mayo," said Jordan afterwards. "Their hunger showed all over the pitch. That is what a year in the doldrums will do for you."
It was a fair observation. This match is never going to be filed away as an example of polished football but the athleticism and attitude of the home team shone through. The management will be wary of reading too much into any performance given that Sligo were so clearly struggling to tap into their own game. But it was an auspicious day for Tom Parsons, who along with the quietly authoritative Ronan McGarrity, blew away the Sligo midfield challenge.
Pat Harte seemed to show at will for ball and, in addition to using his possession cleverly, added a point from play and landed a powerful penalty on the half-hour mark. That score all but killed the contest and emanated from a despairing challenge by Ross Donovan on Conor Mortimer. The elusive Shrule man had his way with the Sligo defence, tidily knocking over five points from play. His brother Trevor looked fit and busy and poached a goal from nothing. Aidan Kilcoyne made impressive use of his 20 minutes on the field. Kieran Conroy looked at home at full back, making one vital intervention on O'Hara late on, and Colm Boyle, sharp all through, smuggled a deflected Gerry McGowan shot away from the Sligo goal-line.
All in all, it was a match of low drama from the Mayo boys, and their manager, John O'Mahony, admitted he would have wished for a tougher game.
"We came here ready for a battle. We didn't get it as it turned out. I have been there with Leitrim in the sense of Sligo defending their Connacht championship and all the highs of last year. All the evidence from last year was that they would put it up to us. They are way better footballers than that and I know Tom Jordan will pick up the pieces. The tragedy for them is that they are going into the Tommy Murphy Cup now and we all remember the great games they had against Kildare and Tyrone over the years.
"From our point of view, we came hoping or expecting to win by a point or two. We didn't get that battle and that is a bit of a disadvantage to us. But we are delighted to be in the Connacht final and it is going to be a huge game in three weeks' time."
Sligo fans trudged away in the spitting drizzle struggling to understand how last year's heroes were brushed aside so easily here. Nothing worked for them.
Switching Michael McNamara and Brendan Egan from half back to half forward backfired. The midfield partnership, so potent a year ago, failed to register here. And Eamon O'Hara, so often a source of lone inspiration for the Yeats County, found no way through the Mayo cover. The one real chink of light was the neat performance of David Kelly, who conjured up three points from play.
The match felt over as a contest after Trevor Mortimer pressurised Eoin McHugh in front of his own goal-line and clipped the loose ball past Philip Greene.
That left the score looking shockingly one-sided after 37 minutes: 2-06 to 0-3. The gravest worry for Mayo was that they failed to score a point for 24 minutes of the second half. All energy had left the contest when they began knocking over a series of inconsequential points, the pick of which was an excellent, cleanly taken point on the run by Parsons.
But then, Mayo were not interested in rubbing Sligo's faces in the muck on what was a bleak day for them and they knew they had this match done and dusted with 25 minutes still to play.
As John O'Mahony observed, it was not ideal preparation, and in terms of intensity, it seemed far removed from the games played in Ulster in recent weeks. But Galway and Mayo tend to raise it when they share a field and O'Mahony is ideally placed to evaluate the mood of this latest instalment.
"Everybody was hurt with our championship run last year. We have got through one door, a smaller fence than we thought, but at least we have a chance to put a few things right form last year.
"Galway seem to be enjoying their football and Liam Sammon has done a brilliant job with them. Even listening to some of their players, they are impressed with the way things are going and the way Liam Sammon has approached them. So they are glad to be rid of all their Mayo managers and of that kind of thing.
"I have great friendships and memories but here on July 13th there will be nothing but a great battle between two rivals that respect each other and that will battle like hell to get one over on each other."
Heaven knows, Connacht football could use a game like that.
MAYO: D Clarke; C Boyle, K Conroy, K Higgins;T Cunniffe, D Heaney, J Nallen; R McGarrity, T Parsons (0-2); P Gardiner, P Harte (1-1, pen), T Mortimer (1-0); C Mortimer (0-5), A O'Malley (0-2), A Moran. Substitutes: A Kilcoyne (1-1) for P Gardiner (51 mins), BJ Padden for A O'Malley (63 mins), M Mullins for T Mortimer (67 mins), M Ronaldson for A Moran (68 mins).
SLIGO: P Green; C Harrison, P Naughton, R Donovan; P McGovern, M McNamara, E McHugh; E O'Hara, K Quinn; B Curran, B Egan, J Davey; G Gaughan, M Breheny (0-4, 3 frees), D Kelly (0-3). Substitutes: B Phillips for P McGovern (20 mins, inj), N McGuire for M McNamara ( 26 mins), S Gilmartin for K Quinn (36 mins), J McPartland for E McHugh (45 mins), G McGowan for J McPartland (55 inj). Referee: J Bannon (Longford).