THE cliche of ‘no team deserved to lose’ is often thrown out after a draw in GAA but Mayo and Dublin’s clash in Ballina today was a game neither team deserved to win.
What we saw two very average teams in action and its hard to imagine any of them involved in the All-Ireland race any time near September. Both teams will wonder why they didn’t win, while being grateful at the same time for the point but we’ll let the Dubs worry about their own shortcomings and focus on our own, which are many I’m afraid to say.
That we were still in the game at half-time was a big surprise. Having had the stiff breeze at their backs should have helped the Dubs to a big lead but they kicked eleven wides, failing to take advantage of a near monopoly on possession.
We started with a two man inside line (Conor and Austy) with Mark Ronaldson dropping from corner-forward to operate as an extra defender. The Ronaldson experiment was an unusual one, particularly that it was used in the second half when we had the wind but the Shrule man did reasonably well.
But Mortimer and O’Malley had so little to work with inside and Austy went out the field himself midway through the half leaving Mortimer inside on two defenders and expected to win high ball sent into him – go figure.
When we did attack what was so worrying was how uncomfortable so many of our forwards were in possession and how they showed such a lack of potency close to goal. Far too many times players like Trevor Mortimer, Austin O’Malley, Barry Kelly and even Conor didn’t pull the trigger from positions inter-county standard forwards should be pointing.
The lack of confidence was in this regard was very worrying and Trevor in particular was very lucky to be left on the field with some terrible wastage and poor decision making in both halves.
But one man who wasn’t caught up by this malaise was Alan Dillon, our best player. Dillon showed a very welcome return to form and was our only potent forward.
Dublin were 0-5 to 0-0 up before the Ballintubber maestro opened our account with a point from play after working a quick one two with Barry Kelly. Austy, Dillon (free, after he was fouled) and Conor (free) left us only two down at the break and with reason to be confident for the second half. Not because of our performance but because we had played so badly and only trailed by two, things could only get better.
Defensively we were good in the first half. Liam O’Malley did very well on Bernard Brogan, Ger Cafferkey looked comfortable while Kieran Conroy did well when he came on for Chris Barrett in the corner (Barrett wasn’t doing too bad either in my opinion) and Tom Cunniffe made several eye-catching runs which bore no fruit through no fault of his own.
The second half saw us dominate possession a lot more with Harte and McGarrity getting on more ball around the middle. Harte pointed wonderfully two minutes after the break and three points in ten minutes from Dillon (two frees) had us in front for the first time on 54 minutes.
But you just weren’t confident that we could go on and win, particularly with Trevor continuing to frustrate and Conor offering very little inside with Alan Hubberd very much in control. Barry Kelly was a little harshly treated, taken off after three second half minutes. Kelly started the game with a lot of uncertainty in his play but he came into the game more and more and he was probably due more time in the game.
Aidan Kilcoyne came on for him but unfortunately for the Knockmore man the collective malaise seemed to get into his game too and he was taken off again before the game was over, although I reckon this was a mite harsh too.
The decision to bring Aidan O’Shea on for Austy after 48 minutes made sense on one level – playing with the wind, O’Shea could operate as a good focal point at full-forward. However it was asking a lot of the 18 year old who played extra time the day before for the under 21’s and he certainly looked physically wrecked.
At the back Liam O’Malley was doing so well that the highly rated Bernard Brogan was taken off. His brother Alan, even higher rated, came on and got little change either. It was a performance that will help to copper-fasten a championship place for the Newport man.
But what was worrying overall late on was the lack of leadership on the team. It was a game that was there for us to win but there was no one able to stand up and drive us on. Worrying. In fact Conal Keaney looked like he might have given Dublin the win when he pointed with two minutes to go.
But credit to young Aidan O’Shea. He took receipt of a pass from Kieran Conroy and while he initially tried to step inside Denis Bastic to go for goal, he was forced back onto his left and popped the ball high over the bar.
So a draw it was. In fact very little injury time was played by referee Padraig Hughes who gave one of the worst performances TIALTNGO’s has seen for somee time. Ordinarily this injury time should have allowed Mayo to go on for the winner but you wouldn’t have been full of confidence that that would happen today.
It was a very poor game overall and after the high of the Under 21 victory yesterday (full report on this later), we were reacquainted with the reality that the seniors are showing very little possibility of success anytime soon. The same goes for the Dubs.
Mayo: D Clarke; L O’Malley, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; P Gardiner, T Cunniffe, M Ronaldson, A Moran; R McGarrity, P Harte (0-1); B Kelly, T Mortimer, A Dillon (0-5, 3fs); C Mortimer (0-1, f), A O’Malley (0-1). Subs: A Kilcoyne for Kelly; A O’Shea (0-1) for O’Malley; B Padden for Kilcoyne.