Under 21s showing serious potential

CHAMPS: Tom Parsons lifts the Connacht U-21 Cup.

CHAMPS: Tom Parsons lifts the Connacht U-21 Cup.

Connacht Under 21 Final

Mayo 3-14

Sligo  1-8


IN the end it was an anti-climax but that’s just fine from a Mayo perspective. Drama would have meant that Sligo were pushing Mayo close but we had no such worries. After the heart-stopping nature of the Roscommon game, Saturday’s Connacht final was altogether more pedestrian as Mayo dealt with the potential banana skin of Sligo in a measured and controlled way.

Mayo were much the stronger team but this knowledge can lead to a complacency that can easily bridge such gaps but Mayo didn’t allow this happen. Unlike the Roscommon and Galway games, where big leads were wasted, Mayo get men behind the ball to close off space for the Yeats men and while Mayo lost some control of the middle of the field in the second half (a sector where Tom Parsons was not as his best with some questionable use of the ball it must be said), Sligo could only go score for score with Mayo in between Neil Douglas’ 31st minute goal and Mikey Sweeney’s injury time goal. Mayo, so, kept Sligo at arms length.

The game started off with Sligo’s defence moving all over the place from their listed positions as they tried to match up suitably with Mayo. But it had little effect with Aidan O’Shea dominant at centre-half forward and the entire Mayo full-forward line in rampant form with the good ball they were receiving.

Yet again the inside line did most of the scoring for Mayo. Burrishoole’s Jason Doherty has been showing serious potential now in a position where Mayo are not traditionally strong and after his haul of 2-4 against Roscommon, he struck 1-5 yesterday and looks a real in form player. That 3-5 of that  combined tally came from play is encouraging too.

IN FLYING FORM: Mayo's Neil Douglas was TIALTNGO's Man of the Match.

IN FLYING FORM: Mayo's Neil Douglas was TIALTNGO's Man of the Match.

But if TIALTNGO was in charge of the man of the match award (which went to Aidan O’Shea), it would be Doherty’s partner in crime inside, Neil Douglas, who would have been my selection. ‘Duggie’ absolutely scutched his man and won some balls he had no right to – including one second half high ball which the dimunitive Mitchels man caught clean in a crowd of bigger men, it was spectacular. He kicked 1-2 and was fouled for another two points.

It was interesting that for the second game in a row Mikey Sweeney was the quiet man of the trio, considering he on the senior panel but the fact that he has gears to move through yet is only a good thing.

Mayo took a 1-10 to 1-4 lead in at half-time and while we were dominating possession, Sligo’s centre-half forward Gary Gaughan and corner-forward Stephen Coen were causing serious trouble. It meant Kevin McLoughlin, after he kicked a wonderful point from a narrow angle, had to move into centre-half back on Gaughan after he was fouled for a penalty which Coen coolly converted.

Coen gave John Broderick plenty of it before Eoghan Reilly was moved onto him. While Coen continued to win ball, Reilly stood him up well and restricted his danger.

That penalty on 17 minutes left the scores at 0-8 to 1-3 but Mayo had their own three pointer within six minutes. Aidan O’Shea used his awesome power to win a throw ball and cut through the Sligo defence before passing to Jason Doherty who lost the ball from his hands but managed to soccer style to the net.

And the perfect tonic for us came within a minute of the restart. O’Shea again was centrally involved, coming in from the left on a surging run. Whether he was passing to Douglas or actually trying to fist the ball over is open to question but the ball ended up in Douglas’ lap and he finished from close range.

Sligo came into it more after this but that was as much by Mayo design as anything as they ceded a lot of ground in the centre of the field by getting men behind the ball and cutting off Sligo closer to goal. They were also able to strike quickly for breakaway points and the writing was on the wall for the home team from a long way out.

The final nail arrived in injury time when Mikey Sweeney managed to outjump bigger men to flick a Conor Jordan point effort to the net.

CLAREMORRIS CELEBRATIONS: Clubmates Brian Gallagher (21) and Sean Prendergast celebrate after the final whistle.

CLAREMORRIS CELEBRATIONS: Clubmates Brian Gallagher (21) and Sean Prendergast celebrate after the final whistle.

Tougher tests undoubtedly await but Mayo are ticking over very nicely. Classy wing-forward Cathal Freeman is yet to return from injury and he will be a massive addition. The other issue for management is where to play Kevin McLoughlin. He has been a class act in the half-back line but there is little doubt that when moved to the full-back line against both Roscommon and against Sligo (in the second half), he added stability to a line that looked stretched.

While he wasn’t in contention for Man of the Match yesterday – no Mayo defender could be when the attack was as threatening – there is little doubt in TIALTNGO’s mind that while we have serious players around midfield in Tom Parsons and Aidan O’Shea, McLoughlin is this side’s class act.

Mayo: R Hennelly; E Reilly, K Keane, J Broderick; D Vaughan, L Keegan, K McLoughlin (0-1); T Parsons (0-2), C Carolan (0-1); F Burke, A O’Shea (0-1), B Gallagher (0-1); M Sweeney (1-1), N Douglas (1-2), J Doherty (1-5, 3fs). Subs: S Prendergast for Broderick; C Jordan for Douglas; N Prenty for Carolan; C English for Vaughan.


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