Under 21s end year at semi-final stage, again

All-Ireland U-21 FC Semi-Final

 

Down         1-15

Mayo          2-09

Pearse Park

Longford

IT would appear that the All-Ireland semi-final stage is the Waterloo stage for Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly as Mayo U-21 managers. After winning the All-Ireland in their first year in 2006, they’ve managed to string together an excellent Connacht four in a row.

ON TOP: Peter Fitzpatrick of Down outfields Tom Parsons during Saturday's Under 21 semi-final.

ON TOP: Peter Fitzpatrick of Down outfields Tom Parsons during Saturday's Under 21 semi-final.

However they will have to look back wistfully and wonder – is one All-Ireland appearance a good enough return from their quarry in Connacht?

The answer would have to be in the negative but whatever about the merits of their performances against Laois in 2007 and Kerry last year, there can be little argument about their elimination at the semi-final stage this year.

They ran into a better team, a better team by some length I would venture and the three point winning margin flattered Mayo a bit.

Down had only won their Ulster title last Wednesday but they showed very little in the way of adverse effects in Longford on Saturday and a storming start saw them lead by double scores, 0-10 to 0-5 after 25 minutes.

Full-forward Paul McCommiskey gave Kevin Keane the runaround. We had wondered on this blog about Kevin McLoughlin being put on the Down danger man but Keane was left on him for the entire match. Now, I’ve great time for Keane and reckon he has a real future ahead of him in the Mayo jersey.

But he is only 18, is in his Leaving Cert. year and was expected to quell the threat of one of the best forwards in the country at this grade. By game’s end McCommiskey had kicked four points and had a hand in several more scores, including Down’s goal.

But Down were not a one man band in attack. Wing-forward Jamie O’Reilly looked the part and he weighed in with three successive points in the first half, although the space he was allowed was dismaying. Down were on top in midfield in the first-half with Tom Parsons being given the runaround by the superb Peter Fitzpatrick and the other Down midfielder, Michael Magee, also aiding their dominance.

The result was Down were able to play fast, quick ball into a two man full-forward line and Mayo struggled to keep them at bay.

At the other end the Mayo full-forward line had to work hard for every single ball. Neil Douglas was out in front most times but the ball wasn’t bouncing as well for Mikey Sweeney and Jason Doherty.

Still, we were in the game and there’s always hope once the opposition don’t go out of sight. Three fine dead balls from Kevin McLoughlin (left foot from distance), Jason Doherty (right foot from outside the fifty) and goalkeeper Robert Hennelly (a wonderful ’45 conversion from closer to the left sideline than the centre of the pitch) helped Mayo stay in touch but we would  have free-taking worries as the game went on.

Aidan O’Shea kicked over a monster of a point from out the country to reduce the  gap to four points and while Down stretched the gap to five (McCommiskey on target again), Mayo were handed a timely and, dare I say it, scarcely deserved, tonic right on half-time.

Wing-back Sean Prendergast had been introduced to the fray at this stage and he crashed a thunderous effort off underside of the bar. There’s debate about whether his effort crossed the line but what looked like Neil Douglas kicked the rebound to the net.

PROOF OF THE FIRST GOAL SCORER?: The caption on the Sportsfile website for this picture after the game's opening goal reads 18 April 2009; Mayo's Michael Sweeney celebrates after team-mate Neill Douglas, right, had scored a goal. Cadbury Under 21 All-Ireland Football Championship Semi-Final, Mayo v Down, Pearse Park, Longford. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE. I'm taking that as proof that Douglas scored it! And that my 12/1 bet will be paid out!

PROOF OF THE FIRST GOAL SCORER?: The caption on the Sportsfile website for this picture after the game's opening goal reads 18 April 2009; Mayo's Michael Sweeney celebrates after team-mate Neill Douglas, right, had scored a goal. Cadbury Under 21 All-Ireland Football Championship Semi-Final, Mayo v Down, Pearse Park, Longford. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE. I'm taking that as proof that Douglas scored it! And that my 12/1 bet will be paid out!

The ambuguity? Well I heard people credit the goal to Douglas, Prendergast, Carolan, Doherty and Sweeney. Personally I’m going with Douglas, nothing to do with the 12/1 price I got for him as first goalscorer!

Anyway that left us only two points behind at half-time, 1-6 to 0-11.

The interval saw the chance for TIALTNGO to link up with the standard bearer of Mayo GAA bloggers, the bould Willie Joe from mayogaablog.com.

Twas WJ that suggested Carolan got the goal, thus bursting my bubble but the picture on the right picked my spirits up again!

The start of the second half ended our musings with both of us hopeful rather than confident about the prospects of a comeback.

Would the goal before half-time set us in motion?

Unfortunately not. Cathal Carolan reduced the gap to a point four minutes into the second half but Down countered with a McCommiskey point and then a well worked goal which Paul Devlin finished smartly over Robert Hennelly. Conor Poland then pointed a beauty and the gap was six points and Mayo looked over and out.

But then came a goal from nowhere. Substitue Niall Prenty saw his point effort drop at the far post where Neil Douglas helped the ball back across the goalmouth. Mikey Sweeney was in like Flynn to tap the ball to the net and when Down were reduced to fourteen men in the 44th minute when John Fitzpatrick was shown a second yellow for hauling down Donal Vaughan, we were right back in it.

Kevin McLoughlin converted that free and only two points were between the teams (2-8 to 1-13) but we were actually outscored by the fourteen men from there as Down showed the greater composure.

Crucially both McLoughlin and Doherty missed kickable frees, in between which Conor Maginn pointed an inspirational score after a sixty yard run. Robert Hennelly came forward for two efforts, one from around 60 metres fell short while the second, a ’45, went wide although in fairness to Hennelly it should have been retaken after Maginn ran across him seconds before he kicked in a cynical act of gamesmanship.

But the four efforts all highlighted one big problem for Mayo – the lack  of a consistent freetaker in this team. The following players have taken frees for Mayo this year – Mikey Sweeney, Jason Doherty, Cathal Freeman, Aidan O’Shea, Kevin McLoughlin and Robert Hennelly. Watch the club championship this summer and see if you see any converted frees beside any of these players.

You probably won’t because none of them currently take frees at club level so it was a tough ask for all of them. Is the lack of a freetaker in the panel an unfortunate coincidence or something that shows a deeper problem? Well when you examine the senior team, we haven’t really had a top class free-taker since Maurice Sheridan.

Alan Dillon and Conor Mortimer have done a decent job but they are not top-class freetakers. Aidan Walsh from the Mayo minors of last year (and still underage this year, hence no appearance for the Under 21s) is a good prospect but surely it can’t be that difficult to have a half decent supply of free-takers, can it?

Anyway, I digress. As it turned out Mayo would only point once more after McLoughlin’s converted free in the aftermath of the sending off. That  it was the score of the day is scant consolation but Aidan O’Shea lit up the match with an amazing effort. Surrounded by what appeared like eight Down players, he kept probing and probing for space and for movement inside. None, it seemed was forthcoming. He then cut in and mindful of an immenent block, he flashed over an amazing effort off the outside of his boot.

But it would not inspire Mayo to greater things and Down finished the game with Paul McCommiskey pointing a free in injury time (of which there was only one minute – a major surprise for me).

That’s a wrap for this year for Messrs Holmes and Connelly and the end of underage football for Mayo for the likes of Tom Parsons, Mikey Sweeney and Donal Vaughan. As far as we can work out at least nine of the starting team are of age next year so the best could be yet to come.

We’ll worry about Connacht first but if we get to an All-Ireland semi next year, lets hope that we don’t fall at the same hurdle again. That would be a four in a row that management wouldn’t be boasting about.

Mayo: R Hennelly (0-1, ’45); E Reilly, K Keane, J Broderick; D Vaughan, L Keegan, K McLoughlin (0-2, 2fs); T Parsons, C Carolan (0-1); F Burke, A O’Shea (0-3), B Gallagher; M Sweeney (1-1), N Douglas (1-0??), J Doherty (0-1, f). Subs: S Prendergast for Broderick; N Prenty for Gallagher; A Freeman for Carolan.

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3 Responses to “Under 21s end year at semi-final stage, again”


  1. 1 MayoABU April 19, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I think you are a little harsh on K Keane his man got great quality ball. I would say that Sean Prendergast should have been on from the start, Also our wing forwards never clicked all year. I felt K Mc Loughlin got a serious spin in the first half

    • 2 thereisalightthatnevergoesout April 19, 2009 at 9:42 pm

      Keane’s man did get good ball but I feel he does struggle once his man is on the ball and can run at him. But he’s only 18 and still a huge prospect. I’m judging him by high standards too.
      Prendergast should have been starting all year.

  2. 3 Willie Joe April 19, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    I trust you made it back to the West in one piece, TIALTNGO. Hogan Stand are with you on our first goal (see http://www.hoganstand.com/Mayo/ArticleForm.aspx?ID=110261)so I think you’re justified in getting your bookie to pay out. I could have sworn it was Carolan but the old eyesight is not what it used to be!


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