IT was the hardcores who made the trip to Garrymore today for the FBD. Truly very few Mayo supporters would be up or down whether this game was won or lost. We all just needed a fix. We’d be expecting to be there the week before but the game was postponed. So the winter break was even longer than we had thought and while this game in isolation offered little to get excited about – quite frankly, it was dire by times – but it did mean one thing. The show is back on the road.
The new season has begun and 2010 is underway. We don’t know where it is going to bring us. We can be gloomy about Mayo’s chances – we are good at that, myself included! But January does bring a certain optimism. A chance for little fireflies to shine in the darkness. Dickens spoke of the spring of hope and the winter of discontent. Well a lot of us have endured a winter of discontent since the Meath game last August. But with a new year comes fresh hope. The Mayo fan truly is the tale of two beings – the pessimist one minute, the eternal optimist the next.
About 400 people ventured into the wilds of south Mayo today for the season’s opener. Familiar faces abounded. Some were counting down the days to this game and the start of the season, others had a more worn expression, the one that says ‘sure there was nothing proper on the TV’.
The optimist will tell you after today that winning is a habit and today Mayo started as they meant to go on. His alter ego would say what’s the point in caring about winning if the players weren’t even too concerned with it.
And we’ll side with the second buck for now. Winning is secondary in the FBD. We’re more concerned with performance of individuals. To see what new lads can put their hands up and tell John O’Mahony they deserve a decent shot in the FBD.
We were also very intrigued to see how the new rules went and there’s plenty to be said there. More anon.
First the nuts and bolts. Mayo won (yippee!). The final score was 0-11 to 0-9 although very few knew that due to the lack of a scoreboard and the drowned out PA.
Mark Ronaldson kicked seven points for Mayo, five from frees. He was a real livewire, constantly showing out in front at right-corner forward. He was Mayo’s best player although Ballinrobe’s Donal Vaughan ran him close while we were also quite taken by the performance of Chrissy Barrett at wing-back.
But if Joe Kernan had a scout at the game, he would have went away singing the praises of the best player on the pitch and that would be music to Big Joe’s ears. Sean Armstrong was a class apart and the Galway forward showed us how much natural ability he has.
He also kicked seven points, also five frees but while Ronaldson’s scores were well taken, Armstrong’s were nearly entirely self made. Had Liam Sammon been a bit cuter last year and used Armstrong close to goal, I don’t think Mayo would be reigning Connacht champions.
A lack of threats outside of ‘Army’ meant that Mayo were in greater control of the game and they always looked the more likely. Without leaving second gear the likes of Trevor Mortimer, Ronan McGarrity, Tom Parsons and Andy Moran worked well around the middle while Aidan O’Shea was a threat at full-forward, although Mayo’s tactic of bombing every single delivery in on top of him was as primitive as it was predictable.
Mayo also finished the game with just fourteen players after Keith Higgins was dismissed for a second yellow card near the end after a right oul schmozzle with Roscommon man Peter Domican. Even John O’Mahony and his NUIG counterpart came on the field to seperate the melee that followed.
But what of the new guys? Incredibly only one player started for Mayo who wasn’t in the panel last year and that was Castlebar Mitchels’ Alan Feeney. He lined out at full-back but he was brought out the field by Garreth Bradshaw before performing a more typically defensive role in the second half.
Without being truly tested by his direct opponent – although he did well when he was on Armstrong for a time – Feeney did look good in general play. He managed to get a hand in on several occasions and didn’t look unnerved by the step up in standard. Definitely one man who will get another run.
Half-time saw the introductions of local favourite Jimmy Killeen to corner-forward and former Ardnaree man James Burke to wing-back. Now I’m a fan of Killeen but, at 28, it is going to be hard for him to make the cut. You never know though and he has merited the run out. He did okay, kicked one sweet free and showed for the ball, although he didn’t receive it half as often as he would have liked.
James Burke could be an interesting option. He’s flying in club football in Dublin with Ballymun and won a Blue Stars club star award in recent years. Only 22, he has loads to offer and while he didn’t impress tremendously today, that’s not to say he didn’t anything wrong either. Definitely worth another look.
Two other players came on during the second half. Castlebar’s Neil Douglas is someone most people who follow club football will be familiar with. He was top scorer in the senior championship this year and, still Under 21, will be one of the main men for Raymond Dempsey’s side this spring.
He looked the business at senior level today too. He kicked one point, was fouled for another and generally was full of industry and threat. He is most definitely a prospect and we could be hearing a lot about him this year.
Also introduced to the side was Kevin Walsh from Shrule. He’s 26 now so like Killeen he is older than a lot of the try outs. But that’s not to say he shouldn’t be given a go. Just back from his soccer career which brought him to America and Iceland, he’s someone who could offer something. Its far too early to make a decision one way or the other so another one probably deserving of another run out.
For NUI Galway there were only two Mayo men starting. Shrule’s Kieran Conroy was at centre-half back and was solid in the main. Burrishoole’s Jason Doherty was listed at full-forward but played in the half-forward line. He’s a talented player but he wasn’t too productive today, seeing little enough ball. But he has ability so we won’t be too hard on him.
The rules? The main changes are the mark; the banning of the fistpass; and the removal of the square ball. The third rule wasn’t really examined today due to lack of activity for either ‘keeper in open play but the first two left plenty of pondering and wonderment.
For the mark – which is awarded for a clean kick-out catch outside the ’45 from where the ball has come from – it was hard to see much advantage accruing for those who got the mark. We only counted one mark where the fielder was surrounded when landing and actually benefitted on landing. In a lot of other cases the midfielder landed and where in the old rules he would have given a quick pop pass to an onrushing wing-back, today he had to step back and look for a kick pass.
In fact NUIG were denied a crucial point in the second half when they played on after taking a mark and David O’Gara pointed. The play was brought back and they gave possession away from the subsequent free-kick.
I think the referees are the key for this rule. They should be willing (and allowed) to play advantage unless the player is under threat of losing possession and then bring it back for a free. Otherwise it will slow down the game.
The ban on the hand-pass? There was about ten frees blown for this. Some were very questionable but in fairness to Declan Hunt it is very hard to distinquish between a hand pass and a fist pass. For the players, and anyone who plays can appreciate this, it is very hard to give a short fist pass with accuracy – this is where 99% would use a hand pass. So while it might force players into kicking more, it does restrict a quick, short pass to someone bursting through. I think it is worth a good, considered look. Time will tell. Pretty much like the Mayo project for 2010.
Mayo: David Clarke; Donal Vaughan, Alan Feeney, Keith Higgins; Peadar Gardiner, Trevor Howley, Chris Barrett; Ronan McGarrity, Tom Parsons; Andy Moran, Pat Harte, Trevor Mortimer (0-1); Mark Ronaldson (0-7, 5fs), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Mikey Sweeney. Subs: Jimmy Killeen (0-1, f) for Sweeney (half-time), James Burke for Howley (half-time), Neil Douglas (0-1) for Harte; Kevin Walsh for Mortimer.