Sunday, March 30, 2008

Long Day for Short Grass County As Mayo Look to Galway

Mayo 2-14
Kildare 2-8

The more we learn, the less we know. Mayo ate Kildare without salt this afternoon in Newbridge. Kildare went 1-3 to no score up after eight minutes, and it was all Mayo for the following sixty-two. Kildare have seen better days, and the good GAA people of the short grass county, who filled St Conleth’s Park, deserved better than they got. On the basis of today’s game, Kildare will almost certainly be relegated with Laois, and Kieran McGeeney’s management learning curve remains resolutely uphill.

It seems odd to carp about a Mayo team that won by six having been down by six, but it was a strange day, watching the flour bags being cut open. An Spailpín was pleased to note names like Brian Benson and Aiden Campbell listed in the programme on the subs’ bench, and felt sure that they would get a run in the second half, Mayo having taken command by 2-9 to 1-6 after thirty-five minutes. But it was not to be; the game simply petered out to its conclusion, like it was – horrors! – soccer, or something. At first I thought it might have been because nobody deserves to have their noses rubbed in it that more scoring options weren’t considered, but John O’Mahony’s expressed disquiet on the radio afterwards, concerning scoring differences as a league-survival metric, put paid to that theory. It was up to Johnno to let slip Benson et al; the fact that he didn’t is puzzling, to say the least.

The great thing about the league so far, of course, is that Mayo are so very much a work in progress. This safeguards the hopelessly romantic Mayo support from our perpetual temptation to see things as being better than they are. David Clarke is a leader of men in the goals; Kieran Conroy is tightening his grip on the fullback shirt and, in front of him, the half-backs look like Mayo’s best line. The Triple-H of Heaney, Howley and Higgins are as good as any in the country, bar possibly Kerry. Kerry’s half-backs aren’t bad either.

Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons are two very stylish footballers, but An Spailpín likes a drop of red diesel in his midfield partnerships; when Pat Harte returned to the lists after Trevor Mortimer picked up an injury twenty minutes into the game, he reminded the travelling support of what the county team had been missing while he was on Stephenite duty.

As noted here before however, upfront remains a problem. It sounds odd to write it about a team that just scored 2-14, but you have to question just how many of the Mayo forwards are what could be termed natural predators, a la Stephen McDonnell, a la Paddy Bradley, a la lots of boys. This afternoon would have been a good time to see if anyone fancied shooting the lights out, as Seanie Johnson did so gloriously last night for Cavan against Cork. But it didn’t happen.

But the road goes ever on; two league points are in the bag, and relegation is staved off further. With that in mind, how wonderful it is to savour the prospect of Galway at Castlebar next Sunday. An Spailpín is expecting it to be played for keeps.

The Galway revival of the past ten years came at Mayo’s expense, but it’s very hard to begrudge it to them at the same time. They will have great players wearing the maroon and white on Sunday and it’s always a bittersweet joy to see them operating at their full potential. Michael Meehan, for instance, has never been outstanding against Mayo and if he catches fire on Sunday it will nevertheless be a treat to see it, even if the fact that it’s Mayo getting the hiding adds a certain pathos.

One of the many wonderful features of GAA life is respect for other teams, and it’s an important matter of GAA etiquette that, on meeting other counties, one is able to praise the stars of the other side. On the pitch, readers will remember Dermot Earley being chaired around the Hyde by Willie Joe Padden and Eugene Lavin on the last day of Earley’s twenty-year career, or the impossible heroism of Offaly four years later when, with hearts shattered beyond despair, they pulled themselves together to give Antrim a guard of honour in 1989.

So much of what we do in following teams is a privilege. For your correspondent, it was a privilege to see Kildare’s John Doyle today, just as it was a privilege to see Cavan’s immortal Dermot McCabe last summer at Castlebar. Recent events sometimes cloud our perspectives on these matters. I hugely look forward to Galway’s visit on Sunday.

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