Monday, July 19, 2004

Twenty-First Century Mayo

Mayo 2-13
Roscommon 0-9

All along Main St, Castlebar, at Sunday midday the Roscommon faithful stood outside the pubs and bars, pinting and smoking in the summer sun, in eager anticipation of the Connacht Final. One of the sheepstealers, outside Tom-Tom Bryne’s, lost control of his inflatable sheep – it blew onto the road, where it met its end under the wheels of an 00 Mayo registered Ford Transit van. Little did the Ros faithful know, it was an omen of things to come.
Two and a half hours later, Roscommon came howling out of the dressing rooms from the under the scoreboard of McHale Park, to be met with howls of welcome from their adoring support. For the first ten or fifteen minutes, they loosed the hounds of war on Mayo, hitting the hosts with everything they had, and were particularly unlucky when John Tiernan scythed through the Mayo rearguard to push a shot of goal just wide of the far post.
The Cake wasn’t to be so lucky. After two frees from Conor Mortimor levelled the scores at two points each, Ciarán McDonald found James Nallen, who found Trevor Mortimor who found the back of the net. The Cake had been sliced, and Mayo weren’t to look back. For so many years of his time in the stewardship of Mayo, John Maughan’s critics damned him as too slow to make changes. Maughan hasn’t spent the past five years whittling on his porch – he has moved on. Gary Mullins, the find of last year, was hauled ashore when it was clear that he was getting skinned by Tiernan, and Peadar Gardiner was commissioned to put the chains on Tiernan.
The Mortimor goal, and the introduction of Gardiner, were twin blows from which Roscommon never were to recover. Frankie Dolan, who, along with the Cake and Francie Grehan, has been seen as the avatar of all that is Ros, had another bad day at the office, so bad that he was confined to barracks at half-time, and Ger Henaghan sent on in his stead. Roscommon were 1-7 to 0-2 down at the half, and, although they traded scores with Mayo in the third quarter, Mayo’s superiority was such that Roscommon were bailing water from the Titanic with a saucepan.
The Roscommon midfield superiority never materialised – Seamus O’Neill fetched impressively at the start and in patches through the rest of the game, but there was nothing he was capable of doing that would have stopped Mayo in their current incarnation. David Brady, only recently returned from Australia, gave his best ever performance for Mayo in many long years of service, through good days and bad. James Nallen, another warrior from 1996, remains his imperious self, and the Mortimor family are becoming what the Donnellans are in Galway.
But shining above them all was Ciarán McDonald. His return was not without its critics, some of whom are no doubt still balefully sharpening their claws and waiting for their chance. They will have to wait, for the Crossmolina man gave a display at centre-half forward that was unparalleled in its dominance. For so long Mayo teams played like men that had only just met in the dressing room and were only on nodding acquaintance with each other; on Sunday Ciarán McDonald claimed the sceptre and led his people. His ghostly presence terrorises defenders, who have visions of him slipping away and ripping points over from great distances – this threat is always real from McDonald, as his beating of four Roscommon backs to travel laterally, turn and shoot against his angle of movement for a despairing Shane Curran to desperately fist the ball over the bar exemplifies. But now, for the first time, McDonald has men around him who understand what he’s about, and he fed them the manna that all forwards crave, the perfectly flighted and delivered pass.
Roscommon never had a chance. Tom Carr mused after the game about whether or not John Tiernan’s goal would have made a difference. It would, in the sense that Roscommon would have lost by seven points and not by ten, but no other. Micheál Meehan’s goal didn’t save Galway - Mayo were not to be denied, as their talents came to fruition on a day when the sun shone through the clouds in Castlebar.
Roscommon did have one note of deliverance after what had been a desperately chastening day for them. Roscommon have drawn Dublin in the final round of the qualifiers, and this gives them a real shot at redemption. Dublin are a name with little to back them up – after getting bombed out of the Championship by Westmeath on their first day out Dublin have travelled the chicken and chips circuit of the GAA, far away from the bright lights and Evening Herald supplements, and tried to rebuild themselves by feasting on minnows such as London, Leitrim and Longford. But Roscommon will present a stiffer test, once they realise that apart from what they might read in the papers, there is little to this current Dublin outfit other than faded sky-blue glory.
As for the Connacht Champions, they have three weeks or so to grow and develop further. Mayo are now in the last eight, and fear no-one. The county is energised, and believes once more. Mayo will return to Croke Park for the first time since Cork humiliated them two years ago in the final kick of Pat Holmes’ reign as manager a different outfit – this is Twenty-First Century Mayo.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Great Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin enlists a very famous name in his Newsday column to wire it up to George W. Bush and the Republican Party.

Most people think they can write vitriol, that they can give someone a verbal hiding when they want to, and all they end up doing is sounding hysterical. Breslin is meant to be a very cranky man and difficult to get on with but my God, can he do his job. And he's been doing it for over forty years.