There was championship action in three provinces again yesterday, with Munster once more the odd one out, although yesterday’s hurling exploits from that quarter more than made up for the absence of any big ball activity. And then, at last, there was the draw for the first round of the qualifiers which means that we finally know who we’ll be up against on July 7th.
Before talking about yesterday’s action, it’s worth having a quick word first about the minors, who went under to All-Ireland champions Roscommon by 1-11 to 1-5 on Saturday evening in the Connacht semi-final. This was a highly-rated Mayo minor team but they were well beaten, for the second year in a row, by the Rossies.
Saturday’s loss means that it’s now six years (and counting) since we last won a provincial title at minor level, which is more than a little bit worrying in terms of future development. I know, we’re doing much better at U21 level but you’d still want to see regular success at minor to be confident that sufficient talent is coming through for future years. This doesn’t seem to be the case.
Onto yesterday’s matches and the clash between Galway and Leitrim at Carrick, where Nickey Brennan was in attendance to open the impressive new stand at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada. (Incidentally, it’s only a year since we played Leitrim up there and they hadn’t even started on that stand back then. Now, just twelve months on, the whole job is done. These Leitrim GAA guys are seriously impressive. Maybe they could be given a meatier project to work on, like the Dublin Metro or something. I bet they wouldn’t do as much fannying around as the RPA).
Galway were relieved to emerge from Carrick yesterday with a four-point win after what was a hard-fought and reasonably close game. However, much of Leitrim’s good work in defence and around the middle was undone by an inability to take the many chances they created – Donal Brennan’s goal miss in the second half was the worst example of this profligacy – while Galway were more economical in front of the posts. Nicky Joyce scored five points from play and the kind of clinical finishing that he showed was the main difference between the sides.
From a Mayo perspective, it was interesting – nay, heartening – to see a team tear into Galway and to give them a fair few hits, as well as being able to take whatever belts were coming their way. It was notable that, once Leitrim had signalled their intent in this department, Galway were less keen to dish it out, knowing full well that the compliment would be returned with interest. Mayo players and management would do well to take note.
The other interesting thing from this match was the refereeing. This is not a Mayo whinge but it’s clear that had the Salthill match been refereed like yesterday’s was, Galway would have ended up that game with only three or four players on the pitch. Ja Fallon, for example, was allowed to belt all around him in Salthill with total impunity – committing at least four yellow card offences in the first half alone – but he was booked yesterday for pulling the Leitrim goalie around by the arm. There were plenty of other similar examples where Galway weren’t given any latitude for misbehaviour yesterday, whereas in Salthill they were allowed to do what they liked. I know, the ref we had on May 20th was a complete clown but it was as if the rule book had been completely rewritten between the two games.
Anyway, in the end Galway survived the scare that Leitrim gave them and will now be red-hot favourites to beat Sligo in the Connacht final. Leitrim, like ourselves, meanwhile head for the qualifiers and they pulled a tough one – Donegal - in yesterday’s draw although they do get to play them in Carrick.
Up in Ulster, Monaghan pulled off a minor shock by beating Derry to qualify for their first provincial final in almost twenty years. They should have won far easier than they did – a jammy second half Derry goal kept them in far longer than they deserved. A Northern acquaintance of mine was insisting to me last week that Derry were dark horses for Sam, given the number of naturally talented players they had, as well as the emotional uplift he expected them to get from Eamonn Coleman’s untimely death. However, they looked far from All-Ireland material yesterday and drawing Armagh in the qualifiers more than likely means that their championship season this year will end on July 7th. No wonder Joe Brolly looked crabbier than usual this evening.
Meanwhile, another capacity crowd at Croker saw the Dubs beat Offaly in a dreadful contest to book their place in the Leinster final. Maybe it was because there was no wall of media hoopla surrounding this match – the fans with typewriters were all probably too knackered after their exertions last weekend to bother about this one – that the Dubs’ supporters reverted to type and only began to stream into the ground a few minutes before the scheduled throw-in time of 4pm, which resulted in a 15 minute delay in getting the action going.
Whatever about when it started, this was a contest that couldn’t end soon enough. After Dublin’s predictable whirlwind opening, they faded fast and had they been playing a side with more about them than a woefully inept Offaly, they could well have been beaten. The after-effects of the two-match tussle with Meath were clearly visible but the Dubs will need to shape up and fast if they’re going to be able to live with any half-decent opposition from here on. Assuming they make it to the Leinster final, Laois could well ask Pillock’s men some searching questions.
Eventually, after 6pm for gawdsakes, we had the qualifier draw yesterday evening. We pulled Cavan from the hat, at home too, and you’d have to feel that this was a soft enough draw for us. Cavan made their exit from Ulster at the hands of Down the same day as we were beaten in Salthill, although they have played one more match than us in this year’s championship, having initially drawn with the Mournemen the previous Sunday. We’ve since played each other in a challenge, which Cavan won by a goal, so the two sides will know a thing or two about each other. In addition, it’s not the first time we’ll have met in the qualifiers – we beat them in 2005 on our way to an All-Ireland quarter final defeat to Kerry that year. And we still owe the hoors for that galling single-point defeat in the Big Wind All-Ireland final of 1948, when the ref blew up with a few minutes still on the clock as we were, with the gale at our backs, pressing for the equaliser. See why I mean? Refs were shite back then too.
Just one final thing: Mayofans.com are reporting that we beat Cork (minus Nicholas Murphy and James Masters) by three points in a challenge match at the weekend in Ennis. Liam O’Malley reportedly lined out at full-back with David Kilcullen at no.6. Hmmm . . .