Friday 28 October 2016

Mayo stagger over the line - now they've a week to find their mojo

Mayo 3-15 Westmeath 1-14

Westmeath goalkeeper Darren Quinn is adjudged to have over-carried the ball which resulted in a Mayo penalty.
Westmeath goalkeeper Darren Quinn is adjudged to have over-carried the ball which resulted in a Mayo penalty.

So, either Mayo are a busted flush or they're embarking on one of those 'back door' journeys of discovery - full of foostering missteps - that only make sense when everything suddenly clicks into gear.

Tune in against Tyrone next Saturday for your answer.

The world and his mother know that if Mayo reprise Saturday's stuttering subjugation of Westmeath the next day, they'll be gone from the championship. They'll have failed to reach the semi-finals for the first time in six years. And this team, as we've known it, will start to break up, its mission unfulfilled.

Stephen Rochford knows this too. He probably also knows that plenty of sceptics are still questioning his tactical blueprint for this team - whether the sweeper system suits his players, whether too many of them appear shackled by the game plan.

But here's the crucial thing: they are still in the race, notwithstanding a horror-show last 40 minutes. And Westmeath aren't.

"They're gutted," said Tom Cribbin, describing the dressing-room scene as his players mulled over an error-strewn game that was bonkers and yet strangely captivating.

It held our attention not for its quality, but rather for its mad oscillations: Westmeath led by a point after a cat-and-mouse first 14 minutes, trailed by a staggering 12 points just 18 minutes later, and yet had pared this back to a goal after 62 minutes, a retrievable gap that remained thus entering injury-time.


In the end they lost by seven, courtesy of Cillian O'Connor's tap-over free and then the same player's short kickout turnover to set up the otherwise far-from-stellar Aidan O'Shea for a third Mayo goal.

But no one was fooled: Mayo's response when Westmeath threw off their ultra-defensive shackles bordered on the alarming. Their propensity for 20 minutes of plunder followed by far longer periods of ennui (remember Kildare) begs the question whether they can raise a gallop for longer when faced by Tyrone's renowned, in-your-face intensity.

Still, as ever, Andy Moran oozed positivity as he looked forward to this intriguing quarter-final challenge.

"We all saw the Ulster final, It was a bit of cat and mouse," said the veteran forward. "We will try to manufacture a game-plan that will suit playing against them. Are they a good team? Most certainly. Anyone that comes out of Ulster is a good team. Will they be favourites? Ye boys will probably make them favourites.

"It's Mayo versus Tyrone, they are rarely dull, and I expect this one to be a good game as well.

"It's fascinating," Moran continued. "A few of us went to Jordanstown -myself, Cillian (O'Connor) and Evan (Regan) played with a lot of the Tyrone boys, you'd have huge respect for the boys they have in the backroom team.

"But this week is going to be about us ... the boys will go away and analyse our performance and by (Sunday) evening we'll put a plan in place. And hopefully we're talking here next Saturday evening and the game-plan was good enough."

The Mayo positives? Donie Vaughan was a powerhouse getting forward from midfield. Moran himself more than justified his start with a buzzing first half. O'Connor was even better in open play, prompting his manager to remark: "Form is temporary ... I think you know the rest."

O'Connor's free-taking was more erratic, albeit not his 31st minute penalty - arrowed high to the top left corner after 'keeper Darren Quinn was penalised for over-carrying in the square. So arcane is this rule that Cribbin had never seen it happen in a match - but he accepted that Rory Hickey was correct in his call.

This came eight minutes after Jason Doherty, teed up by Vaughan, buried Mayo's first goal. Westmeath's double-sweeper system was unravelling through a mixture of midfield travails (they lost eight of their first-half kickouts when Quinn went long) and even more so by a dearth of intensity.

But then James Dolan, Westmeath's strongest contender for an All Star nomination, sallied forward too easily for his second goal of the summer.


Then sweeper Kevin McLoughlin (who mixed the good with the gaffes) lost possession from the next short kickout and Kieran Martin was almost in for a second goal.

Martin lost his footing, was held up by David Clarke and Westmeath had to settle for a tap-over free from John Heslin, one of ten points (three from play) from their stand-out performer.

Yet that sloppy 60 seconds from Mayo set the trend for what followed on the resumption, even if nerves would have eased if O'Connor and O'Shea had found the net instead of the woodwork.

Rochford was concerned by the fadeout but unsure why it had happened. "We know that to come up against the Ulster champions, there is nobody naive to believe that this performance would be good enough," he concluded.

Diarmuid O'Connor, superlative against Kildare, didn't feature at all because of a leg injury. "Our expectation is that he will be available (against Tyrone)," said Rochford. They'll need the Young Footballer of the Year - and a whole lot more."

All-Ireland sfc qualifier: Mayo 3-15 Westmeath 1-14

SCORERS - Mayo: C O'Connor 1-5 (1-0 pen, 2f), J Doherty 1-1, A O'Shea 1-0, E Regan 0-3 (2f), A Moran 0-2, P Durcan, K McLoughlin, K Higgins, D Vaughan 0-1 each.

Westmeath: J Heslin 0-10 (7f), J Dolan 1-1, K Martin 0-2, F Boyle 0-1.

MAYO: D Clarke 7; K McLoughlin 7, K Keane 5, B Harrison 7; C Boyle 6, L Keegan 6, P Durcan 6; S O'Shea 6, D Vaughan 8; K Higgins 6, A O'Shea 6, J Doherty 7; E Regan 6, A Moran 7, C O'Connor 8. Subs: B Moran 7 for Boyle (53), A Dillon 5 for Regan (55), C O'Shea 7 for Doherty (59), A Freeman for A Moran (66), C Barrett for Keegan (68).

WESTMEATH: D Quinn 5; A Stone 5, K Daly 6, J Gonoud 6; J Dolan 8, K Maguire 6, F Boyle 7; J Heslin 8, G Egan 6; J Egan 5, P Sharry 7, D Lynch 5; C McCormack 6, K Martin 7, J Connellan 5. Subs: D Corroon 5 for Stone (22), D Daly 5 for Lynch (32), S Gallagher 6 for Quinn (inj ht), S Corcoran 6 for J Egan (45), D McNicholas 6 for Connellan (53), D Conway for McCormack (66).

WIDES: Mayo 11 (7+4); Westmeath 10 (2+8)

YELLOW: Mayo 4 (Keane 33, A O'Shea 43, Boyle 52, Barrett 69); Westmeath 3 (Corroon 43, 64, K Daly 73).

REF: R Hickey (Clare)

ATT: 27,615

MAN OF THE MATCH: Donie Vaughan

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