The GAA are currently advertising their the hurling and football championships by getting ‘ordinary fans’ to look wistfully into the camera and tell of the unforgettable moments they have witnessed from the stands. It’s fairly predictable stuff, a Wexford fan waxing lyrical about the great summer they had in 1996. “It was Brazilian hurling,” he says, somewhat delusionally (the only thing that was vaguely Brazilian about that particular side was Martin Storey’s facial pubery).
It’s highly unlikely that there will be any Mayo fans (or Sligo natives either, for that matter) in future adverts getting misty-eyed about the events in Hyde Park today. It was gritty, hard-hitting and, though Mayo eventually came through on a 0-12 to 0-10 scoreline, a fairly disappointing showing overall.
Conor Mortimer is no Roy Keane, but you can see the spectre of the Shrule-Glencorrib man hanging over this Mayo performance, and his replacements certainly laboured under the increased spotlight on them today. James Horan started with Jason Doherty and Enda Varley, and later replaced them with Alan Freeman and Michael Conroy. Between the four of them, they managed seven shots from play (Varley did score a free kick in the first half), none of which came within an asses roar of the target (Conroy in particular had two terrible shots when he came on.)
Grannykiller decided to keep an eye on Enda Varley in particular in this game, to see what Horan sees in him, and it makes for pretty grim reading.
2 mins: Wild shot from 21 yards out on the right. Sails yards wide.
4 mins: Terrible play. Loses the ball to Ross Donavan (the Sligo captain had an immense game) , then gains it back, but handles the ball on the ground. The free kick leads to Sligo’s opening score of the game.
8 mins: Does well to win dirty ball before transferring the ball off. The move ends with Andy Moran’s goal being disallowed as Cillian O’Connor was harshly adjudged to have made an illegal handpass in the build-up.
13 mins: Fouls Donavan again, and Sligo take the lead from the move which stems from the free kick.
24 mins: Varley’s best moment. Wins a very soft free kick which he slots over himself for one of Mayo’s three points of the first half.
25 mins: Mayo pressurise the Sligo defence. The move is slightly pedestrian, but it breaks down completely when it comes to Varley, it ends completely, as he loses possession easily.
42 mins: Wins another handy free kick 21 yards out, which is converted by O’Connor again.
44 mins: Another Mayo move comes to a shuddering end in Varley’s hands. The ball is transferred into him in the box, where he is surrounded by three Sligo defenders. Varley goes to ground looking for a penalty, but his claims are ignored.
46 mins: Varley’s uncomfortable afternoon comes to an end as he is replaced by Michael Conroy.
If there was any consolation for Varley, it’s that Conroy looked equally as uncomfortable. Perhaps the Mortimer question is irrelevant anyway. None of the inside forward-line looked particularly comfortable, and that is because the service simply wasn’t coming in to them. Cillian O’Connor looked uneasy at centre-forward. He was named Young Footballer of the year last year as a shoot-first corner forward, so why try to change that?
Kevin McLaughlin and Alan Dillon are like auxilliary wing-backs at this stage, with the Knockmore many particularly impressive at picking up breaking ball. Dillon has the skill and vision to be an effective centre-forward, but lacks the strength to deal with burly centre-backs.
Mayo’s own centre back, Donal Vaughan endured his second successive uncomfortable afternoon. After chasing Emlyn Mulligan’s shadow against Leitrim the last day, he again looked somewhat out of sorts today. The defensive side of his game needs work, and there were a worrying amount of occasions when there was a gaping hole in the Mayo defence.
There were plenty of positives though; Barry Moran’s second-successive man-of-the-match award; the return of Aidan O’Shea (who was the best player on the pitch by a country mile when he came on, despite carrying a bit of what might be kindly called ‘winter conditioning’), the full-back line were solid, and a quarter final slot guaranteed.
Horan won’t be too disappointed. It wasn’t flashy or flamboyant, but nobody will be getting too carried away with the themselves after a performance like this and he can flog them for the next three weeks to get them into tip-top shape.
The (inagural) Grannykiller PowerRankings
This is not just a table of how likely or not a team is to win the All-Ireland. Instead, it’s a form ranking, a measurement of momentum, something we argue about in Grannykiller towers on an almost constant basis. In the interests of full disclosure Ciaran Gallagher is a coddle-loving Dubliner, David Phelan is a bla-munching Waterford man, and your correspondent, Paul McNulty hails from the home of football, Mayo.
1- Dublin. The reigning All-Ireland champions have done nothing wrong this year. True, they’ve not faced anyone of note yet, but Meath will provide an interesting challenge next Sunday.
2- Cork. Strolled past Kerry and then Clare. Look strong, athletic and hungry. They are good, but will be hoping Kerry are knocked out before they could meet them in Croke Park.
3- Mayo. That’s right readers, and it’s not purely the red and green blood coursing through my veins. Connaught champions for two years running, if we had the Power Rankings up and going last year, the would have ended the year as the number three ranked team in the country, Mayo have done what has been asked of them. Aidan O’Shea is back now, and if he can keep away from Blue Thunder for a few weeks, he might well be the best midfielder in the country, and in Barry Moran, has an able lieutenant.
4- Donegal. The side have matured under Jim McGuinness this year. They are no longer the defense-only side that nearly throttled the life out of the championship last year. They are still not exactly free-flowing, but they face Down in next Sunday’s Ulster final. It’s not a game that you will enjoy watching, but there is a growing feeling that McGuinness has an evil plan (it’s the goatee) and we are all just pawns in it.
4- Kerry. They are still alive you know. Comprehensively beaten by Cork and then just scraping by a gallant Westmeath today, they don’t look impressive. But imagine the faces on a Mayoman or Corkman if they were told they would face them in Croke Park in the morning… Kerry still scare teams, and have more footballers than any other country in the country. Rumours of the team being unhappy under Jack O’Connor are rife though, and that may preclude the Kingdom from reaching the holy grail this year.
5-Meath. For whatever reason, people bought into the Kildare hype again this year, but they are a team with more bullocks than bulls. Meath swatted them away without much trouble and were quietly impressive on the day. The county board may have wanted the manager Banty McEnaney out, but if he wins against Dublin next Sunday, he might rival Sean Boylan’s term in charge of the Royals.
Other contenders (in order)
Tyrone, Down, Monaghan, Sligo, Laois
*Also, a gripe from those who were watching the game on TV3. Why did Matt Cooper, and David Brady, who was employed as some sort of roving reporter by all accounts, rush off air before interviewing James Horan, the man at the centre of the biggest story in GAA all week?! To show the omnibus edition of the English ‘Come Dine with Me’… Pathetic