It’s no easy life for Mayo

Kerry through to the quar­ter-fi­nals with their usual min­i­mum of fuss

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Malachy Clerkin at Croke Park

Mayo’s aver­sion to any­thing ap­proach­ing an easy life en­dures. More and more, their matches in the 2017 cham­pi­onship feel like those ev­er­last­ing can­dles you get on birth­day cakes. Re­gard­less of how hard they blow, Mayo seem to find the job of ex­tin­guish­ing their op­po­si­tion moun­tain­ous. One of th­ese days, it will surely get them.

Their 1-12 to 2-9 draw with Roscom­mon in Croke Park yes­ter­day means that three out of their last four games this sum­mer have been level at the long whistle. On all three oc­ca­sions, they have had a lead in stop­page time and have con­ceded the equal­is­ing score. Of their last 13 games in Croke Park, nine have ei­ther been drawn or de­cided by a point.

Bat­tling

It all means that Mayo and Roscom­mon will be back here on bank hol­i­day Mon­day, bat­tling for the right to meet Kerry in the semi-fi­nal. In front of 65,746 vis­i­tors to Croke Park – in­clud­ing a bus­load of Syr­ian refugees from Bal­laghader­reen – they of­fered up a com­pelling gar­den-fence squab­ble. Heavy rain made the pitch a lot­tery at times, much to Kevin McS­tay’s an­noy­ance af­ter­wards, but even that gave no good ex­pla­na­tion for Mayo’s lack­lus­tre shoot­ing day. They only scored four points af­ter half time, kick­ing nine wides in that sec­ond half alone.

Ul­ti­mately, they were blessed that it was a young Roscom­mon team sit­ting across the ta­ble from them. McS­tay’s side went a huge chunk of both halves with­out trou­bling the score­board, rush­ing out to a 2-2 to 0-1 lead af­ter 12 min­utes but then only adding a fur­ther point be­fore the break. De­spite hav­ing much of the play in the clos­ing stages, the Rossies needed Donie Smith to land a das­tardly in­jury time free from out on the right to force a re­play.

“There was plenty of be­lief in our dress­ing room,” said Mc- Stay af­ter­wards. “There re­ally was. They are a young team and they want to get to where Mayo have been. They are hun­gry for it, they are am­bi­tious for it. They just don’t have the full knowhow yet or the strength or con­di­tion­ing yet. They are only three years into that pro­gramme, Mayo are seven into that pro­gramme. They are big, big men when you see them com­ing down the tun­nel.”

At­tack­ing in­flu­ence

Mayo stuck Lee Kee­gan on Enda Smith in mid­field, negat­ing the Rossie star’s at­tack­ing in­flu­ence and putting him on the back foot. The Foot­baller of the Year had 1-3 on the board by half-time, in­clud­ing the cru­cial goal 36 sec­onds af­ter Ciarán Murtagh had banged home Roscom­mon’s sec­ond.

Though stuck at full­back for the sec­ond half af­ter Roscom­mon moved Smith to the edge of the square – an out­come McS­tay pro­nounced him­self de­lighted with – Kee­gan still had a ma­jor in­flu­ence. The Con­nacht cham­pi­ons will need a bet­ter an­swer come the re­play.

“The Lee Kee­gan thing was clever and it did hurt us,” McS­tay said. “But I would be say­ing to Enda Smith when we set­tle down this week that he has to en­force him­self. He has got to get through that. He is at that level now. He can’t be just paw­ing around with th­ese fel­las. He has to re­ally leave his im­print on the game.

Safe ground

“That is the chal­lenge for him. He can’t be shut out by play­ers like that in a big cham­pi­onship game. Re­mem­ber Enda was on safe ground. He was the mid­fielder play­ing in mid­field. Lee Kee­gan was the one slightly out of his com­fort zone, if you like, and he put in a great per­for­mance. That’s for Enda to fig­ure out and we will help him as best we can.”

In the first game, Kerry got through their usual quar­ter-fi­nal with their usual min­i­mum of fuss, strolling to a 1-18 to 0-13 win over Gal­way. Kieran Don­aghy per­formed his own brand of riot in the Gal­way square in the first half to get Ea­monn Fitz­mau­rice’s side out the gap and though Gal way scythed through for four vi­able goal chances across the af­ter­noon, there was never any sense of a con­test break­ing out.

Kerry don’t re­ally tol­er­ate that sort of thing at this stage of the sum­mer. They leave that to Mayo. Lucky for the rest of us, the men from the west are un­fail­ingly happy to pro­vide.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: OISÍN KENIRY/INPHO

Kerry’s Johnny Buck­ley and Gal­way’s Gary O’Don­nell find them­selves in an unortho­dox sit­u­a­tion dur­ing yes­ter­day’s All-Ire­land SFC quar­ter-fi­nal at Croke Park.

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