Frank Roche: Kevin McStay’s Mayo attacking trinity hold keys to the kingdom – if they can only stay fit
A final tally of 1-11 is unlikely to shatter the stereotype that Mayo don’t win All-Irelands because they don’t have marquee forwards.
ut if you delve into those fraught closing minutes in Castlebar, there were glimmers of hope that left Kevin McStay beaming after his league baptism as manager.
For the record, Mayo didn’t win on Saturday. Indeed, for much of the night, they seemed destined to lose. But they still found a way to parity, largely because their best forwards didn’t panic.
The first equaliser, on 71 minutes, was cleverly chipped over by Cillian O’Connor from a tight angle off his weaker left foot, all after the championship’s all-time record scorer had played a slick one-two with Ryan O’Donoghue.
And then after Damien Comer’s free appeared to have won it for Galway all over again, up popped O’Donoghue with a glorious curling effort to secure the draw.
True, if you’re a Galway manager or stats man or even fan, you’ll dissect those two last points and weep. Both stemmed from turnovers: Peter Cooke hassled into a pressurised handpass that fell to O’Connor; Cathal Sweeney’s poor clearance (when Row Z would have sufficed) falling to the one Mayo forward that he needed to avoid.
O’Donoghue had just failed to find the distance from an ambitious sideline ball. He didn’t need a second invitation.
All of which brings us to the kernel of McStay’s year-one conundrum. If they all stay fit and sharp, Mayo have three inside forwards capable of taking them close to the promised land that keeps on mocking. But will they?
In 2020, O’Connor won his second All-Star and Tommy Conroy was a Young Footballer of the Year nominee. In 2021, O’Donoghue won his first All-Star and followed up with a stellar league campaign.
But O’Donoghue’s championship was derailed by groin trouble. By then O’Connor was back having missed close to a year after Achilles surgery; even while playing his part, he was still miles off peak Cillian. The doubters wondered if he’d ever get back there.
Meanwhile, ACL victim Conroy was a frustrated spectator for all bar one Mayo league game last year and the entire championship. Almost 12 months on, the Neale flyer has yet to return.
“He’s very close. Very close,” McStay reiterated on Saturday night. “If I had a penny for every time I was asked about Tommy Conroy …”
There’s a good reason for asking: with his mesmerising pace and directness, Conroy offers Mayo something different to the thrilling dynamism of O’Donoghue or O’Connor’s mix of ball-winning guile and cold-blooded execution.
None of the three qualifies as a Con O’Callaghan, let alone David Clifford. But if all three get back to their best, it’s conceivable that Mayo’s old Achilles heel won’t be the biggest impediment to their eternal search for the holy grail.
Curiously, it was another Mayo forward – James Carr – who delivered an early thunderbolt contender for Goal of the Season. Home supporters may wonder why Carr seems to reserve these ‘wunderbar’ moments for Galway, on a typically mercurial night from a player as prone to blind alleys as individual brilliance.
At the other end, two Galway goals reminded us that Mayo’s penchant for cheap concessions hasn’t gone away with a new boss.
When you see an opportunist forward (Matthew Tierney) ghosting between a discombobulated last defender (wandering forward Aiden Orme) and a ’keeper caught in no-man’s-land (Colm Reape) to flick a high ball to the net, you can only conclude: different actors, same punishing Mayo script.
Galway’s second goal, cleverly created by Cillian McDaid and finished by the most clinical ‘full-back’ playing the game, Seán Kelly, was every bit as avoidable if you’re a Mayo defensive coach.
But, to their credit, they rolled with the punches.
“The big takeaway for me is we didn’t back off, we didn’t go missing,” waxed McStay, whereas Pádraic Joyce’s post-match comments focused more on where Joe McQuillan had found an extra minute of injury-time while expressing mild misgivings about the free count.
Perhaps a bigger worry for Joyce is the likely lay-off facing Rob Finnerty, late-tackled in the act of scoring. Shane Walsh is away, taking a break of at least three or four weeks after his All-Ireland club adventure with Kilmacud.
They say forwards win matches but you need them on the pitch.
Denial of responsibility! insideheadline is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.