A Roscommon player amused himself on Friday by sending me a friendly message to enjoy myself at the Connacht Senior ‘B’ final!
Unfortunately, he noted, they couldn’t accommodate us at The Hyde as the Connacht champions needed the pitch to get ready for the Super 8s.
He finished his text with an unbiased comment, “may the best team win”. And that’s exactly what happened in Limerick.
On the night, Mayo were the best team and from my vantage point a lot of credit has to go to the Mayo captain, Paddy Durcan.
The task of a leader is to get your team from where they are to where they have not been. Mayo did not qualify for the inaugural Super 8s. They lost out to Kildare. Paddy Durcan was immense 12 months ago in Newbridge where he kicked inspirational scores. It wasn’t enough and Durcan didn’t forget that sickening feeling. On Saturday evening, this championship game was won in the first half and Paddy Durcan produced a wonderful display of leadership.
He was tasked with marking one of GAA’s most skilful players. Shane Walsh who, similar to Kerry’s David Clifford, is unmarkable at times. Pace, power, technical skill with either foot and creativity that is sadly lacking or allowed in most inter-county football teams.
The best a defender can hope for is to keep him to three scores from open play as players like Shane Walsh and David Clifford don’t miss placed kicks. Paddy Durcan relished the challenge and kept Walsh scoreless from play.
The Mayo captain laid down his plans from the off.
He attacked Galway’s first kickout and emerged from the ruck with the ball firmly tucked under his oxter and started the move which finished in a trademark Kevin McLaughlin slicer from 40 metres out.
He shadowed and tracked every step Shane Walsh took. It was imperative for Durcan and for Mayo that Walsh wasn’t allowed dictate this game.
Man-marking job. Tunnel vision. Don’t give Walsh a sniff. Sacrifice your running game and concentrate on defending instead of scoring. Most designated man-markers stay in the face and space of their opponent. They’re afraid to leave their man in case he does score or provide the assist for a score. Their hard work is undone with one lapse of concentration.
But Paddy Durcan is too good a footballer to just man-mark. He picked his moments to move away from his designated marker and crucially they resulted in Mayo scores.
From his starting position in the spine of the defence, he sprints to right wing where the Mayo goalkeeper pings a 30-metre pass. Durcan collects but instead of going on a trademark solo run he plays, with his head up, a beautiful kick-pass into the James Carr.
From his starting position in the spine of the Mayo attack, Carr jinks one way and then sprints out to the right wing. Carr sets off like a rally car and navigates hairpins and the twists and turns of lots of mistimed Galway tackles.
A wonder goal like the great Padraic Brogan’s back in 1989. The Ardagh Chalice is a national treasure.
The Ardagh Goal is now a Mayo treasure as is the exquisite cross-field pass from Paddy Durcan to the foraging Brendan Harrison who set up Darragh Coen for another predatory point.
Space awareness from Durcan and Carr made the goal and space awareness from all the Mayo players was the key difference for Mayo on Saturday night.
Mayo kept constant width in their attack and favoured attacking Galway down the flanks. Mayo, in their last few unsuccessful attempts against Galway, have attacked down the middle and met a barrage of Galway players protecting the ‘D’ with their lives.
Mayo finally learned this wouldn’t work and changed tack. Kevin McLaughlin was a key cog in unhinging the Galway rearguard.
Kevin McLaughlin was the playmaker on the ‘40’ and he tormented Galway in the first half with his sniping runs and quality passing. Like Paddy Durcan, he let his actions do the talking.
He surged back looking for short kickouts, hunted down breaking ball and executed quality tackles on his marker, John Daly.
Daly also got on huge amounts of ball but McLaughlin’s possessions were more telling. He played as a midfielder whenever Mayo lost possession and this allowed the Mayo duo of Aidan O’Shea/Colm Boyle to sit deep like reservoir dogs and snuff out the Corofin duo of Michael Farragher/Ian Burke.
It was an unusual tactic to witness Mayo implement sweepers for their much-heralded superb defence. Needs must - but this defensive decision, while quashing the Galway forwards’ influence, opened up the door for the Galway midfielders to score and thankfully they did, otherwise the Supermacs supporters were heading for their cars and an early post mortem burger.
There are what-ifs. A sharper Damien Comer, Sean Kelly and Declan Kyne. The availability of a fit Paul Conroy.
The missed penalty not missed and the wet ball not spilled by Bernard Power. The unavailability of fielders for a long kick-out option for the Galway goalkeeper although Power did get the honour of highest possessions for a Galway player. Frankly, not a good statistic for the locker.
The post mortem will last long into the winter on the western seaboard but in truth, Mayo ruthlessly carried out a tactical plan as a collective unit.
They have succumbed to ill-discipline, missed frees and bad luck in the most recent Galway-Mayo battles.
Mayo are an ageing team that are visibly tiring as the clock enters the ‘red-zone’ but they’re somehow hanging in there. That ‘somehow’ is experience and a willingness to change tactics against different oppositions.