Players taking the totally wrong option at critical moments in games is a major reason why teams do not get their just rewards.
Donegal should have beaten Mayo yesterday. They were in a really super attacking position to close out the game late in injury-time.
They led by 0-13 to 0-12 and were seconds from maintaining their Division 1 status when their top sharpshooter, Paddy McBrearty, went for glory. He became a ‘do it myself’ player when there was no need to be one.
Paddy had two better-placed teammates to take on a shot, or McBrearty could have recycled the ball and just ran down the clock. Instead, he unnecessarily went for a score and instead of at least putting the ball wide, he crazily lobbed the ball into the grateful hands of David Clarke.
Mayo counter-attacked and Kevin McLoughlin kicked a stunning equaliser to keep Stephen Rochford’s men in the top flight for 2019 by the skin of their teeth.
Everybody knows McBrearty is one of the best left-footed point-takers in the country and he had hit two scorchers from play in the first half. However, when a cool head was needed, he made a botch of the job and left a gap of opportunity for Mayo.
As they have proven repeatedly over the past seven years, Mayo are nothing if not resilient. They were three behind with seven minutes of normal time left and they kept on going, kept chasing the game.
That is all they know how to do and when newbie corner-back Eoin O’Donoghue hit a stupendous and inspirational point to show his teammates the way and leave only one between them, they needed a break. And they got it with McBrearty’s error of judgement.
Staying in Division 1 is huge for Mayo. It was obvious from the players’ reactions how much it meant. They face Galway in the Connacht championship in seven weeks and they did not want to do so having been relegated and without injured star defender Lee Keegan.
If they had been beaten yesterday, Stephen Rochford would have had a tough job floating their championship balloon.
But after getting out of jail, there will be a spring in their step and they will believe there is one more big championship season in them.
They were minus a host of first-choice players yesterday: Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan, captain Cillian O’Connor, and 2017 All Stars Keith Higgins and Chris Barrett. When those are back in harness, the management team will have options and Galway will give a real focus to their preparations.
The other big positive for Mayo was the display of Conor Loftus, who hit 0-6 (five frees) and showed a bit of cutting when needed.
However, their forward depth must be a massive concern, especially if Cillian O’Connor does not recover quickly from his nasty hamstring injury. When the fat was in the fire with a few minutes to go, they turned to Alan Freeman who was not even listed in the programme and has not been involved in any of their league matches to date.
Freeman had been let go from the panel in 2017 and to see him sprung from the bench asked as many questions about what is going on in the Mayo camp as it gave answers.
They also rolled out big Barry Moran, who is a bit of a blast from the past at this stage.
When the key personnel on this team grind to a halt, Mayo supporters will worry there is very little in the pipeline to replace them.
he bottom line is that Mayo were very fortunate to survive relegation. The only two teams they beat in the league were Monaghan by a point, who were minus Conor McManus, and Kildare, who everybody beat.
Regardless, they stayed up and if they get a few wins under their belts come championship, maybe they can go on a run.
However, having seen them against Galway, Tyrone, and Donegal in the past 14 days they look like a battle-weary team, with very limited options up front and even less off the bench.
Donegal’s over-reliance on Michael Murphy is scary too and you would worry for Declan Bonner’s side if anything was to happen their talisman. He controlled the middle yesterday and was the most influential player on the field with support from the wonderfully athletic Eoghan Ban Gallagher.
They face promoted Cavan on May 13 in the Ulster championship.
Calling a winner in that?
Well, that is for another day.