The scoreline does scant justice to the drama that unfolded on Saturday evening in Castlebar.
Mayo’s final tally points to a team who caught fire in front of the posts, but do not let that deceive you. Mayo’s shooting was abject and almost led to a shock result which could have spelt the end of this team’s era.
They escaped to extra-time, settled, found their shooting boots, and a goal by Jason Doherty provided the catalyst for them to eventually win by 11 after a game with enough talking points to keep Joe Duffy in clover for a week.
The most immediate concern for Mayo this week will be injuries and knocks picked up in this bruising encounter.
Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor hobbled off in extra-time while Tom Parsons was limping at the end. They will also be without wing-back Paddy Durcan after he picked up a straight red card in extra-time.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford played down those injuries afterwards, describing Keegan’s injury as “just a bang to the shin” and O’Connor’s as “just a bit of cramp”. How much the more than 90 minutes of action will take out of them before next Saturday’s qualifier will also be a worry.
Their shooting will be what most people talk about after this game. Mayo were woeful in front of the posts, particularly in the second half. They scored with less than one third of their shots in normal time (13/40) and for one 27-minute period in the second half, a scarcely believable one score from 16 shots.
Mayo had the look of a team going out of the championship with Derry leading 0-12 to 0-10 as the game went into the 67th minute, and they should have been three down but for a surprising miss from Chrissie McKaigue.
A fine Paddy Durcan point from 45m settled the ship before substitute Conor Loftus struck a super goal and a point to put Mayo three clear.
That ought to have been that but a Derry team that never lacked for belief in causing an upset struck for an injury-time goal through Mark Lynch and had a shot to win it. However, from way out on the right wing, James Kielt’s free dropped short and Mayo got to extra-time.
They were a team transformed, then.
Part of that was due to Derry, who only had 25 players togged, hitting the wall physically but Mayo found the composure in front of the posts they had been lacking in normal time.
They scored 10 times from just 12 shots, a complete contrast to their wastage in normal time, and live to fight another day.
When asked about their woeful shooting up to that point, a relieved Rochford accentuated the positive.
“They didn’t bow their heads when they were two points down going into that closing stages and they kicked numerous wides, there was a bit of nervousness there, a bit of frustration, not as much composure as we’d have liked to have seen, but, man, when their backs are against the wall, they are a really, really tight bunch and I was really proud of the way they just kept coming at it and we kept creating chances.”
In order to create the amount of chances they did, Mayo had to have played well in their build-up play and two players who did not start in their Connacht semi-final defeat to Galway really took the game to Derry, Aidan O’Shea and Colm Boyle.
Rochford described O’Shea’s display as “super”, in his first start of the year for Mayo.
His opposite number, Damian Barton, was wondering what might have been. He flagged in advance his side’s belief they could pull off an upset and was proven right by how the game played out.
“Some Derry people were saying ‘all we need is a performance’. We didn’t want that, we wanted to win the game and I thought that was very evident and we could have won the game. But it is probably our most solid performance of the year.”
Barton said Mayo’s squad depth was telling in extra-time, while feeling the final margin of 11 points was harsh, which it was.
“It was there [for them to win late in normal time]. James had a free from the sideline and dropped it short. Chrissie maybe had a chance before that and he kicked it wide. I would have put money on Chrissie on that side of the pitch but it is fine margins. Another day they might go over but I think the boys have to take an awful lot from it.”
Mayo look a bit more vulnerable than previous years right now.
Scorers for Mayo:
C O’Connor (0-12, 9fs, 1 ‘45); C Loftus, J Doherty (1-1 each); A Moran (0-2); L Keegan, P Durcan, D O’Connor, K McLoughlin, A O’Shea (0-1 each).
Scorers for Derry:
N Loughlin (0-6, 4fs); M Lynch (1-1); R Bell (0-3); D Heavron, B Heron, J Kielt (f) (0-1 each).
D Clarke, B Harrison, G Cafferkey, C Barrett, L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan, A O’Shea, T Parsons, D Vaughan, K McLoughlin, S Coen, F Boland, C O’Connor, A Moran.
D O’Connor for Boland (ht), S O’Shea for Vaughan (55), J Doherty for Coen (55), Conor Loftus for Moran (58), David Drake for Harrison (64), Caolan Crowe for Barrett (82), Shane Nally for Keegan (84, inj), Danny Kirby for McLoughlin (87).
B McKinless, N Keenan, B Rogers, K McKaigue, C McFaul, C McWilliams, M McEvoy, C McKaigue, C McAtamney, B Heron, E Lynn, N Loughlin, D Tallon, D Heavron, R Bell.
E McGuckin for McAtamney (35, black card), M Lynch for Tallon (47), J Kielt for Bell (58), S McGuigan for Lynn (67), C Nevin for McEvoy (70), N Forrester for McFaul (75), G O’Neill for Loughlin (84), C Doherty for Heron (87).
Maurice Deegan (Laois).
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