Massacre in MacHale Park as Mayo gun down Leitrim
By Tom McLoughlin
The inequities of the provincial system were once again highlighted in Castlebar today as a physically imposing and fitter Mayo side were far too strong for Leitrim. James Horan’s men contested the 2020 All Ireland final in December and in their league campaign, easily secured promotion to Division One after a one year hiatus in Division Two. Conversely, Terry Hyland’s side are operating at a much lower level having lost all their three league games in Division Four and thus the signs were ominous as they headed into this Connaught semi-final.
Mayo’s preparations for this game were far from ideal. On Friday, the Mayo County Board announced that they were dealing with a “number of Covid-19 related queries” and were having interactions with the HSE in this regard. The exact personnel involved in these queries were not shared but just before throw-in, Jordan Flynn and Darren Coen replacing Eoghan McLaughlin and Bryan Walsh respectively. As well as that Mayo were missing Cillian O’Connor, Diarmuid O’Connor and Lee Keegan through injury with Robert Hennelly and Kevin McLoughlin also not included in the match day squad.
However, any aspirations Leitrim had of springing an upset were quickly extinguished and the gulf in class between the sides was evident right from the off. Even in the wet conditions in MacHale Park, the home side were faster, quicker, more athletic and hungrier than their opponents. There have been a series of mismatches in this year’s championship; Kerry over both Clare and Tipperary, Donegal over Down, Meath over Longford, Mayo over Sligo, Monaghan over Fermanagh, Westmeath over Laois, Dublin over Wexford. The list will continue to grow and after today we can add Mayo over Leitrim to that far from distinguished list as Horan’s men ran out twenty-four point victors.
In truth, the outcome of this game was never in doubt and Mayo opened the scoring in the 5th minute when Tommy Conroy showed great balance and poise before popping the ball over off the post from a tight angle with his left foot. A fisted Matthew Ruane effort soon followed before Conroy scored his second point from a high booming right footed point after some patient build up from the Connaught champions. Leitrim’s marking was lax in the early stages withrunners not being tracked and this was evident when Stephen Coen popped up in acres of space to give Mayo a 0-4 to no score lead after 10 minutes.
Ryan O’Donoghue, who was the star performer this afternoon, scored his first from play in the 12th minute with a simple pop over point after he was sought out by a glorious pass from the outside of Aidan O’Shea’s left boot who was making his 150thappearance for his county today in league and championship. Mayo were in no mood to let up and reeled off three more points from play in quick succession through Conroy, O’Donoghue and Matthew Ruane. Leitrim, who were struggling for possession, finally raised their first white flag of the day when Keith Beirne pointed a free in the 18th minute and Leitrim went into the first water break trailing by 0-8 to 0-1.
If the All-Ireland finalists were content to just reel off their points in the first quarter, then the second quarter saw a sidewith an eye for goal and determined to put this game to bed early as they hit Leitrim for 3-3 during this period. Having scored two further points through a beautiful Conor Loftus effort from distance and an O’Donoghue free, Mayo scored their first goal of the day in the 23rd minute. After some lovely interplay, Loftus misplaced his hand pass to a Leitrim defender who unfortunately spilled his attempt at collecting the ball which fell to the onrushing Darren Coen who had the simple task of rounding Leitrim keeper Brendan Flynn and finishing to the net. Mayo led by 1-10 to 0-1 and the game was effectively done and dusted.
Leitrim responded with their only point from play in the first half when Conor Dolan pointed after a nice solo run. Darren Coen, who had an impressive outing in Castlebar, extended the lead with a trademark point from distance before Knockmore’s Darren McHale, scored two goals in two minutes. Mayo’s second goal of the afternoon was a beautiful team goal as they worked the ball up the length of the pitch. Paddy Durcan meandered forward and found Oisín Mullin breaking through at speed who in turn looped a beautifully weighted hand pass for McHale to palm to the net. Leitrim were shell-shocked and Mayo ruthlessly showed no mercy. Conroy, who caused endless problems for the Leitrim full back line with his direct running, pierced through the defence but let the ball spill from his grasp to the ground. Conroy had the instinct to pop the ball up to the waiting McHale who coolly slotted the ball high to the net to compound Leitrim’s misery. Beirne responded with two more frees before the half-time whistle as Mayo led 3-11 to 0-4 going into the dressing room.
Terry Hyland, who seemingly struggled to get all potential Leitrim players to commit to his squad this season, had his work out to motivate his side but to be fair Leitrim showed much improved efforts in the second half. However, it was Mayo who again showed their ruthlessness in the early exchanges of the second half as they hit 2-3 without reply. O’Donoghue scored arguably the best goal of the game with Mayo’s fourth when he latched onto a fine Ruane pass after a midfield mark before expertly slotting the ball low to the net past Flynn in the 38th minute.
The fifth goal of this one-sided affair came through the impressive Conroy who lived up to his name of “Tommy Goals”. Darren Coen showed wonderful awareness and vision to thread through a hand pass to Conroy along the end line and The Neale man had the easy task of rounding Flynn and hammering the ball to the net to give Mayo a 5-13 to 0-4 lead and it was now embarrassing for the visitors. To their credit, Leitrim rallied and scored four points in a row with a purple patch between the 49th and 54th minutes and trailed at the second water break by 5-14 to 0-8. Two points came courtesy of Keith Beirne frees as well as fine efforts from Paddy Maguire and substitute Riordan O’Rourke.
With the game won, James Horan freshened things up in the second half introducing a raft of substitutes which seemed to lead to a let up in their intensity as players such as Conroy, Durcan and Ruane were all rested. The game was over as a contest and Darren Coen, McHale and O’Donoghue all extended their impressive personal tallies to 1-3, 2-1 and 1-6 respectively in the closing stages. O’Shea and James Carr also got their names on the score-sheet near the death as the Connaught champions ran out facile winners on a final score of 5-20 to 0-11.
Leitrim, after today’s performance, will look upon their 2021 campaign with disappointment as they lost all four of their league and championship games. Having secured the fantastic achievement of promotion from Division Four in 2019 under Hyland, it appears that Leitrim have gone backwards since then and Hyland may well be considering whether he is the man to lead them forward in 2022. For Mayo, Horan can be content with their display this afternoon and ruthlessness in front of goal but will know that they have not been tested this year having easily navigated through Division Two and recorded easy Connaught championship victories wins against poor opposition in Sligo and Leitrim. All things considered, Mayo seem to be in good shape and over the coming days and weeks it will be interesting to see the impact of the Covid-19 cases in the camp as they build up to a mouth-watering Connaught final date with old rivals Galway in Castlebar in two weeks’ time.
Scorers – Mayo: Ryan O’Donoghue 1-6 (3 frees), Darren McHale 2-1, Tommy Conroy 1-3, Darren Coen 1-3, Matthew Ruane 0-2, Conor Loftus 0-2, Stephen Coen 0-1, Aidan O’Shea 0-1, James Carr 0-1. Leitrim: Keith Beirne 0-5 (5 frees), Conor Dolan 0-2, Riordan O’Rourke 0-2, Paddy Maguire 0-1, Evan Sweeney 0-1.
Mayo: Rory Byrne; Enda Hession, Padraig O’Hora, Michael Plunkett; Paddy Durcan, Oisín Mullin, Stephen Coen; Matthew Ruane, Aidan O’Shea; Conor Loftus, Darren McHale, Jordan Flynn; Tommy Conroy, Darren Coen, Ryan O’Donoghue. Subs: James Carr for Conroy (46), Colm Boyle for Durcan (53), Fionn McDonagh for Ruane (58), Aiden Orme for Darren Coen (61), James McCormack for Flynn (63), Jack Coyne for Mullin (65).
Leitrim: Brendan Flynn; Conor Reynolds, Donal Wrynn, Mark Diffley; Cillian McGloin, Paddy Maguire, David Bruen; Jack Gilheany, Mark Plunkett; Conor Dolan, Shane Moran, Tom Prior; Darragh Rooney, Keith Beirne, Shane Quinn. Subs: Evan Sweeney for Rooney (HT), Riordan O’Rourke for Bruen (HT), Keith Keegan for Diffley, Aaron Hore for Wynn (50), James Mitchell for Bruen (52).
Venue: Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar
Man of the Match: Ryan O’Donoghue
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)