Monday, 14 February 2011 11:50
Mayo's first ever national league game under lights against 2010 All-Ireland finalists Down in McHale Park, Castlebar, will long live in the memories of all who attended. The buzz and atmosphere around the stadium before the game was electric, almost resembling the great
excitement you would get on a big night's game at Old Trafford.
There have been times when we have criticised our county board but this is one occasion where they get 10 out of 10 for the professional way they had every little detail in place for hosting such a big game. It is just a pity we have not a few more of the league games under lights this year.
But most important of all, the fine crowd who braved the elements to come and watch the game weren't disappointed. It was a full-blooded encounter and despite it only being the first Saturday in February, it was a great advertisement for Gaelic football.
In the end the spoils were shared, which was generally felt a fair result. New Mayo manager James Horan couldn't have but been pleased.
Yes, it was a game Mayo could have won in the end had Peadar Gardiner's late try for a point not gone the wrong side of the post. But it was also a game they could have easily lost.
However, Horan and his management team will have come away from this game fully in the knowledge that getting a team to compete with the best will not be an easy task.
This was their first game in charge on the big stage and while they came away with a draw they know bigger challenges lie ahead and a lot of work will have to be done to face these challenges.
It is going to be a learning experience and it is going to take time, and plenty of it. If they can carve out results like they did against Down in their remaining six games in the league and keep their division one status, it will be a bonus.
On Saturday Mayo had to play second fiddle to Down for most of the opening half. If we are to be honest we were lucky to go in at the interval only four points in arrears, while Down scored two goals (the first a very lucky one) but they could easily have added two or three more.
In this half two of the Down players who really stood out were Benny Coulter and Martin Clarke. They ran the show and caused Mayo a lot of problems. While they are two of the top forwards in the country, it gives the Mayo backs and forwards a big insight into what standard of defending and forward play is required from them to compete with the best.
In the second half there was a big improvement in the Mayo play. The forwards scored some wonderful long-range points and the whole team showed great battling qualities.
They came back from a five-point deficit to draw level and fought back on two more occasions to level matters before the end. Their never-say-die attitude was justly rewarded.
All in all, a good start to the league for Mayo. They got a point and will certainly have learned a thing or two about competing at the top level.
Come next June or July they will face teams for 70 minutes like Down were in the first half on Saturday.
Mayo's next outing in the league will be in McHale Park, Castlebar. Their opponents will be the mighty Kingdom, which should provide Mayo with another great test.
I am sure Kerry will still be reeling from their one-point defeat by Cork after they led by one as the game entered injury time.