Wednesday, 16 March 2011 13:02
The risk was always going to be high. As James Horan made seven changes from the side that crushed Galway, the price for moving too much furniture in the one room at the one time may be division two football next season following Mayo's second home defeat in the national league on Sunday.
That price may be worth paying if the Mayo manager can come up with the goods to deliver a telling challenge in the championship but the worrying aspect to Mayo's effort at McHale Park on Sunday was their failure to cope with the physicality of Armagh, who ran through them at times.
Mind you, it wasn't all brute force. In a game that was peppered by yellow cards, the visitors deservedly took the spoils. They kicked some marvellous points and played a lot of possession football but they were gifted an early goal, which meant Mayo were always chasing this game.
To their credit they came back from staring into an eight-point abyss in the first half to come within a point of Armagh with eight minutes remaining, but the visitors pulled out two big scores in the closing five minutes to seal a victory in a division where Galway appear doomed but any of four – Mayo, Armagh, Monaghan or Down – could be taking the drop.
For James Horan it is every hand to the pump for the remaining games and the scene switches to Croke Park this Sunday where the table-toppers Dublin are unlikely to concede anything at home, and it leaves Mayo hoping to salvage something from their final two games against Cork and Monaghan, respectively.
To only lose this game on Sunday by three months was perhaps an achievement in itself given the misfortune that visited Mayo right from the throw-in.
Charlie Vernon, a powerful presence in the Armagh midfield, won the ball and found Malachy Mackin who passed to Brian Mallon, and the ball was in the net before the Mayo defence had even marked their territory.
Mayo's riposte was swift, a fine score from Andy Moran into the wind, but Armagh dominated the first half and used the gale force wind to good effect, the free taking of Steven McDonnell topping up the tank and with just two minutes to the break they had forged 2-5 to 0-3 ahead, the second goal a well worked effort but wing-back Paul Daly was given too much time to fire a rocket from 30 yards to the net.
It was looking grim for Mayo to say the least but just before the interval the player who always looked threatening when he got the ball, Jason Doherty, somehow managed to squirm his way around Billie Joe Padden, the latter playing a very effective sweeper role, to squeeze the ball over the line from the very tightest of angles along the byline.
It was a lifeline for Mayo, who trailed 2-6 to 1-3 at the interval.
The arrival of Richie Feeney shored up things in defence for the second half as Mayo got down to work in earnest, and inside four minutes they had clipped two points back, Doherty and Aiden Campbell (free) on target.
But back came Armagh, Vernon with a super point and McDonnell with another magnificent effort into the wind restoring a six-point gap – but the next five scores were hit by Mayo.
They came from Alan Dillon, Moran, who saw his effort from a free near the sideline bounce over the bar, Aiden Kilcoyne, Dillon (free) and a great steal by Jason Gibbons to set up Moran up for his third point of the game, and suddenly the gap was just a point.
It appeared Mayo had suddenly found the measure or the Armagh men but their sheer physical strength saw them beat their way through for two more points, their ability to retain possession something Mayo could learn from as Murtagh and McKeever wrapped up a game that will have provided a huge learning experience for James Horan and his men.
Scorers for Armagh: S. McDonnell 0-6 (4f), B. Mallon and P. Duffy 1-0 each, C. McKeever, K. Toner, C. Vernon and J. Murtagh 0-1 each.
Scorers for Mayo: J. Doherty 1-1, A Campbell 0-3 (3f), A. Moran 0-3 (1f), A. Dillon 0-2 (1f), A. Kilcoyne 0-1.
Armagh: P. McEvoy, A. Mallon, B. Donaghy, F Moriarity, K. Dyas, C. McKeever, P. Duffy, K. Toner, C. Vernon, G. Swift, B.J. Padden, M. Mackin, M. O'Rourke, B. Mallon, S. McDonnell.
Subs used: J. Lavery for Toner (h-t), J. Murtagh (58m), R. Grugan for Swift (62m), C. Waters for Mallon (70m).
Mayo: K .O'Malley, T. Cunniffe, C. Hallinan, C. Barrett, P. Gardiner, G. Cafferkey, R. O'Connor, T. Parsons, J. Gibbons, A. Campbell, A. Dillon, K. McLoughlin, A. Kilcoyne, A. Moran , J. Doherty.
Subs used: R. Feeney for Gardiner (h-t), R. McGarrity for Parsons (46m), E. Varley for Kilcoyne (59m), A. O'Shea for McLoughlin (68m).
Ref: S. Doyle (Wexford).
A standing ovation was given to the new Taoiseach Enda Kenny who arrived at the game surrounded by a posse of photographers.
The bookies have fairly long odds on Mayo winning Sam the same year as they elected a Mayo Taoiseach.
The goals were obvious major moments in the game but the real turning point in this match came five minutes from time as Mayo had hauled themselves to within a point when substitute John Murtagh, nothing to the jockey, nailed a big score to put Armagh two in front again. It literally knocked the wind from Mayo's sails.
"The scoreboard is not working as it was struck by lightening on Saturday night." Mayo GAA PRO Aiden McLoughlin, explaining why there was no scoreboard in McHale Park.
The situation was rescued by grounds man Philip Heneghan, who erected the more traditional scoreboard with numbers for the second half.
Man of the match
Steven McDonnell provided the killer blows, particularly in the first half when he engineered the second goal and kicked six points in all.
Mayo now travel to Croke Park next Sunday for the traditional meeting with the Dubs, a team they always enjoy taking on at headquarters.