Paddy Durcan leads his Mayo team-mates into the NUI Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome after half-time in Friday’s FBD League semi-final against Galway. To say a game is different in the Dome would be an understatement. PHOTO: EÓIN NOONAN / SPORTSFILE

A different start to the year for Mayo in the Dome


WHAT the great Peter Murphy would have made of it is anyone’s guess.

The late lamented former president of Castlebar Mitchels, who went to his eternal reward recently, would certainly have emitted his trademark deep belly-laugh on entering the Air Dome in Bekan for the FBD semi-final between Galway and Mayo.

Looking around him he’d have seen possibilities for a stage show from where he could have serenaded spectators with a few country classics or a counter that could have acted as a temporary sheebeen.

As for the football, like the rest of us he would have been interested in the latest offering in the Mayo/Galway rivalry and cast a curious eye on the emerging talent from both camps.

Result-wise, Galway deserved their win. On the evening they looked the more composed team and had a bench that tilted matters in their favour late in the game.

It was my first experience of seeing a game played in the Air Dome and to say it was different is an understatement.

The occasion was hugely enjoyable and festive.

Played on a perfect playing surface with none of the seasonal hazards like wind, rain and heavy sod to distract or impede meant that the game flew by at a breakneck pace from start to finish.

Galway, fielding a slightly more experienced 15, got into their stride after a diffident start.

With the impressive duo of Damien Comer and Paul Conroy providing the leadership, they overcame an early two-point deficit before going in at the break leading by three.

From the list of Mayo debutants – Donnacha McHugh, Sam Callinan, Justin Healy, Frank Irwin and Jack Mahon – it was the Ballina man Callinan who showed most promise. Settling well, he fired over an early point before attending impressively to his defensive duties.

Though very young, he has the potential to blossom further. His displays with the Under 20 team will be closely monitored this year.

Donnacha McHugh in the other corner had his moments too. This calendar year will give him the opportunity to learn, develop and expand his knowledge of what is required.

Neither Justin Healy nor Jack Mahon got much quality ball to help their cause and it was no surprise that they were substituted at the interval.

The introduction of Ryan O’Donoghue in attack for the second period gave Mayo a pivotal figure in the full-forward line.

Throughout the third quarter in particular he consistently asked questions of the Galway defence and the early delivery of ball helped his cause.

His four points in this period, three from frees, brought Mayo back into contention in a game where there always was a competitive edge.

Indeed, O’Donoghue’s form on the night was one of the game’s pleasing aspects and his pivotal role in the team will grow in 2022.

In a starting forward line where only Frank Irwin and Fergal Boland scored from play, much needs to be done.

I know it’s only early January but with games coming thick and fast into a condensed season that finishes in late July, it’s imperative that a cohesive and threatening front six develop quickly.

Cillian O’Connor’s return from injury would be widely welcomed, as would a change of role for his brother Diarmuid.

It appears to me that his appetite for the game has been in decline for some time and I wonder if a change of scenery in the half-back line would help restore the spark. His value to the team is too important to have him performing on limited output.

There were many pleasing aspects in the game that James Horan will take encouragement from; good fitness levels, admirable spirit and competitive instincts are still deeply embedded, the enthusiasm of the newcomers was infectious and word has it that a number of regulars are due to return imminently.

Yet with every National League game away from home this season due to the unavailability of MacHale Park, the manager will be keen to see the attack grow in menace and substance over the next few weeks.

Aside from O’Donoghue, Mayo also introduced Matthew Ruane, Rory Brickenden, Darren Coen, Conor Loftus and Stephen Coen from the bench.

It was a particularly noteworthy night for Stephen as it marked the first occasion he took to the field since he was appointed team captain.

The choice is an inspired one. His leadership qualities have been manifested at every grade he has competed in; captaining All-Ireland winning minor and Under 21 teams was noteworthy, as was his captaincy of UCD's Sigerson Cup-winning teams. An intelligent, humble and calm individual, we wish him well in his new role.

Knockmore beaten

Maybe they will point to the fact that they shot 14 wides over the hour and failed to get any of their starting forwards on the scoreboard by half-time, but in truth Knockmore were too slow to get into their stride in their Connacht club final clash with Padraig Pearses.

Pearses' opening score, a goal from a penalty, gave the Roscommon champions the perfect start and with this cushion they managed to frustrate Knockmore with their blanket defence and excellent counter attacking that exploited the scoring ability of their star man, Paul Carey.

Carey’s impressive tally of eight points over the course of the game was an excellent return for some very assured place kicking and impeccable long-range shooting from play.

Drawing inspiration from the graft of Niall Carty and the Daly brothers, Niall and Conor, their overall hunger for the contest together with their game management when reduced to 14 men due to goalkeeper Paul Whelan’s black card was admirable.

Knockmore will naturally be disappointed with the result but equally puzzled by their inability to get to the pitch of the game from the off. The injury to their outstanding centre half-back, Kieran King, didn’t help, nor did their tendency to concede soft frees.

Despite some great football from Shane McHale at midfield, the forward line struggled. It took the introduction of Charlie Burke, Darren McHale and, later on, Keith Ruttledge to provide the necessary spark.

On the day, their ability to drag massive performances from the big players made the difference for Pearses and this did enough to give the Roscommon side their first ever provincial crown.