Leitrim's Cian Mallon is tackled by two Mayo players Picture: Willie Donnellan
On the face of it, not much difference between the last time these two met in the Nicky Rackard Cup. Mayo won Saturday’s clash in Elvery’s Mac Hale by 19 points having had 18 points to spare last November but there was no doubt that this felt different.
Mayo may have scored less and not found the net but they were never in the sort of contest they had to endure from Leitrim in last year’s semi-final as there was a sense of inevitability about the entire contest last Saturday in Castlebar.
Even when Leitrim took the lead after 15 minutes, you sensed that Mayo’s power, pace and surer touch on the sliothar would carry the day and it did as they rattled off nine points to two from the Green & Gold to take control of the game.
The second half was a tough watch as Mayo held Leitrim to just three points while adding 15 themselves, not enough it seemed to one of their players who roared “no mercy” for all in Elvery’s Mac Hale Park to hear deep into injury time, a silly gesture with the game long over as a contest.
Battling for possession in Elvery's Mac Hale Park Picture: Wllie Donnellan
Going by bald statistics, this looks like a massacre but anyone who saw the game knows it wasn’t that for the lads in the Leitrim jerseys battled as if their lives depended on it, gave every ounce of effort they had and they never stopped, right to the final whistle.
But there is no escaping the fact that Leitrim’s touch and stickwork let them down time and time again - the amount of poor deliveries to forwards, aimless long balls easily gobbled up by defenders while the amount of turnovers as Green & Gold players failed to secure possession meant Leitrim were always on the back foot.
The ironic thing is that when Leitrim players did manage to secure the sliothar, they were more than equal to the Mayo men in terms of power and effort and skill but that first touch was often their undoing in a performance that was much better than the scoreline might indicate.
Heading the Leitrim resistance was Gavin O’Hagan who gave a wonderful display, scoring some truly mind-boggling long range points but also causing problems from general play. It was a great return to form from the Cluainin man.
But you have to say that the full-back line trio of Paul Earley, Stephen Goldrick and Martin Feeney, in particular, were not far behind O’Hagan in terms of performance. Under immense pressure, they restricted Mayo to just one or two goals chances and more than held their own.
David McGovern, Ben Murray and keeper Lorcan Donnellan were top class as well but in truth, despite the final scoreline, you couldn’t fault the effort of any of the players who lined out in Green & Gold.
The hurlers face a difficult assignment against Donegal next Saturday in Avant Money Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada (2pm throw-in), a Donegal team that was won last year’s Rackard Cup and were unlucky to lose out to Mayo in the first round.
Conal Maguire is tackled by two Mayo players in Elvery's Mac Hale Park Picture: Wllie Donnellan
Leitrim opened the scoring less than half a minute into the game when Gavin O’Hagan lofted a monster free from his own 65 over the Mayo crossbar but the tone of the game was quickly set as Mayo followed up with two wides before Adrian Phillips hooked a shot over his shoulder from the wing over the Leitrim bar.
Frees from Shane Boland and Keith Higgins put Mayo two clear after five minutes but another monster O’Hagan free from his own 65 yard line narrowed the gap.
Leitrim’s problems were encapsulated with the next point - a promising attack broke down with a block and Mayo countered, finding the classy Higgins who, despite seeing his hurl shatter in the act of striking the sliothar, fired over from distance.
Over-carrying by a Mayo defender allowed O’Hagan to fire over from the wing but Leitrim were growing into the game, Liam Moreton tapping down a long Leitrim puckout to the waiting Cluainin hurler who showed fabulous skill to balance the sliothar on the hurl before firing over from 40 yards.
O’Hagan was central to everything Leitrim were doing in attack and he turned provider for David McGovern, the St Peregrine’s man firing over from 40 yards as Leitrim incredibly took the lead after 15 minutes.
Mayo got back level when Gary Nolan fired over a minute later but the teams headed into the water break level, deservedly so, after the referee and linesman correctly over-ruled the umpires in ruling out an Adrian Phillips originally awarded by the men in white.
Colm Moreton gets his shot away despite an attempted block in Elvery's Mac Hale Park Picture: Wllie Donnellan
Phillips didn’t have long to wait for his score, pointing immediately after the break although there was a goal on, only for the Mayo man not to pass to a better placed unmarked teammate.
Higgins swept over a point before Shane Boland was yellow carded for an off-the-ball foul, a preview of things to come for the Mayo freetaker but Boland made amends with a free. Stephen Goldrick joined him in the book for a high challenge on Phillips, Boland tapping over the free.
Another Higgins free meant Mayo had scored five points in just eight minutes to open up a gap and although Gavin O’Hagan scored an outrageous free, some five yards from his own fifty yard line, Mayo drove on before halftime with four points from Gary Nolan, Sean Regan, Brian Hunt and Boland (free).
Leitrim keeper Lorcan Donnellan copied O’Hagan with a monster free from his own half but it could have been a good bit different when James McNabola broke free just before halftime, rounding his man and cutting in from the right.
The Eslin man did everything right, batting the ball towards goal only for Mayo keeper Bobby Douglas to miraculously get his hurl to the sliothar, diverting it onto the crossbar and away from danger in a real let off for Leitrim.
That meant Mayo led 0-14 to 0-6 at the break and the home side quickly set about dismantling Leitrim’s faint hopes with points from Boland (2) and Kieran Kiely in the first three minutes.
David McGovern was harshly booked with Mayo’s Gary Nolan, the Leitrim man the victim rather than the aggressor while Gavin O’Hagan saw a 21 yard free saved on the line before the Manor man finished off a lovely Leitrim move with a good point.
James McNabola fired a shot into the side netting before Shane Boland received a straight red card for an off the ball clash with Martin Feeney nine minutes into the second half. Unfortunately, it didn’t slow the Mayo scoring with Keith Higgins firing over three points to stretch the lead to 12 points by the water break. Straight from that, a puckout to Sean Kenny saw him added another point before Gavin O’Hagan fired over a free for Leitrim, their first score of the second half.
Mayo had started to run their bench and sub Jason Coyne (2) and Kieran Kiely added points before Higgins fired over another point. Gavin O’Hagan was unlucky with a shot before Karl McDermott scored a good point in the last minute. Injury time saw Mayo add four more points from Cormac, Mark and Adrian Phillips and Keith Higgins.
The game did end on a frankly disappointing note for Leitrim when Colm Moreton was sent off. The Leitrim Gaels man was challenging for the ball when his hurl was clearly held and ripped from his grasp. When he went to retrieve his hurl, it was thrown away and in frustration, Moreton pushed the Mayo man in the chest.
It wasn’t the most forceful, or even dangerous, push, nowhere near the chest but the Mayo defender went down and after consulting with his umpires, referee Tarlach Conway incredibly issued a red card meaning Moreton will miss the Donegal game next weekend
Scorers: Gavin O’Hagan 0-7, 4f; David McGovern, Karl McDermott & Lorcan Donnellan (f) 0-1 each
Team: Lorcan Donnellan, Paul Earley, Stephen Goldrick, Martin Feeney, Ben Murray, Cian Mallon, Hugh Glancy, Conal Maguire, Aaron McDermott, Karl McDermott, Gavin O’Hagan, David McGovern, James McNabola, Liam Moreton, Diarmuid Kelleher. Subs: Colm Moreton for Kelleher (46); Paul Lenehan for Glancy (47), Paddy Clerkin for Maguire (57), Peter Poniard for O’Hagan (64), Shane Crowe for Feeney (67)
Scorers: K. Higgins 0-9, 4f, S. Boland 0-6, 4f; A. Phillips 0-3, J. Coyne, K. Kiely & Gary Nolan 0-2 each, B. Hunt, S. Regan, M. Phillips, C. Phillips & S Kenny 0-1 each
Team: Bobby Douglas, Stephen Coyne, Michael Morely, David Kenny, Gary Nola, Kieran Kiely, Conor Henry, Daniel Huane, Sean Kenny, Sean Regan , Keith Higgins, Brian Hunt, Shane Boland, Adrian Philips. Oisin Greally. Subs: Jason Coyne & Corey Scahill for Greally & Nolan (46), Eoin Delaney & Cormac Phillips for S Regan & Hunt (56); Mark Phillips for Huane (64)
Referee: Tarlach Conway (Derry)
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