THE marker was set promptly, awesomely and brutally. Mayo got their retaliation in first. Within minutes hapless Sligo were engulfed in a relentless vortex, and the anticipated tense, tight Connacht final was over almost before it had begun.
It was a stunning fifth title for Mayo ... but not their first fifth. That was captured over a hundred years ago. They are, however, the first to seize a quintet on two occasions, and the first certainly to hoist the Nestor Cup (which was presented in 1957) five times in succession.
The distinction was greeted by hordes of followers swarming onto Hyde Park, all wanting to be part of this momentous occasion, all perhaps hopeful of something greater to come.
But that’s for another day. Sunday’s was unique too for the merciless massacre it was. From the moment Cillian O’Connor stuck the ball in the net barely four minutes into the game, Sligo were drowning helplessly in unremitting waves of attacks.
By the tenth minute, when midfielder Niall Murphy got Sligo’s first point, Mayo were ten ahead, having cleaved through the backline as if it did not exist.
Seamus O’Shea in the sixth minute greeted another hole in the defence with a punishing second goal, the opening created by a sublime pass from his brother Aidan.
Even then it was difficult to comprehend the collapse of Sligo, who had so methodically dismantled Roscommon’s dream in the semi-final. The simple truth is of course that those plans did not work against Mayo.
They were not ready for the Mayo hurricane that from the beginning swept them off their feet. Whatever they tried didn’t work. And amazingly, they persisted with short kick-outs – so successful in the semi-final, but on this occasion smothered and stunted by an alert Mayo attack.
And at the heart of that attack was the incomparable Aidan O’Shea. Almost alone, he destroyed Sligo’s spirit in those opening minutes. The inimitable full-forward laid on the pass for Cillian’s opening point, teamed up with Jason Doherty for Cillian’s opening goal, and almost had one of his own before releasing his brother Seamus for the second goal.
The big man was the central figure in that blitz. His colleagues had only to lob the ball goalward and O’Shea inevitably won possession. Full-back Kevin McDonnell had a torrid time against this overpowering force, who ended the game with a personal tally of 3-4.
Fundamental though he was to victory, there was more to their win than the behemoth leading the attack. Management had sifted out Sligo’s weaknesses and the homework was done as the forwards made acres of room for one another.
Tom Parsons was magnificent at midfield, fielding and delivering constructively. Seamus O’Shea was his old reliable self until he picked up an injury, making room for Barry Moran. And almost instantly the big midfielder made his presence felt by setting up Aidan O’Shea for Mayo’s fourth goal eleven minutes before the end of the first half.
O’Shea may have drawn the spotlight, but his five colleagues and replacements were huge contributors to his success. Cillian’s 1-7 would be a huge contribution in any game, and his defensive play was clever and highly significant.
His brother Diarmuid has fitted into the half-forward line like a glove and reeled in four excellent points. Jason Doherty’s hard work often goes unnoticed, but he shirks no responsibility. By his own standards Kevin McLoughlin had a quiet stint.
Andy Moran as ever worked hard, and the old guile of his replacement Alan Dillon was always on display in his persevering endeavour to claim his place on the side.
You would be sorry for Sligo to have suffered such humiliation, but players in hot competition for places were in no mood for mercy. It’s a tough, unforgiving business.
A few defensive clouds on the horizon
THE gloss of the performance in general was clouded somewhat by the appearance again of defensive cracks which yielded a respectable score for the Sligo forwards, especially their two goals.
If they availed of other opportunities, the scoreline would have looked even more respectable. On more than one occasion, David Clarke demonstrated why he has regained first-choice confidence of the selectors with some daring saves.
It is a curious facet of the Mayo game that their defence, which a couple of years ago was the strongest sector of the side, has begun to show signs of strain and lack of self-assurance.
In the semi-final against Galway, they were vulnerable under the high ball and similar flaws were glaringly exposed on Sunday. Not so sure why that is so. The slippery surface was a factor, but not the only reason.
And yet, conversely, there were some excellent individual performances. The interceptions of Keith Higgins and his thrusts out of defence were as ever delightfully positive. Donal Vaughan, who started at wing back, covered acres of ground, scored two points, and contributed enormously to the attacking set-up.
Although he has lost some of his old zest, Ger Cafferkey achieves more than is generally perceived. Tom Cunniffe when he is not contesting high ball has a burst of speed off the mark which is an invaluable asset to any defender. Lee Keegan was, as ever, dependable and alert, as his positioning for Mayo’s sixth goal demonstrated, and Colm Boyle tough and uncompromising too.
And yet, Sligo’s Pat Hughes and Adrian Marren worried the full-back line whenever they got possession. Brendan Egan grabbed their first goal in the 25th minute, and a side that could be facing the formidable duo of Murphy and McBrearty in the quarter-final too easily conceded it.
Marren scored their second halfway through the second half, the corner forward able to get his shot in despite the close attention of three defenders. That forward line is their strongest sector and will trouble most defences.
Was there a scintilla of panic among the selectors when they decided to move Tom Parsons back to the full-back spot near the end of the game? Maybe not.
The Charlestown man has begun to display an array of talent concealed for so long behind some bad injuries and neglect of game time that he might be considered suitable for any role. But just now midfield is his forte, and his performances are enriching the game.
Mark Ronaldson’s two well-taken points will be a threat to the holder of either corner spot in the attack, and Chris Barrett and Patrick Durcan fitted in well when introduced.
But then, it wasn’t difficult to adapt to a side in total control, toying with the opposition on a day Mayo made history.
In his e-mail last week Donal Ó Gallachóir suggested Johnny Mulvey’s ‘Diary of a Century’ for evidence of Mayo’s first five-in-a-row. We did Donal, and are quite sure now that it occurred from 1906 to 1910.