You’d wonder has there ever been a more distracted national success? Mayo rounded off an Allianz Football League campaign in which they have rediscovered purpose and an expanding sense of possibility by winning a 13th title. They did so against neighbours and rivals Galway, the other in-form team in the league.
There was a great deal of satisfaction both with the victory and how it was achieved, but all overlaid with the prospect of their Connacht championship beginning next week, against Roscommon, another Division One team.
Manager Kevin McStay walked the tightrope between two poles of happiness and apprehension.
“Relieved, quite satisfied, delighted, and there is a part of me saying, ‘cool down now,’ because we have to get ready for next Sunday. That’s just the pity of it, the timing side of it but that’s nothing anybody can do anything about. But overall, I’m just delighted. It’s great to come up and win a national title, so very pleased.”
His counterpart Pádraic Joyce was unhappy with the refereeing of an incident that saw his forward Johnny Heaney injured after a collision with Mayo goalkeeper Colm Reape in the 24th minute.
“Look, he’s very sore but it was a poor call, I thought. The rule nowadays is if you deny a clear goalscoring chance it supposed to be a penalty but obviously it wasn’t the rule today.
“There’s no one being biased. A rule is a rule. David Gough gave one last week for Monaghan against Mayo when a fella got pulled down on the 21 and this was given as a free-in for a tackle so what was the free for?
“Obviously hurting the man. Either implement the rules or not. That’s not sour grapes. It’s one of these things that would have made a difference in the game but at the end of the day we didn’t kick enough over the bar and Mayo did and they won the game.”
Heaney and Reape had contested the ball, which the former got to first but his shot flew wide. The players clattered into each other and there was more surprise among neutrals that referee Brendan Cawley awarded a free and yellow-carded the goalkeeper for what looked like accidental contact rather than for any failure to impose a more severe sanction.
McStay was asked to comment on Reape’s display, which, apart from the yellow card, featured some exceptional shot stopping and a reliable display of long-range place kicking – all of which earned him the man of the match award.
“He was great. I am so pleased for him. He has come a long way in the last six months. A great credit to his coach and to the other two keepers, Rob [Hennelly] and Rory [Byrne] for keeping him honest.
“There is great competitiveness in the goalkeeping club. He was really good, and not just his goalkeeping. His housekeeping around the square was really, really good. And he hit three big frees, so that is a fair day’s work. He got man of the match I heard, so great, I am delighted for him.”
Joyce was happy about his team’s overall experience of the league but frustrated that having anticipated Mayo’s performance, they appeared powerless to prevent it.
“We knew they were going to rely on frees a lot. They only kicked four from play. We expended a lot of energy trying to get back up to level and we just couldn’t. It would have been nice if we had got level and maybe pushed a point up. But we didn’t.”
Had they been a bit flat?
“Ah, it’s our eighth match in 10 or 11 weeks so that’s probably why. Mayo were the same and they were a bit flat as well.”
McStay was rounding up the troops in preparation for next week and, after a campaign of positivity, he wasn’t going to change tack at this stage.
“I am really looking forward to that challenge now of our team playing with added expectation, now we have won the National League.”
He was asked had he already addressed that with team?
“We will be doing that now the minute we leave here. The whole panel is here, all 39 of us and we have to set the tone for next Sunday. It is imperative.”