Pete McGrath fuming as penalty swings qualifier Mayo's way
All-Ireland SFC Qualifying Round 2B: Mayo 2-14 Fermanagh 1-12
THERE was no shortage of drama or controversy in Castlebar on Saturday as Mayo and Fermanagh went their separate ways in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
A late goal from a Cillian O’Connor penalty proved crucial as the Westerners finished strongly with points from Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea and substitute Alan Dillon to book their place in round 3B next weekend.
Unfortunately this game will be remembered in years to come for Joe McQuillan’s decision to award Mayo a controversial penalty on 62 minutes.
Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath was furious afterwards with McQuillan’s call, claiming that Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea had ‘dived’ under the challenge of Che Cullen.
“I would have to say seeing the penalty now, that was not a penalty,” McGrath said after the match having reviewed the incident. “And I think people are already ridiculing the referee on social media.
“Aidan O’Shea is a marvellous footballer, I’m not saying others wouldn’t have done what Aidan did, but he dived, big time, no doubt about it.
“The referee bought it hook, line and sinker. That penalty was the defining moment in the game, it was the moment in the game that quite possibly, 95 per cent put that game out of our reach. We were leading with six or seven minutes to go and for a penalty to be awarded as easily as that is highly disappointing.”
Television replays showed minimal contact between O’Shea and Cullen, but Mayo manager Stephen Rochford argued that it was ‘not before time’ that O’Shea had got the rub of the green from a refereeing decision.
“From where I saw it I thought there was definitely contact. And it’s like this, from what I’ve seen this season, when Aidan O’Shea gets on the ball he’s got the attention of three or four guys. He got a black card in Monaghan for a tackle that was just an arm out in the first three minutes, he got fellas jumping on his back here against Dublin. If he got a break it’s not before time.”
Rochford also claimed that Mayo had valid claims for a penalty earlier in the half for an incident when Cillian O’Connor went to ground inside the area.
The Mayo boss added that he felt Mayo were going to win the game regardless of the penalty, which O’Connor expertly converted to put Mayo two clear.
“Once we got inside the three-point margin, we were really going to drive on and we did. We could have won the game by a little bit more,” he offered.
Fermanagh, unsurprisingly, felt differently and will be mulling over the ifs, buts and maybes in the months ahead.
Where this summer will eventually take Mayo remains uncertain, but they took their first steps on the road to recovery in workmanlike fashion on Saturday.
In truth, their five-point winning margin is not a true reflection of just how close Fermanagh ran them.
The home side were six points down at half-time as the Ernesiders set the pace, and while Mayo were dominant in the second half, it took that controversial penalty decision in the closing stages to overtake Fermanagh.
However, Stephen Rochford’s side were finishing fast in any event and they had the gap down to one point at that stage.
Plus, they had 20 shots to Fermanagh’s seven in the second period and dominated the opposition kick-out during that time.
However, the penalty call was a huge turning point no matter what way you look at it.
After trailing by 1-4 to 1-10 at half-time, Mayo made optimum use of the wind at their backs in the second half to outscore Fermanagh by 1-10 to 0-2.
Veterans Alan Dillon and Barry Moran came off the bench to exert a considerable influence too and Dillon was one of six different players to point for Mayo before a converted 45 from O’Connor levelled matters on 59 minutes.
Fermanagh went up the field and their second point of the half from a Tomás Corrigan free put them back in front.
The next score would be the penalty and Mayo pushed on from there to close the game out with points from Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea and Alan Dillon.
Mayo persisted with Kevin McLoughlin as a sweeper and Keith Higgins in the half-forward line and while both were influential in the second half, in the first half the success of that ploy was much more open to question.
Fermanagh’s sizeable lead at the break was well deserved.
Playing with the breeze they took the game to Mayo from the off, and had opened up a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes.
They also responded emphatically to Alan Freeman’s 13th minute scrambled goal for Mayo.
Tomás Corrigan pointed before Seán Quigley hit the Ernesiders’ goal on 16 minutes.
Ryan Lyons played the ball in and Quigley used his big frame to bump Colm Boyle out of the way before finishing coolly past David Clarke.
Tomás Corrigan added a point but, again, Mayo asked questions of Fermanagh with two Cillian O’Connor frees bringing the gap to just two points on 26 minutes.
Once more the Fermanagh reaction was emphatic as four unanswered points, including two from outstanding half-back Aidan Breen, left them with a good platform at the break.
As things transpired, the drama was only starting.
“The penalty was the defining moment in the game, and for a penalty to be awarded as easily as that is highly disappointing,” reflected McGrath.
“It shouldn’t have been a foul, we were leading by a point, so who’s to say that we wouldn’t have got a score or two to put Mayo in a very difficult place.”
Mayo: D Clarke, B Harrison, K Keane, K Higgins, L Keegan (0-2), C Boyle (0-1), P Durcan, S O’Shea, A O’Shea (0-1), K McLoughlin, S Coen, D O’Connor (0-2), E Regan (0-1, 1f), A Freeman (1-0), C O’Connor (1-5, 1-0pen, 3fs, ’45) SUBS: D Vaughan for Durcan (34), A Dillon (0-2) for Freeman (47), B Moran for Coen (53), A Moran for Regan (61), J Doherty for A O’Shea (71)
Fermanagh: C Snow, M Jones, C Cullen, M O’Brien; D McCusker, D Kelly, A Breen (0-3), E Donnelly (0-1), R O’Callaghan, B Mulrone (0-2), R Jones, R Lyons (0-1), R Corrigan, S Quigley (1-1, 1f), T Corrigan (0-4, 2fs) SUBS: P McCusker for Lyons (47), J McMahon for O’Brien (57); K Connor for D McCusker (65), C Flaherty for O’Callaghan (66), P McGovern for Breen (73)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)