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Kevin McStay accepts Mayo are not ‘at the top level’ after Derry deliver latest heartache


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For the third time this season they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and this time it was fatal as they crashed out of the All-Ireland championship in front of their stunned fans on Saturday night.

Aidan O’Shea came out of the dressing-room to console one young distraught fan as Kevin McStay (pictured) spoke of the devastation he felt. “You have to be bloody disappointed. Our season is over. I am pretty sure we have been competitive in every single match we have played in.”

Incredibly, Derry’s equalising point in the fifth minute of injury-time, from full-back Chrissy McKaigue, was a virtual replica of Cormac Costello’s fisted equaliser for Dublin which dispatched Mayo into the preliminary quarter-final and their ultimate doom.

Mayo fans had good reason to be fearful of this Castlebar encounter against Mickey Harte’s Division 1 league champions. They had painful memories of how their team struggled to break down the blanket defences of Tyrone and Louth.

​Their worst fears were realised in the first half when the home side scored one point from play. A Ryan O’Donoghue penalty in the 50th minute put them in the driving seat but it was still in vain as they eventually succumbed 4-3 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

Time will tell whether Derry are back on track. As Harte said afterwards, they would rather be preparing for an All-Ireland quarter-final than waiting for their next competition in January 2025.

He was philosophical about what impact playing 20 minutes of extra-time will have on them in next weekend’s Croke Park quarter-final against Dublin, Kerry or Donegal.

“That’s the price you pay for not being in the pole position. So, you have to deal with that. It’ll not be easy to recover. But I’d rather be thinking about recovering than thinking goodbye until January,” said Harte.

Having leaked nine goals in their losses to Donegal, Galway and Armagh, Derry first priority was to repeat last week’s clean sheet they achieved against Westmeath.

“We didn’t want to concede goals against the other teams either and just the way we were playing, we were actually offering more opportunities for the opposition. It’s a question of offering less opportunities and being more stubborn in defence and asking hard questions of them to break us down, which we probably hadn’t been doing in the three championship games we lost before the Westmeath game.”

Mayo actually won more championship games than Derry – four compared to two – but are gone having failed to qualify for the quarter-final for only the second time since 2011.

“We lose the Connacht final with the last kick of the game. We draw with Dublin with the last kick of the game and we lost today with the last penalty of the game. That is tough,” said McStay.

“Those are the margins involved. We are getting the wrong side of those margins too often. We must be a bit more ruthless and clinical and stretch out our leads when we should stretch them out.

“My own sense of it is that it takes skill to do it. The best teams, the best players kick those points in those moments. Maybe we are not quite there yet.

“But we believe we have the potential to get there. They [the players] are hugely committed to playing for Mayo. I know they practice that skill to get better – that won’t be the issue. Can we push it on will be the big question.

“I’m awful proud of them. We gave it our best shot. They don’t know any other way.

“I’m going to reflect and say we’re hugely competitive but we’re not at the top, top level yet. That’s where we want to get to and until we do, that’s where we’re at,” said McStay.

Harte acknowledged that it could easily have been Mayo rather than Derry who were celebrating at the final whistle.

“It’s a toss of a coin. That’s life and knockout football. You win or you lose and you’re in or you’re out,” said Harte.

In this instance Derry are in and Mayo are gone, though probably not forgotten.

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