So another year of competitive football is up and running for us but unfortunately this one – like last year – has opened for us in defeat. Unlike the thumping down in Cork twelve months ago, however, tonight’s two-point loss to Monaghan was wholly preventable, which I guess is why it feels so frustrating.
There was a great sense of anticipation in MacHale Park this evening ahead of throw-in. We’d arrived down early from Dublin, so early in fact that we had taken our seats in the stand a full hour ahead of the throw-in. Although we had the pick of the seats then, the stand soon began to fill up and by the time the match got underway there were over 10,000 souls inside the ground.
We started well, debutant Fergal Boland firing over a nice point from play to give us an early lead. We quickly lost our way, however, and with the Farney lads winning the battle around midfield and breaking quickly upfield with clever interlinked moves, we soon came under pressure. Three frees and a ‘45 from Conor McManus put them into the driving seat and their fifth point, their first from play, put them four clear.
We’d missed a few chances ourselves by then but looked off the pace all over the field in that opening period. We steadied ourselves well after that, though, reeling off five unanswered points to go in at the half-way mark a point to the good.
The first of these was a high quality one from out on the right from Evan Regan, the second was a Cillian O’Connor free, the third was one from play by Kevin McLoughlin and then Alan Freeman levelled the game with a super fetch, turn and shot off his weaker left foot. It was a free from Evan Regan that then put us ahead at the break.
To be honest, we didn’t really deserve to be in front at that stage as we hadn’t played hugely well in the first half. It looked, though, that we’d weathered the early storm brewed up by Monaghan and so appeared well set to push on in the second half.
That didn’t happen. An attack for us broke down at the Albany end – where one of our lads (I can’t remember who it was) looked to be fouled but nothing was given (a fairly familiar complaint for us tonight – Conor Lane put in a truly shocking evening’s work on the whistle) – and they counter-attacked swiftly. Conor McManus bore down on goal and as the cover converged he slipped it through to Darren Hughes who bundled the ball home.
We never really got to terms with them after that. They quickly tacked on a point after the goal, Cillian pointed a free for us, they got another one, Cillian got another free back for us, then they got the next two scores to go four clear.
Chasing the game now – a contest that got tetchier and more ill-tempered by the minute – we reduced the margin back to two points. Cillian got both of these scores, the first a beauty from the tightest of angles out on the left, the second from a free.
In the lead-up to that pointed free came the incident that should have swung the game our way. The increasingly ill-disciplined Farneymen were reduced to fourteen men when Karl O’Connell walked on a second yellow.
We had Tom Parsons on, who injected more drive and urgency to our midfield, and threw Andy on too but it was the visitors who showed more guile coming down the closing stretch and that was what won this match for them.
A point by Doogan gave them some valuable breathing space as the match went into injury time but two more points from Cillian, the first from play and the second from a free, reduced the deficit once more to the minimum. We had a chance to draw level too but instead it was Monaghan who notched the final score, another McManus special, to seal a two-point win for them.
It was a hugely frustrating performance from our lads. You can expect to see plenty of errors in February and that’s what we got but I guess what was more annoying was that when the fat was in the fire with ten minutes (plus five minutes added time) left to play we showed so little composure in how we chased the game. Every attack we made seemed overly frantic, every shot snatched and so the chances we had – and we had more than enough – to get something from this game were spurned.
It wasn’t all negative, though, and in particular the positive displays of the newcomers was good to see. Donie Newcombe had a storming game at corner-back and Fergal Boland put in a good shift at wing-forward. It was good too to see Stephen Coen beginning to settle in at centre-back and there’s every hope he’ll now be able to go on and nail down this jersey for the summer. And, of course, David Clarke saved our bacon more than once tonight at the back.
The reason, by the way, I’m so late penning this report tonight was that I ended up in the Sportlann after the game to discover that those kind Club ’51 people had put together a 10th birthday party for me and the blog, replete with a cake and all that I chomped at with relish. I have to admit I was rather touched and humbled by this kind gesture and I even had to rouse myself to give a short speech.
So, even though we lost this opening League match, it was still, all told, a memorable evening. There’s nothing like cake and buns to ease life’s many pains.
In any event, defeat tonight isn’t the end of the world. It’s only the first round of the League and we’ve plenty of matches left in which to secure our long-running Division One status for another year. It does, though, put a bit of pressure on us heading to Tralee to face Kerry this night week and, if that one doesn’t go to plan, our home fixture two weeks after against the Rossies will for sure have plenty of bite.
For now, though, all our focus should be on getting off the mark in Tralee next weekend. If we aim to eradicate the many early season errors we made tonight there’s every chance we’ll be able to do this.
Mayo: David Clarke; Donie Newcombe, Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan; Colm Boyle, Stephen Coen, David Drake; Donal Vaughan, Danny Kirby; Fergal Boland (0-1), Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Jason Doherty; Evan Regan (0-2, one free), Alan Freeman (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-7, five frees). Subs: Diarmuid O’Connor for Regan, Tom Parsons for Kirby, Andy Moran for Freeman, Conor O’Shea for Doherty.
Post-match audio report:
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Monaghan?
- David Clarke (68%, 380 Votes)
- Donie Newcombe (10%, 54 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (8%, 43 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (4%, 22 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 7 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 7 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 6 Votes)
- David Drake (1%, 5 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (1%, 5 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 5 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (1%, 4 Votes)
- Alan Freeman (1%, 4 Votes)
- Evan Regan (1%, 4 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 3 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (1%, 3 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (1%, 3 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (0%, 1 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (0%, 1 Votes)
- Andy Moran (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 558