Narrow wins are so often the sweetest. Even more so today given that it was a match we looked to have in the bag but then allowed Monaghan back into it, only to snatch victory with a Paddy Durcan point deep in stoppage time. Yes, this was a sweet one alright.
It felt good to be back on the road this morning. We went up from Dublin via Cavan, picking up the Mayo cavalcade as we approached Clones, the road weaving this way and that across the border which, in this crazy world we live in, is meant to remain both completely open while at the same time becoming the frontier between the EU’s single market and its customs union and the UK. But I digress.
It was forty minutes or so ahead of throw-in before we reached St Tiernach’s Park but the covered bit of the stand was more or less completely full by then. We had to head for the wettish seats closer to the pitch, the Cairde Mhaigheo scarves coming in handy to keep the togs dry.
We made three changes before the action got underway. Shane Nally came in for Michael Hall at centre-back, Neil Douglas replaced Jason Doherty at corner-forward while in the other corner Footballer of the Year Andy Moran lined out instead of Conor Loftus.
The opening exchanges were fast, both sides starting with intent. We had the chance to get off the mark first, ref David Gough giving us a handy enough free for a jersey pull but Neil Douglas was wide on the left-hand side from the placed ball.
Monaghan, moving the ball forward with nice efficiency, struck first. Two points from play inside a minute gave them the start they were looking for.
We had to wait close to ten minutes for our first white flag. When it came it was a nice one, though, with Andy Moran shooting from distance off his left to open our account.
They added a third before a rapid flowing move ended with Evan Regan taking aim and firing over with confidence from out on the left. McCarron responded for them, only for Evan to counter this at the other end, this time from a free.
I can’t recall if it was then or a bit later (I think maybe the latter) but Evan also had a free waved wide. His effort curled in beautifully and, to these biased eyes, it looked over, as Evan clearly thought it was too. A loud grumble erupted from the travelling support in the stand as well but it was to no avail.
Eoin O’Donoghue, already cutting an impressive dash on his full debut at senior level, then raided forward and belted over the leveller. Two further Farney points from play followed, though, but these were cancelled out by two more frees from Evan into the town end.
Neil Douglas then got off the mark from a free – from virtually the same spot as he’d missed early on – to put us in front for the first time. The lead was, however, short-lived as O’Connell, from play, pointed at the other end to leave this lively encounter evenly poised at seven points each at the break.
The home team had enjoyed the wind advantage in that first half so with the breeze behind us and some decent reinforcements on the bench – which included Cillian O’Connor – we looked well set to get something out of this one.
Soon after the restart we nearly made a major breakthrough when Diarmuid O’Connor burst inside but Beggan parried his goal effort superbly. Paddy Durcan, who would in the end have the day’s final say, got the opening score of the second half, shooting over from play three minutes after the resumption.
I didn’t have high hopes, I’ll admit, for our next effort at the posts, a ’45 that Neil Douglas was opting to take from the ground. Given the heavy sod I reckoned he’d be doing well to get the required lift on the kick. Well, he did and over it went to put us two clear.
Now it was Monaghan’s turn to chase the game but chase it they did. A McCarron free and one from play by Garland reeled us back in.
But we were starting to look stronger. The breaks were falling our way and chances were opening up for us.
Two more placed balls put us back in front. The first came from an Evan Regan free and then, when a lovely sweeping move ended with Andy Moran’s shot being deflected off target, Neil Douglas once more had the range and the accuracy from the 45-metre line.
The same player knocked over a free after that to push us three clear. With fifteen minutes left on the clock it was now looking like the points were all but in the bag.
But Monaghan weren’t ready to give up just yet. Back they came with three unanswered points to square it up again with time running out. One of these was a free, for a Diarmuid O’Connor drag-down that saw the Ballintubber man departing on a black card.
Adam Gallagher came on instead of Diarmuid, with Cillian O’Connor – who replaced Neil Douglas – also joining the fray before Diarmuid was ordered off. Conor Loftus came on for Andy and Shairoze Akram made his first League appearance, replacing Shane Nally near the end.
Coming down the closing stretch Monaghan looked the likelier winners. They were now getting all of the breaks and they came forward repeatedly, with increasing intent. We didn’t panic, though, our deep-lying defence not yielding up any easy pot-shots at the posts for them.
But then, just when cool heads were needed to see out the contest, the Farney lads lost theirs. No match against an Ulster team at this time of year would, it seems, be complete without some trampish skulduggery and, in a frantic five-minute spell as the game went into injury time, the Monaghan lads reverted to provincial type.
First to go was Ryan Wylie who walked on a straight red for a hit on Aidan O’Shea. Barry Kelly then went on a second yellow for an awful challenge on Colm Boyle while Dermot Malone went on a black card. Cillian O’Connor got a box to the side of the head during this spell as well but, although the ref checked with his umpires about this, no action followed. The same outcome occurred when Jason Gibbons was decked in the middle of the field.
With numerical superiority we now pushed forward with urgency looking for the killer blow, while they flooded the backline in a desperate attempt to keep us out. Adam Gallagher looked to have won it for us but his carefully aimed shot didn’t have the height or the distance. Paddy’s strike soon after had both and his winning score was greeted with plenty of gusto by the big Mayo crowd.
The Monaghan fans were incandescent afterwards, booing David Gough loudly as he made his way off the field. They’d have done well, however, to look a bit closer to home in targeting their ire. If their team had shown more interest in playing ball and less in rolling out the hard chaw act when the fat was in the fire they might have got something out of the game.
From our perspective, it was a super match to win. So often we fail to close out matches we look to have in the bag and today we looked like letting this contest go in the same direction. The lads did remarkably well, however, to keep their heads when the hits started flying and they did even better to engineer the decisive score right at the finish. Fair play to them.
We had several good performers today, chief among them Eoin O’Donoghue who played a stormer on his full League debut. Tough and tigerish at the back, fast and confident going forward, the young Belmullet man really put his hand up for us today. More power to him.
Ger Cafferkey had one of his best days for some time beside him in the full-back line, getting stuck in with considerable relish and claiming ball he had no right to win. Brendan Harrison was also a calm and solid presence at the back.
Colm Boyle was up for the battle too. That hit on him looked bad, though, and I’d be surprised if he’s fit to face Kerry. Here’s hoping there’s no major damage done.
Shane Nally did well too, although I felt he was too willing, in particular in the first half, to drive foot passes into the forward division that were never even 50:50 ones for their intended recipients. He did well, however, when we came under pressure in the second half.
Paddy did loads of work in both halves, linked the play well and was a constant thorn in their side. No better man to take on the responsibility when the chance to grab the winner arrived.
Jason Gibbons and Stephen Coen, aided and abetted by a real hard-working performance by Aidan O’Shea, did well at midfield, though Stephen was mainly stationed at half-back. Jason fairly threw himself into the fray, while Stephen did an amount of work, clearing up loose ball and keeping moves going. Aidan was a powerhouse, as well as a magnet for plenty of rough stuff from the opposition.
We did well in the possession stakes around midfield. I’d have a concern, though, that the task of those in the middle third wasn’t made easier by some godawful restarts from David Clarke. Time and again he boomed the ball high into the sky up the middle of the field. We won our fair share of these balls when they eventually returned to earth but on other days this won’t happen for us.
The forwards all worked hard and while there were no real standout displays – we got just two points from play from the front six, one from Andy and the other from Evan – nobody was hiding either. Everyone showed for the ball, fought for possession and worked their socks off in difficult conditions against hard-hitting defenders.
Evan and Neil both did well in the freetaking department. On a day of fine margins, Neil’s two expertly taken ‘45s were crucial to the result. They can both be happy with their afternoon’s work.
So, from a results point of view, it’s the perfect start to our League campaign, after a good hard battle up in Ulster from which we’ve emerged with the points. We’ve plenty more tough tests to come, starting with Kerry in Castlebar next Saturday night, but we’ve safely negotiated our way over the year’s first hurdle. We’re off and running once again.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1); Colm Boyle, Shane Nally, Paddy Durcan (0-2); Jason Gibbons, Stephen Coen; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Neil Douglas (0-4, two free and two ‘45s), Evan Regan (0-5, four frees), Andy Moran (0-1). Subs: Cillian O’Connor for Douglas, Adam Gallagher for Diarmuid O’Connor (black card), Conor Loftus for Moran, Shairoze Akram for Nally, Ger McDonagh for Boyle.
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM match against Monaghan? Vote for your top three performers
- Eoin O'Donoghue (36%, 447 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (16%, 197 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (12%, 153 Votes)
- Neil Douglas (8%, 106 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (4%, 46 Votes)
- Evan Regan (4%, 44 Votes)
- Jason Gibbons (3%, 40 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (3%, 39 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (3%, 35 Votes)
- Shane Nally (2%, 28 Votes)
- Shairoze Akram (2%, 21 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (2%, 21 Votes)
- Adam Gallagher (1%, 13 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 11 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 10 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 10 Votes)
- Ger McDonagh (1%, 10 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 9 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 8 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (0%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 878