Well, that sure started the year – and James Horan’s second stint in charge – with a bang. A dramatic 2-13 apiece draw against a feisty Leitrim team, capped by a first-ever penalty shoot-out in a football game in the entire history of of the GAA. Quite the start to 2019, that’s for sure.
At half-time this afternoon at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon such a dramatic denouement certainly didn’t seem in prospect. While not in any way faultless, our first half display had been fairly commanding and we went in at the break seven points to the good, holding a 2-9 to 0-8 lead.
I got caught up in the long tailback coming into the town and so only made it onto the terrace at Páirc Seán after the ball had been thrown in. Leitrim opened the scoring from play, which captain on the day Jason Doherty replied to with a free but then Leitrim added two fine points from play as they settled the quicker in this pre-season contest.
But then we did them with two goals. The first, from Brian Reape, was a real rocket and this was followed soon after by an equally fine major from Fergal Boland.
From there to the break we had much the better of the exchanges, though the home side’s ability to score from play continued to catch the eye. Indeed, all but their final point of the half came from open play.
We made our first change on the resumption, with Caolan Crowe replacing Ger Cafferkey. A few minutes passed – further interrupted by the treatment required by one of the Leitrim players before he hobbled from the pitch – before either side posted their first scores of the second half. When Fionn McDonagh guided over our tenth point of the game to open our second half account it was his first of the game but it also meant, as a guy on the terrace beside me pointed out, that all six starting forwards had now scored.
Any feelings of satisfaction about how we were doing, though, soon got knocked on the head. Sweeney angled over a super point from a really tight angle to get Leitrim firing once more and then they followed up with two goals in as many minutes.
Both had their origins in outfield fumbles and when we coughed up possession on both occasions they reaped the rewards quickly and efficiently.
Now just a point down and with their tails up, Leitrim were all of a sudden a completely different prospect.
In truth they could and should have won the game from there. They broke repeatedly with increasing confidence but time and again were unable to hit the target from good positions. We, by contrast, were hanging on grimly.
It was all-square midway through the half but then a point from play by Fergal Boland, followed by a Jason Doherty free pushed us two clear once more.
They clawed us back again to just one in front but when Fergal Boland once again pointed, this one a superb effort from close on fifty yards out as the game went into injury time, it looked like the decisive score in an increasingly compelling contest.
But Leitrim pulled that one back immediately and, with no more than 10 seconds of the four minutes added time left they broke again, as we once more ceded possession cheaply. Leitrim’s Dean McGovern had just been ordered off on a second yellow but, as he ambled slowly off, he joined in the last-ditch attack, taking possession over near the stand side and then laying it off. The equalising score that resulted was, though, no more than the gutsy home team deserved.
We were expecting extra-time would follow the stalemate outcome but then, with some bemusement, the large crowd gradually came to the realisation that there would be no extra-time and that instead it’d be a penalty shoot-out. And, no, spot kicks booted over the bar wouldn’t count as points.
It was here that Leitrim’s brave challenge finally faltered. All our penalty takers – Jason Doherty (his spot-kick is here), Brian Reape (here), Fergal Boland (here) and Evan Regan (here) – found the net with aplomb but, after their bobbly first one somehow managed to hit the target, Leitrim then missed all their other kicks and so it was James Horan’s charges who prevailed after the historic shootout.
This wasn’t a vintage performance by our lads, for sure, and I’d say it wasn’t the type of way that James would have wanted to win his first game back in charge. But a win (of sorts) it was and at least we now know that, if we ever get stuck in another penalty shootout, we have the lads to get us out of a tight corner.
On a dreary, dank January day you have to take your comforts wherever you find them. That’ll do for us today. The new James Horan era is up and running.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly (0-1, a ’45); Eoin O’Donoghue (0-1), Ger Cafferkey, Brendan Harrison; Lee Keegan, James McCormack, Donal Vaughan; Seamus O’Shea, Stephen Coen; Fionn McDonagh (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-3, frees), Fergal Boland (1-3); Colm Moran (0-1), Brian Reape (1-1), Evan Regan (0-2, one free). Subs: Caolan Crowe for Cafferkey, James Kelly for Coen, Ben Doyle for O’Donoghue, Oisin McLaughlin for Moran, Ciaran Tracey for McDonagh.