At half-time in this afternoon’s opening round National League match against Donegal, we looked to be in bother. When we were reduced to fourteen men with twenty minutes to go, with Donegal awarded a penalty, it looked like curtains for us. But then we did that most Mayo of things and came roaring back to claim a dramatic last-gasp draw.
The forecast for today’s match at Markievicz Park was that it would be wet and windy. That it was, though it was only when that breeze whipped up in the second half that conditions became really difficult. For a time Ben Bulben away in the distance was clearly visible but then, soon after, you could barely see across to the sodden punters on the terrace at the far side of the field.
As I mentioned in the game day piece this morning, there was a suspicion coming into this match that we might be a bit undercooked compared to our opponents, who were bouncing into the League off the back of four McKenna Cup fixtures. By half-time that appeared to be a cast-iron certainty.
We were depressingly flat in that opening half. Donegal, full of running with frequent injections of rapid pace as they burst forward, owned the ball for much of the half, leaving our lads chasing shadows. For most of that opening half, we were like the scoreboard at Markievicz Park today – we weren’t operating at all.
We were four adrift at half-time. Ryan O’Donoghue’s two frees were all we had to show for our efforts until the first half went into injury time but then Eoghan McLaughlin lamped over a super score off his left from well out on the left.
It could have been even worse for us at that stage. We were losing out badly in the middle of the field and, but for two excellent saves by Robbie Hennelly, the game could well have been beyond our reach at that stage.
The one positive we could take – or, if you prefer, cling to – was the way we’d come to life just before the break. This followed an incident when Padraig O’Hora was shunted into the railings and, needless to say, the Stephenites man didn’t take kindly to this. The big Mayo support in the 9,000 crowd perked up a bit too.
The exchanges became fast and furious in the second half. Paddy Durcan started to raid forward – he bagged two excellent scores from play in the second half – and Jason Doherty began to make his presence felt too. It was a hugely encouraging performance from the Burrishoole man on his first day back after 29 months out, as he led the line so well and notched three excellent scores.
There was no argument about the penalty. Stephen Coen pulled the Donegal man down and, while it could be argued that the first yellow he got from the fussy Cavan official wasn’t merited, there was no issue about the second one. The captain was gone and Donegal had a penalty to put the contest to bed.
Strangely, Michael Murphy didn’t take it, with Paddy McBrearty stepping up instead. He hit it low towards the corner but Robbie dived superbly to paw it away for a ’45, which Murphy boomed over.
Donegal’s next point was, though, their final one. This came from Michael Langan, his fourth of the day, in what was an impressive showing for him.
From then to the finish it was all Mayo. Paddy’s second point of the day cut the gap to three before points from Jason Doc and Ryan O’Donoghue brought the pot to the boil.
By now the Mayo support, overly hushed for much of the seventy minutes, was in full cry, chants of ‘May-OH, May-OH, May-OH” ringing out around Markievicz Park. Donegal lost a man to a black card so it was fourteen-on-fourteen for those final frantic minutes.
Even though all the momentum was with us by now, it looked like we’d left it too late. But then, deep in stoppage time, Donegal ‘keeper Patton got caught in possession and was done for overcarrying.
Up trotted Robbie for what was a difficult free from well over on the left a good forty yards from the posts. Unlike the Dublin game last August, this time the Breaffy player didn’t need two attempts at the free. Up he stepped and smashed it over the bar to rescue the draw for us.
It was a result we barely deserved but, of course, that made it all the more delicious. Every point in this League will be a tough one to claim and it’s great to salvage one from a game in which, for long stretches, we appeared destined to lose.
This means we can now head to Clones next weekend in good spirits. That limp first half performance this afternoon shows us we’ve plenty of work to do if we’re to compete properly in what’s going to be a very searching Division One campaign. Our stirring second half comeback demonstrates, however, that we do glorious chaos better than anyone else. We may need more of that chaos over the coming weeks.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Brendan Harrison, Stephen Coen, Padraig O’Hora; Paddy Durcan (0-2), Donnacha McHugh, Eoghan McLaughlin (0-1); Conor O’Shea, Conor Loftus; Fionn McDonagh, Aiden Orme, Diarmuid O’Connor; Tommy Conroy, Jason Doherty (0-3), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-4, three frees). Subs: Aidan O’Shea for Orme, Bryan Walsh for McDonagh, Sam Callinan for McHugh, Jordan Flynn for Loftus, Paul Towey for Conor O’Shea.
Who was our MOTM against Donegal? Pick your top three performers
- Robbie Hennelly (37%, 1,097 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (20%, 605 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (17%, 511 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (5%, 153 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (4%, 133 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (4%, 118 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (3%, 76 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (2%, 63 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 58 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (2%, 47 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 37 Votes)
- Paul Towey (1%, 23 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 16 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (0%, 14 Votes)
- Sam Callinan (0%, 12 Votes)
- Donnacha McHugh (0%, 8 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (0%, 8 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (0%, 7 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (0%, 4 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (0%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,438