Well, that’s our unbeaten run gone. The supporting cast put in an understandably disjointed display this afternoon against a hugely motivated Monaghan team, for whom the wily Conor McManus up front ran the show. With Armagh losing at Tyrone, the visitors sensed another great escape in the offing and they finished strongly to claim a deserved six-points win and, with it, their place in Division One next year.
The good news, from our perspective, was that – as I said this morning – today’s match meant nothing to us in the grander scheme of things. We were already in the National League final next weekend and Galway’s win over Kerry at Pearse Stadium today means that it’s the Tribesmen we’ll be facing for the title at Croke Park.
The other noteworthy thing from today is that it told us a fair bit about ourselves, in particular about our strength in depth, or lack of it. Few of the fringe players we fielded did well today, Paul Towey and Bob Tuohy being notable exceptions.
It was already clear before today, by the way, just how good Sam Callinan is but he reminded all and sundry of this again with another excellent display.
We made one switch ahead of throw-in, with Paul Towey lining out instead of Ryan O’Donoghue. They made three changes before the off, the two in the full-forward line – in which both Jack McCarron and Conor McManus started – ultimately proving decisive to the outcome of today’s contest.
Although it was only at the end that the result skittled away from us, this was a game in which we never led. McManus showed his intent by firing over inside the first minute, we scored first two minutes later via a Paul Towey free.
They edged two in front, we bagged our second – and first from play – when Stephen Coen shot over after a long period of possession.
Soon after, Ryan O’Toole found himself in acres, of space, totally unmarked, when the ball was played to him on the right wing. He faced no challenge either as he bore down rapidly on our goal and planted the ball in the net.
We responded with another Paul Towey free but they scored the next two, the second a monstrous effort from well out from McManus.
Another Paul Towey free, this one off the ground, was the first of four scores for us without reply. Jordan Flynn, ending a move in which Paul Towey and Conor McStay were both involved, got the next one and Bob Tuohy, Conor again providing the assist, got the third.
Paul Towey then stroked over a 14-yard free to cut the deficit to the minimum. McCarron and Matthew Ruane swapped points as Monaghan led by a point at the break.
We introduced David McBrien for the second half, in place of Donnacha McHugh. We also got the half’s first score, another free from Paul Towey after he’d been shunted in the back when he’d just claimed possession.
McManus, inevitably, got the next three scores for them, the last of which was a free. The second one just scraped over, as Robbie – the sun in his eyes – scrambled to make sure it didn’t inadvertently land in the net.
We continued to run the bench, showing that what we were seeking from this game wasn’t of the do-or-die variety facing the opposition. Not least given that word was now filtering through that Tyrone were up on Armagh, meaning a Monaghan win would save them.
We brought on Darren McHale for club mate Kevin McLoughlin, with Jack Coyne replacing Padraig O’Hora soon after. Before the end Jack Carney (for Frank Irwin) and Ryan O’Donoghue (for Paul Towey) would also get a run-out.
O’Hanlon set off for a goal but his searing run from midfield ended with an expertly-timed dispossession by Sam Callinan. The Ballina youngster has made this his speciality in this League campaign and, while that turnover was spectacular, it wasn’t the only one he pulled off today.
After we’d cut the gap back to a single point once again – another Paul Towey free and one from play by Darren McHale – we ended the ten-minute period that followed without a score for either side by a Jordan Flynn point that levelled the game.
As our wide count mounted, I reckon we ended end the day on double-digits, Michael Plunkett, Paul Towey and Jordan Flynn were all off target, at a time when the visitors appeared to be wilting. Instead of piling pressure on them, however, we allowed them to gain valuable breathing space when O’Hanlon edged them back in front with ten minutes of normal time left to play.
Five minutes later, Bob Tuohy fired over a super point, fed nicely by Jack Carney. They responded immediately, though, and then twice in quick succession McManus claimed marks and converted both of them. They didn’t know it yet but the Farneymen were now home free.
We got one more point, a free from Ryan O’Donoghue, but they added a point followed by a penalty goal – scored, of course, by McManus – to complete their jailbreak. For the latter, O’Hanlon was dragged down by Jason Doherty, with Robbie gone wandering up the field. Jason got a black card for his troubles but wasn’t the foul committed well outside the square? Not that it matters or anything but it looked like it was.
So, the negatives from today are the loss of our unbeaten run, two more goals conceded and not too much to cheer from in terms of the displays put in by the fringe contingent. The positives have to include that no-one got injured, that the result didn’t matter a jot and that we’ve a Croke Park date to look forward to against Galway next weekend.
Such are the joys of playing a Round 7 match that meant nothing to us against a team to which it meant everything. Throw in the powers of a generational genius like Conor McManus – who weighed in with 1-7 today, as Monaghan claimed just their second ever League win over us on our turf – and I guess it should be no surprise to anyone that this one panned out the way it did.
Mayo: Rob Hennelly; Donnacha McHugh, Padraig O’Hora, Sam Callinan; Michael Plunkett, Jason Doherty, Stephen Coen (0-1); Bob Tuohy (0-2), Matthew Ruane (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin, Frank Irwin, Jordan Flynn (0-2); Conor McStay, Aidan O’Shea, Paul Towey (0-6, frees). Subs: David McBrien for McHugh, Darren McHale (0-1) for McLoughlin, Jack Coyne for O’Hora, Jack Carney for Irwin, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-1, free) for Towey
We’ll have immediate post-game reaction to and analysis of the game in our Final Whistle podcast, which will be online in a bit.
Who was our MOTM against Monaghan? Pick your top three performers
- Sam Callinan (20%, 519 Votes)
- Bob Tuohy (17%, 452 Votes)
- Paul Towey (11%, 286 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (9%, 242 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (9%, 241 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (6%, 168 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (6%, 162 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (5%, 120 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (3%, 73 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (2%, 52 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (2%, 45 Votes)
- Jack Carney (2%, 45 Votes)
- Rob Hennelly (1%, 38 Votes)
- Conor McStay (1%, 36 Votes)
- Frank Irwin (1%, 28 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (1%, 27 Votes)
- Jack Coyne (1%, 26 Votes)
- Darren McHale (1%, 21 Votes)
- Donnacha McHugh (1%, 21 Votes)
- David McBrien (1%, 19 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,250