We’re still alive in this year’s Championship. Ourselves and Monaghan both looked like teams that were staring down the barrel of elimination at MacHale Park today and, as that prospect grew ever closer for both of them, quality largely went out the window as a more elemental struggle for survival took hold.
It was one we eventually won but Monaghan supporters will have left the sun-washed Castlebar venue today hugely aggrieved that their strong shout for a penalty in extra time went unheeded. We definitely rode our luck there and while we were, for sure, the better team this afternoon, we made enormous hard work of trying to prove that rather basic point.
Even though Monaghan started the contest the brighter, with two points from play from the physically imposing Mone, the game shifted in our favour following the McManus black card. That was a good call by ref Barry Cassidy, as it was a sneaky little trip by the Monaghan player on Aidan O’Shea.
Cillian O’Connor pointed the resultant free and soon after a move up the left-hand side ended with Eoghan McLaughlin smashing over the leveller.
Barry Cassidy’s next call was the penalty decision, with Oisín Mullin’s goal effort blocked and the ref gave the spot kick for a foot block. Just as well, as it looked we’d butchered an excellent goal chance in the lead-up. From the spot, Cillian did what Cillian does and rammed it into the top left corner of the net.
The Farney lads now had to come out and play and, to be fair to them, that’s what they did. From then to the break it was a series of possession-based end-to-end moves by both teams. We were doing better in that department for a time, stretching our lead to five, both those scores coming from placed balls. The first was another Cillian free while the second was also a free, this one just outside the ’45 that Robbie knocked over, soon after Beggan had missed the second of two ’45s at the other end.
We added three further points, nice ones from play from Championship full debutant Jack Carney and from Matthew Ruane and another Cillian free, but they enjoyed a more productive spell as the break approached, a pointed free from McManus just before the short whistle cutting the deficit to three.
I was a bit worried then, mainly because we hadn’t profited as much as we could have done when on top. Monaghan seemed to be able to pick holes in our defence better than we could and my fear was that if they continued to reel us in we’d be in major bother.
We scored first on the resumption. Robbie’s ’45 never got properly airborne but James Carr recycled the ball nicely and Cillian smacked it over.
But that was the last score we got for over twenty minutes, as, for the second match in a row in the second half, we completely lost our way. We’d shot only one wide in the first half but we hit at least five bad ones on the spin in that scoreless spell, each one draining our confidence that bit more.
We also failed to finish an excellent goal chance. We won possession from a superb long restart and for once we had their goal at our mercy. Eoghan went for power rather than placement, though, and he shot straight at Beggan who batted it away.
When our engine stalled against Galway, the scores they got then finished us. Luckily for us, today we were up against a team who had also largely run out of ideas and invention upfront. Monaghan cut our lead back to two points during our barren spell but they never got closer than that.
Instead, we fumbled our way across the finishing line. And we really fumbled today, our handling throughout was poor, a sign surely of a team shorn of confidence.
In the end, it was the old dog for the hard road. Lee Keegan landed the kind of point we’ll weep about when he’s eventually gone and further scores from Cillian (two frees), sub Darren McHale and Paddy Durcan saw us home.
That was, though, only after a heart-stopping incident in extra-time, which, in real time, looked like a penalty to them and even more so on the TV replays. Lee wrapped his man who, perhaps, was too fast to hit the deck but if that were us, we’d be apoplectic if it wasn’t given.
Our lead then was just three points so a penalty awarded at that stage could have forced the game to extra time. The Good Lord only knows how it would have ended then. Instead Paddy bagged the insurance score and we were finally out the gap.
Qualifier games are, first and foremost, all about winning. So we’ve checked that box. They’re also meant to relaunch teams back into the Championship but I’m not sure today’s stuttering display will do that. It was, in so many ways, a performance that raised more questions than it answered.
But at least we’re still standing and a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals is now a step nearer. Our name is back in the hat for Monday morning but, please, let’s not delude ourselves further with wishes that we pull the hardest possible draw then.
After today’s disjointed display, we could now do with the easiest possible route back to Croke Park. We rode our luck for large stretches today so here’s hoping that luck holds for us once again on Monday morning.
Mayo: Rob Hennelly (0-1, free); Lee Keegan (0-1), Oisín Mullin, Enda Hession; Paddy Durcan (0-1), Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin (0-1); Aidan O’Shea, Matthew Ruane (0-1); Bryan Walsh, Aiden Orme, Diarmuid O’Connor; James Carr, Jack Carney (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (1-6, five frees and a penalty goal). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin for Carr, Darren McHale (0-1) for Orme, Conor Loftus for Walsh, Jason Doherty for Carney, Padraig O’Hora for Cillian O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Monaghan? Pick your top three performers
- Lee Keegan (24%, 593 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (20%, 496 Votes)
- Enda Hession (10%, 240 Votes)
- Oisín Mullin (9%, 224 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (9%, 215 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (8%, 183 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (6%, 150 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (3%, 77 Votes)
- Rob Hennelly (2%, 54 Votes)
- Jack Carney (2%, 49 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 35 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 23 Votes)
- Darren McHale (1%, 21 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 19 Votes)
- James Carr (1%, 17 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (1%, 14 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (1%, 13 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 8 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,172