Monaghan 1-18 Mayo 2-13: easy to see which team had something to play for

This match could have been a classic.  If we hadn’t beaten Cork last weekend, thus rendering as irrelevant the outcome our final match of this year’s NFL campaign, today’s clash with Monaghan would surely have been a real blood and thunder affair.  Instead, it was a meeting between a team that was really bulling for a result and one that wasn’t hugely bothered about the outcome.  Seen in this light, our two-point loss today at Inniskeen shouldn’t be viewed as any kind of surprise.

The conditions at the wonderfully appointed grounds of the Inniskeen Grattans GAA club, that lies nestled amongst the drumlins in the heart of Patrick Kavanagh country, cried out for a proper footballing contest.  The weather was unseasonably warm today (just like it was for our meeting with Cork down by the Lee this time last year) and the sight of all that whitethorn coming into bloom all over the place provided proof that the longest winter known to man or beast is at last safely behind us.

The pitch was in perfect condition and you didn’t have to probe too deeply to uncover the great pride the locals have over the fabulous facilities they’ve put in place, a development made possible by a canny land deal at the height of the boom which saw the club relocate from the middle of the village to just out the road, where they now have a ground well capable of hosting matches such as today’s. They even had rows and rows of nice green and red seats in their tidy-sized stand to make us feel right at home in the lovely rolling countryside.

Monaghan needed to win today and were then relying on Galway and Cork to do the same in order to survive on points difference. They knew that if either of the two other results went the wrong way they were buggered but, of course, all they could do was to do their bit and hope that the other two did the business as well.

Our bright opening – with Jason Doherty slicing over a beauty of a point with the outside of his boot no more than ten seconds after the throw-in – seemed to suggest that Monaghan’s own task of recording a rare enough win over us would be beyond them.  We led by three points to one after five minutes, with Kevin McLoughlin  – once again playing in a withdrawn role, in between midfield and the half-backs – and James Burke getting points for us while Tommy Freeman, profiting from a slip by Cathal Hallinan, got the home side’s opener.

Our positive start was quickly negated, though, when an utter screw-up at the back led to a situation where, instead of the ball being cleared upfield, Tommy Freeman found himself one-on-one with David Clarke and he brought the home support to its feet by smashing home the game’s opening goal. A Conor McManus free soon after sent them two ahead.

Freeman was proving such a handful at this stage that Keith was shifted across onto him but Freeman continued to show well for the ball and, as the half wore on, there was increasing amounts of it coming in his direction.  The next score, though, came from our Freeman with Alan – who today operated in the ‘hole’ between the two-man half-forward line and the inside line of Varley and Doherty (not with any great success either, you’d have to say) – pointing from play. Soon after, a Jason Doherty free squared it up once again.

We then had two close shaves in as many minutes, with a Peadar Gardiner slip giving them the opening for a goal chance that Clarke pawed away for a fifty. Just after, Jap Finlay found himself with the goal at his mercy but somehow managed to poke his shot badly wide.  That was the last miss he’d record all day, though, as he finished the seventy minutes on a hugely impressive haul of eleven points (nine of them from frees).

The first of those came after Freeman had put them back in front again, when Gardiner, clattering like an ould wan into one of their lads, conceded a really stupid free well within Finlay’s range.  Jap pointed it with ease with the wind at his back but Campbell soon replied in kind with a free for us.  Then a burst forward from Clerkin drew a foul from Burke and Finlay’s free restored their two-point cushion.

Tom Parsons, once again a largely disinterested presence at midfield, then shot a truly horrible wide but Campbell did much better with our next attack, taking a superb pass from Alan Freeman and lofting it over the bar.

Ger Cafferkey saw yellow for his next foul, another one that was well within Finlay’s range and then the same player smashed over a truly wonderful point from play from beyond the fifty.  It was one of those scores that you knew was going to sail over from the instant it left his boot and sail over it did to the delight of the Farney faithful.

A foul, a yellow and a free for us converted by Campbell cut the deficit to two and then another free, this one knocked over by Doherty, left us just a point in arrears. From the kickout, they decided to go short but made a hash of it, with Doherty nipping in to intercept.  The Burrishoole man poked the ball in Andy Moran’s direction and off went Andy steaming in on goal and he buried the leather emphatically to send us in at the break with a rather undeserved two-point cushion.

Our obvious failings in that first half were a midfield where we weren’t winning anything – Seamus O’Shea was in the thick of things but clearly wasn’t fully fit while Parsons clearly wasn’t interested – and an inability to stop them carving us open repeatedly through the middle.  We were wobbly enough further back too, in particular under the high ball, and but for a bit of good luck we could easily have repeated our Croke Park feat of conceding four first half goals.

They began the second period with the greater urgency, which was no surprise given their need to get something tangible from the game.  Tommy Freeman, once again out in front to claim the probing ball forward, turned and tacked over the first score of the half and Finlay then pointed a free, following a jersey tug by McLoughlin that earned the Knockmore man a yellow card.

We made our first substitution at that stage, with Gardiner hobbling from the fray to be replaced by Ruaidhri O’Connor. The Ballintubber man went on to have a positive enough 30 minutes on the pitch but it would have been even better to see how he would have fared had he played from the start.

Campbell then pointed from play but that was the last bit of action the Swinford man saw as he was, quite oddly I thought, replaced by Aidan Kilcoyne with Ronan Rochford replacing the ineffective Cathal Hallinan at the same time. A few minutes later, a knackered-looking Seamus O’Shea was also called ashore to be replaced by Barry Moran.

The changes didn’t make much difference to the way the game was going, however, with our backline continuing to prove far too open and, as the game went on, our backs far too willing to get suckered into conceding cheap fouls.  Frees for such fouls led to further points for McManus and Finlay as they edged in front again but sandwiched between the two was a cringeworthy miss by Tom Parsons.  Fed intelligently by Varley, he came barrelling through with just the keeper to beat but then thrashed the ball badly wide.

But then the game turned sharply back in our direction. Andy punched one over to level it up and then Jason Doherty scored a goal that was broadly similar to last week’s effort against Cork.  He had it all to do when claiming the ball out on the left near the endline but it was his sheer persistence as much as anything else that resulted in the ball hitting the net but hit it it eventually did, sending us three clear with around fifteen minutes to go.

That inspirational score should have, I dunno, inspired us or something but instead of closing out the win, it was the home side that sprang to life in those closing minutes to claim the day’s spoils.  Three frees – all needlessly conceded – negated Doherty’s major and two further minors from Finlay, one from (yet another) free and the other from play, edged them two clear.

The scores were coming thick and fast now, with James Burke booming over a beauty for us from out on the left wing but Darren Hughes – who had a super game for them – came rampaging forward and lashed over a vital score for them.  Another Finlay free, one of many softish awards to them over the course of the final quarter, put them three up and although we recorded the final score of the day – another Burke point – they had the last laugh as they ran out the winners by two points.  Not that they were in any mood to chuckle at us, though, as Galway’s inability to beat Dublin meant that it was the Farneymen rather than Armagh that fell through the trapdoor to Division Two.

Because of the oddly imbalanced incentives facing the two teams today, it’s difficult enough to say an awful lot about our performance.  While the home team were fighting for their Division One survival, our lads appeared to be playing in a challenge match and we never really managed to operate at the level of intensity they reached, especially in that final quarter.

Our line-up was, I thought, quite odd but it was obvious that James Horan was giving a number of players the chance to impress ahead of next week’s panel cull. A number of lads needed to put in good displays today but what was disappointing was that very few of them did.  As a result, a number of fringe players may have ended up playing themselves off the panel for the summer but the same could also be said of more established names such as Tom Parsons, Aidan Kilcoyne, Peadar Gardiner and Barry Moran.

What was most disappointing of all, however, was that the strength and tactical nous we’d shown in spades against Cork last week was entirely missing today.  Midfield was beaten up the proverbial stick and it would have been great to see the combative Kilcullen in there instead of the pusillanimous Parsons.  After the Cork game, James Horan rightly lauded his team for preventing the opposition in making soft runs through the middle but we were opened up at will in that sector today.  Whatever lessons we’d learned ahead of the Cork game were clearly unlearned by the time the team bus drew up at Inniskeen today, with the result that we looked as unsure at the back as we’d done during that chaotic opening half in Croke Park last month.

But it’s difficult to be too harsh about today’s performance in what was, after all, a meaningless final league match for us.  It’s been, all in all, a good league campaign for us, in the sense that we’ve learned loads and have blooded a number of new faces, some of whom now look set to displace a few long-standing members of the panel.  Such change, although undoubtedly painful for those involved, is plainly necessary if we’re to move forward.

As our focus now shifts away from the league and on towards Ruislip and then back to McHale Park for our expected June meeting with the next-door neighbours, the theory about the direction we’re headed in this year will soon enough face its first high stakes test.  It’s then that we’ll really learn if this league campaign was really the useful exercise that many of us think it has been.

Mayo: David Clarke; Cathal Hallinan, Alan Feeney, Keith Higgins; Peadar Gardiner, Ger Cafferkey, James Burke (0-3); Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Aidan Campbell (0-4, two frees), Andy Moran (1-1), Kevin McLoughlin (0-1); Enda Varley, Alan Freeman (0-1), Jason Doherty (1-3, two frees).  Subs: Ruaidhri O’Connor for Gardiner, Ronan Rochford for Hallinan, Aidan Kilcoyne for Campbell, Barry Moran for O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor for Varley.

18 thoughts on “Monaghan 1-18 Mayo 2-13: easy to see which team had something to play for

  1. inniskeen looks like a really good setup.wj did you notice all the mon diving as soon as they got inside finleys range,and the blatent way clerkin kicked the ball at k macs back just to get it moved into scoring did the officials miss it all??

  2. Intensity and form are not products that can be switched on and off like a tap. Nor are we a team that can pick and choose when to try and do this.Realistically we should have brought the form from the Cork match into this game v Monaghan and showed ourselves that we are moving in the right direction.
    Instead WJs great report shows typical failings and makes me despair. Bad misses and not for the first time either, this is a recurring nightmare for us with certain players, terrible sloppy kicking.
    The euphoria of last week (myself included) can be delusional. At the moment we are sparking only with the two inside men and random football.
    Yesterday was a day to show the only people that count i.e ourselves, that we were leaving the past behind, that we had an intensity, that we had depth in the panel. Dont think we did it.

  3. I agree Ontheroad. In fairness the score does not reflect the game. We were gifted Andy’s goal at a crucial time just prior to 1/2 time and we also scored another crucial goal with what – around 10 mins remaining ? But we couldn’t seal the deal. That shows where we are. If it were the other Div1 teams I think most would have been able to see it out. Not us though and this leaves much to chew over for JH.
    The team he picked just did not click. Midfield was a disaster from start to finish and the simple fact is you cannot keep defending balls and runners coming from and through midfield for an etntire 70 minutes. Even with an extra defender covering it made no difference.
    I can’t understand why James Kilcullen was not picked to play. The guy had a great game against Cork and what he needed was more game time and experience before the championship. This was the ideal opportunity. Maybe he’s injured althogh no one has confirmed this ??
    Now all we know is that SOS/T Parsons/Barry Moran are all not good enough for midfield. So that leaves us with 1 experienced recognised midfielder (Ronan) and 2 complete rookies (AOS and J Kilcullen). Sorry but rookies need experience at the top level before they can be expected to perform consistently at IC championship level.

  4. By the way, the nice people of Inniskeen must have bought up the last of the green and red seats in Ireland since McHale Park got lumbered with an anaemic blue as a substitute.

  5. jpm “I can’t understand why James Kilcullen was not picked to play. Now all we know is that SOS/T Parsons/Barry Moran are all not good enough for midfield”

    jpm – I think you’re missing the point here. Horan didn’t pick Kilcullen because we already saw last week that Kilcullen has something to offer us, no need to see it again just now. If we didn’t give Parsons and Moran a run how would we know that they are not good enough? It would be good to give Kilcullen more game time but you can’t pick them all every week. Its a pity that the other lads are not playing well enough but its much better to realise that now. Better to find that out in a dead rubber against Monaghan than in a Connacht semi-final against Galway.

    By the way I would exempt Seamus O’Shea from criticism since he is only coming back from injury and could not expect to be fully up to speed in his first game back.

  6. I think the word ontheroad is PRIDE. They had enough pride to put their colours on their seats – our County Board couldnt be bothered !!

    It hurts me everytime I walk in to McHale Park.

  7. No Declan you cherry picked my post and in doing so – you missed the points !!

    Playing a completely new midfield (with no experience/game time together) after one that had been successful the previous week against the AI champions was just silly. And it got shown up as a result. And like it or not that blame lies with management as they pick the team (and subs).

    JH should have played at least one of last weeks midfielders today to help them build on what they had achieved against Cork. Seeing as AOS was out injured James Killcullen should have been starting alongisde either Parsons or SOS.

    Another side of the argument is that James Kilcullen performed well against Cork but at the same time – so what !! One good game does not make you a star! He needs more game time to gain experience and to help build his confidence at this level.

    And they are the points.

  8. I don’t think it was at all silly personally. If we hadn’t given Moran and Parsons a shot yesterday we might have gone into the last 20 minutes of the Galway game in June needing a boost in midfield and thought that either coming off the bench might be the solution. In the same way we tried Parsons in the full forward line against Meath on a whim a few years ago when we had a few injuries. Its not a 15 man game anymore. They needed to be tried out yesterday when it mattered less, even if it was just to prove to management that they are not up to it.

    Kilcullen has done very well and will be involved later in the year, he is a completely different type of midfielder to McGarrity, Aiden O’Shea or Gibbons and there is definitely a place for him on the panel. Of course it would have been a help to give him more game time but everyone needed to get a chance in the league and he can be pleased at the end of it that he has put his hand up for a start against London, whereas Parsons and Moran have now played their way out of contention.

    Under the old management they wouldn’t have got a run, would still be considered useful options and it would cost us later in the year.

  9. How many chances must Parsons get ? The lad is of the boil for 3 years now. Kilcullen needed the match.

  10. I agree with you on the road, Parsons should not be in the Panel, had his day, tried and tested not up to it, might be a good and that is all Club Player, so why persist with him. Yes we were cleaned at midfield and it looks like Mc G. and AOS in the middle of the park v Galway,

  11. Parsons/SOS and Barry Moran could all have been given a shot on Sunday along with playing James Kilcullen. Could (& should) have started Kilcullen alongside either Parsons or SOS or Barry Moran – and worked off that.

    Everyone would have got game time including James Kilcullen. James Kilcullen could have played for 50 minutes and then been substituted if he was not able for the final 20. Right now we don’t know whether he is able or not for a full 70? And we don’t have the oportunity to find out either, as there are no more competitive fixtures prior to the championship.

    Furthermore playing SOS and Parsons together was a disaster. Midfield was a disaster throughout the game. The only point of note that came out of Sundays game was that Mayo cannot be expected to have a chance of winning against opposition without at least getting parity around the middle.

    James Horan criticised the team for lack of performance but he has to take a share of the blame too – after all he picks and manages the team.

  12. According to the Mayo news the James Horan will be announcing his 30 man panel tonight after training. This should be interesting .Few hard calls to be made and hopefully a few surprises. Few players that we haven’t seen for a while like Howley,Hart and the often mention Vaughan will sure be on the 30 man panel.Wille Joe would you have a count of all the players used in the league campaign so far? . Would think we would have seen at least 30 different players through out the league campaign which in my opinion was a very successfully one. Good points in been we stayed in divison 1, we found a great partnership in Dorothy and Freeman up frount.We found out the AOS is more effective out the field, We have an enforcer now in Kilcullen when we need one and also we have options now in the backs.

    This time last year we could have picked our Championship team or go very close to it .Now with the exception of Clark,Higgins,McGarrity,Dorothy and Freeman ,no one is guarantee there starting place and this has too be good.

  13. ……,no one is guarantee there starting place and this has too be good”
    TheMan I know what you mean but I’m not sure I entirely agree that this is necessarily a good thing. It might mean that we have a lot of ok…ish players but few outstanding players who could command a place on most IC teams. I bet most of us on this site could name the players on the successful teams over the last few years (and some of us a lot longer than that!)
    We need to move into that phase of our development soon where we can confidently predict most if not all of the starting 15.
    One of the real contradictions in high performance is that on the one hand fellas need competition for places but they also need to establish themselves in a position and gain confidence in that position without worrying too much about it being under threat.

  14. The Man:-

    35 players got a run in the league.

    46 in total played for Mayo in the NFL and FBD.

    Nobody can accuse Horan of not having trawled the county for talent at least.

  15. OK so.
    Assuming the 30 should comprise the following:

    2 Goalkeepers
    12 Backs
    4 Centrefielders
    12 Forwards

    Who should be there?
    Look at the most consistent ones picked and this is who emerges.

    Hennelly and Clarke

    A Feeney, R Feeney, C Hallinan, K Higgins, C Barrett, T Howley, T Cunniffe, L Keegan, G Cafferkey, R O’Connor, J Burke, plus Another (on JH form I suspect that it will be Gardiner, though I would prefer E Reilly)

    J Kilcullen, R McGarrity, A O’Shea, S O’Shea (or possibly J Gibbons)

    A Dillon, A Moran, K McLoughlin, A Campbell, J Doherty, A Freeman, C O’Connor, E Varley, A Kilcoyne, N Douglas(?), M Ronaldson (?) Another(?)

    Strange that there seems to be more competition in the backs even though we have been raving about our new finds in the forwards.

  16. Couple of big names missing from that list. Donal Vaughan and Trevor Mortimor spring to mind.

  17. From what I’m hearing Mark Ronaldson, Aidan Kilcoyne, Barry Moran and Tom Parsons are among those who have missed out on the panel. Big calls. Brave.

  18. Kilcoyne would be the big surprise if that is true – the others were always going to be borderline but I felt Kilcoyne was likely to make it.

    Moran or Dillon as captain?

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