We came into this game at Clones this afternoon with plenty of positive hopes about getting the kind of result that could kick-start this League campaign for us. We’re coming out of it, however, with the most profound doubts about how we stand and what direction we’re heading in.
Well matched throughout the first half, Monaghan were starting to get the upper hand on us after the break but, with ten minutes left to play, we were still in it. Then, once Jordan Flynn picked up a second yellow and we were reduced to fourteen men, the roof fell in on us. We ended up shipping a bad nine-point trimming at the finish.
We made two changes before throw-in at St Tiernach’s Park today. Neither putative debutant Eoghan MacLaughlin nor James Carr togged at all, with James Durcan and Jordan Flynn lining out instead. We made changes to the bench too, with Keith Higgins, Conor Loftus and Paul Towey all added to our list of replacements.
We drew first blood right at the start. Padraig O’Hora found himself in an advanced position and got swung around as he settled himself for a shot. The ref played advantage and the Ballina man landed a peach off his left to get us going.
We had chances to add to our lead but Fergal Boland and Ryan O’Donoghue both missed the target. Then Rory Beggan got pinged for taking too long on his restart, Aidan O’Shea won the hop ball and fed Ryan who blasted it over.
Monaghan opened their account a few minutes later. McCarthy showed Michael Plunkett a clean pair of heels down the right wing as he sped clear and fisted over.
Monaghan saw plenty of the ball in this period – they did for much of the half – as we retreated when they were in possession and invited them onto us. On our next break-out, however, Lee Keegan sped forward and off-loaded to Darren Coen who bagged a fine score.
When Malone was fouled fifty or so yards out Beggan trotted up for his first look at the posts. He didn’t fancy it, though, and instead played the pass which was quickly transferred to McManus. You can guess the rest.
Their equaliser soon after saw them carve open our backline, O’Connell eventually blasting over when maybe a goal chance was on. We responded well, though, with Jordan Flynn and James Durcan, from a mark, edging us back in front.
Jordan saw yellow after his score. He’s a marked man nowadays and the neck-high challenge was always going to see him in the book. This card was to have huge consequences for us later on in the game.
But, with a bit over ten minutes to go to the break, we had no warning about what was going to strike us. We pushed our lead back out to two when Oisin Mullin raided forward and shot confidently through the posts.
Then Monaghan hit back with effect. Aidan was all over McCarthy as he claimed the ball and Anthony Nolan signalled the advantage but our backline appeared to be in two minds as to whether or not the free had been given. The Monaghan player had no such doubts as he kept going and planted the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
Soon after, Diarmuid O’Connor followed Jordan into the book for a stupid, around-the-neck foul. Now we had two men walking on eggshells.
A Beggan free boomed over from distance put them two up. But we pulled level by half-time, Darren Coen ending a flowing downfield move by firing over and then then Diarmuid O’Connor converting off the ground the first and only scorable free we’d been awarded up until then.
We had a let-off just before the break when Oisin slipped allowing McManus to burst clear but the Farney talisman fired wide. The furious Monaghan fans thought we’d got another break when Diarmuid was involved in an incident down in front of the stand which they felt merited a second yellow. It didn’t, of course, but it underlined the issue we faced with two players now in last chance saloon territory.
It was this issue that dominated our half-time chat where the consensus was that if both Jordan or Diarmuid were left on in the second second then one or other of them wouldn’t see out the seventy minutes. It gives no pleasure to say we told you so, in light of what happened in the second half.
We made one change ahead of the resumption, Tommy Conroy replacing Fergal Boland. Kearns posted the opening score after the break but, when Aidan was fouled twenty yards out at the other end, Kevin McLoughlin got our first point of the half from the resultant free to level it up.
But it was the home side who looked sharper in this half. Points from McCarron and McManus (free) pushed them two ahead. Darren Coen hit back with a score for us but then, with Wylie swinging out of him, saw his next effort go wide off the post. Wylie was booked a few minutes later – when the ref’s attention was called to what he’d been up to – but his foul on Darren wasn’t punished on the scoreboard as it surely would have been had the foul been caught when it had occurred.
Frustration with the ref mounted and when we were penalised harshly fifty yards out Aidan appeared to let Nolan know what he thought of the decision. The ball was moved up and McManus tapped it over.
The lively McCarthy then pointed to put them three up. Kevin McLoughlin, his marker holding onto him as he tried to steady himself, shot over a riposte for us but McCarthy again, this time from the fist, pushed the gap back out to three.
Another free by Kevin cut the gap once more but then Stephen Coen missed a chance to narrow the margin still further when he was off target with an effort from a mark.
The game hadn’t gone away from us then, with ten minutes of normal time to go, but it soon did. Jordan Flynn picked up a second yellow and, with it, a red and he had hardly finished trudging from the field when Duffy bundled in their second goal of the match.
We were done for now. McManus belted over a point soon after and, with our backline now in utter disarray, full-back Boyle waltzed forward and pointed. Another McManus point, this one after claiming the mark, pushed them eight clear.
Paul Towey, a League debutant off the bench in the second half, hit a beauty off the outside of his boot as the game went into injury time. But it was Monaghan who had the final say, with two injury time scores to close out an emphatic nine-point win. A dismal day for us was capped by Padraig O’Hora getting the line on a second yellow in the dying seconds.
It’s bordering on impossible to take any crumbs of comfort from this loss. We were, once again, toothless in attack today and, combined with this, the way we were repeatedly carved open at the back was alarming in the extreme. We played like a team that’s headed for relegation and that’s our fate unless we start to get points on the board and fast.
Nothing comes easy in the top division, however, and with Kerry coming to Castlebar next weekend and a tough trip to Salthill to face high-flying Galway in the round after that, it could well be that final round heroics won’t be enough to save us this year. We need to find some form because, if we perform again like we did today, then there’s only one direction we’re heading in this spring.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Padraig O’Hora (0-1), Oisin Mullin (0-1), Lee Keegan; Stephen Coen, Michael Plunkett, Paddy Durcan; Jordan Flynn (0-1), Aidan O’Shea; Fergal Boland, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1, free); Kevin McLoughlin (0-3, one free), Darren Coen (0-3), James Durcan (0-1, mark). Subs: Tommy Conroy for Boland, Keith Higgins for James Durcan, Paul Towey (0-1) for Darren Coen, Eoin O’Donoghue for Plunkett, Conor Loftus for Ryan O’Donoghue.
Who was our MOTM against Monaghan? Pick your top three performers
- Oisin Mullin (19%, 230 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (15%, 176 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (15%, 175 Votes)
- Darren Coen (11%, 131 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (10%, 117 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (8%, 99 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (4%, 44 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (3%, 39 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (3%, 36 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (3%, 35 Votes)
- Paul Towey (2%, 21 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (1%, 16 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (1%, 15 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 13 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 11 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 11 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (1%, 10 Votes)
- James Durcan (1%, 8 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (1%, 7 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 7 Votes)
Total Voters: 665