ON THE ROAD AGAIN NUI, Galway's Damien Comer takes on Mayo defenders Stephen Coen (left) and Chris Barrett during Sunday's FBD League match in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo too clever for NUI, Galway students
NUI, Galway 1-11
THERE was very little sign of either lingering Christmas cheer or New Year hangovers as Mayo got back to work with a solid victory over the diligent students of NUI, Galway at MacHale Park, Castlebar on Sunday.
This FBD League opener came 18 weeks after last August’s ill-fated All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay defeat to Kerry, and signalled the official start of the Pat Holmes/Noel Connelly management reign.
Only three of the side that started in Limerick back in August were pressed into action here (Robbie Hennelly, Ger Cafferkey and Jason Doherty) while there were senior debuts for Hollymount/Carramore’s Darren McHugh, Garrymore’s Caolan Crowe and Alex Corduff (Ballina).
The game itself was a typical pre-season affair, full of effort, energy and enthusiasm, with Mayo doing just enough to take the honours.
Late frees from Evan Regan and Adam Gallagher got the job done for the Connacht champions, as NUI, Galway’s over-dependency on Peadár Ó Gríofa for scores eventually caught up with them.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we’re happy to have got the win. We came in with the intention of looking at new players, we did that today, but we’re only into our training schedule, we’ve a lot of work to do,” was how Pat Holmes summed things up afterwards.
“NUIG have Sigerson next month so they have a greater level of fitness than we have. They came out of the blocks hard, competed very well around the middle of the field, and caused us a lot of problems,” added Noel Connelly.
“On the balance of play they were everybody bit as good as us, but for us, in terms of building a team, and trying guys in new positions, it was nice to win it.”
NUI, Galway deservedly led at half-time by 1-7 to 0-8 with their marksman-in-chief, Peadár Ó Gríofa weighing in with 1-4 of that tally.
His goal arrived on 29 minutes after Mayo defenders Ger Cafferkey and Stephen Coen were unable to deal with a probing delivery from NUI, Galway full-back Kevin McDonald.
O’Gríofa’s tidy finish propelled the visitors ahead but the outstanding Neil Douglas (who finished with four excellent points from play) did pull a score back just before the break.
Six different players got on the scoresheet for Mayo in that opening period (including Jason Doherty who was black carded just seconds before half-time).
Mayo’s only clear-cut goalscoring opportunity of the game was taken instinctively by corner-forward Mark Ronaldson eight minutes after the restart.
His smart finish from close-range eased Mayo ahead again and was the stand out moment of a pedestrian third quarter.
The unerring Ó Gríofa steered over another free to tie the game up for the fourth time but Mayo, driven on by the inspirational Chris Barrett, were determined to get back to winning ways.
Three points in seven minutes from Douglas, Barrett and Regan (free) pushed them clear and, despite the best efforts of flawless free-taker Ó Gríofa, NUIG were unable to beat Mayo for the first time since 2009.
“The message today was ‘work hard’, simple as that,” said Pat Holmes. “It’s January 4, you want to improve your fitness levels and you want fellas with a good work ethic.”
Meanwhile, Keith Higgins was also confirmed as the new Mayo captain for 2015, succeeding Andy Moran.
All Star Cillian O’Connor is the new vice-captain.
“Andy [Moran] had done a great job over the last four or five years, and we needed a true leader on the field,” explained Noel Connelly.
“As Pat says, Keith stands out a mile above everybody else, he gives you that 100% commitment every day he goes out and that’s what we were looking for, somebody to lead on the field, assisted by Cillian O’Connor as vice-captain.
“We think we’ve a good man there, we think he’s a good choice, he’s been good for us before too.”
Mayo take on IT Sligo in the second round of the FBD Connacht League in Ballina next Sunday, January 11.
R Hennelly; D McHugh (0-1), G Cafferkey, S Coen; C Barrett (0-1), K Keane, C Crowe; J Gibbons, A Corduff; N Douglas (0-4), A Gallagher (0-1, 1f), M Conroy (0-1); E Regan (0-3, 3fs), J Doherty (0-1), M Ronaldson (1-1).
Subs used: A Freeman for Doherty (black card, half-time); M Sweeney for Conroy (half-time); K Rogers for Cafferkey (half-time); B Moran for Corduff (46m); G Cafferkey for Douglas (inj, 51m).
D O’Sullivan; D Murray, K McDonald, L Cullen; R Kiely, D Cunnane, A Nolan; E Ó hEochaidh, S Moran (0-1); C Connolly, C Davey (0-1), D Comer (0-1); P Ó Gríofa (1-7, 7fs), S Conroy, K Gibbons (0-1, 1f).
F Reilly for Nolan (inj, 5); J McManus for Cunnane (half-time); J Kennedy for Conroy (half-time); N Lee for Ó hEochaidh; B Walsh for Murray (inj, 45m).
Referee: R McBrien (Leitrim)