MOBILE OPERATOR Mayo’s Fergal Boland faces off with Monaghan’s Gavin Doogan during Saturday night’s Allianz League match in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
THE late Páidí Ó Sé reckoned this was the time of year to be ‘blowing out the dirty petrol’. Technically, he was talking about January, but though we’re now officially into Spring, there was no shortage of dirty petrol in Castlebar on Saturday night. While MacHale Park gleamed under the floodlights, the early-season cobwebs were obvious among both teams.
A Mayo side fielding only seven players who started the All-Ireland final replay last October made lots of mistakes and often looked disjointed. Having somehow found themselves ahead at half-time, they were always playing catch-up after falling behind to Darren Hughes’s goal two minutes after the restart. Though he led the line well, Cillian O’Connor was his side’s only scorer in the second half.
Monaghan were better, but not much better. Thirteen wides hints at their level of squanderlust, and they were repeatedly punished for dissent. But they deserved their victory, which came despite the sending-off (for a second yellow card) of Karl O’Connell. They were more aggressive, and their margin of victory might have been greater were it not for the heroics of Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke.
The many little skirmishes that broke out in the second half added to the sense of an arm wrestle that never properly got into a rhythm. There was very little to write home, tweet, or Snapchat about.
A crowd of 10,817 braved the cold to witness Mayo’s first National League game of 2017, and most were in situ to see Fergal Boland open the scoring with a fine point. But the next 20 minutes belonged to Monaghan, who took over at midfield. Conor McManus punished Mayo indiscipline, converting a 45’ and three frees. Farney midfielder Darren Hughes pointed from play with the aid of the woodwork, while David Clarke raced out to deny Conor McCarthy a goal.
Stephen Rochford, standing between the press-box and the VIP section for the first half, wasn’t pleased with how Mayo started, but they eventually found their feet. Cillian O’Connor teed up Evan Regan for a fine score, then punished a foul on Jason Doherty. Kevin McLoughlin weighed in with an excellent point, then set up Alan Freeman for another (with his left foot). And Evan Regan’s free gave Mayo an improbable 6-5 half-time lead.
But Monaghan struck for the game’s only goal just after the resumption. The visitors swept downfield, where Conor McManus teed up Darren Hughes, who rolled the ball home. Captain Colin Walshe landed a monster point soon after, and Mayo were playing catch-up from then on.
Cillian O’Connor tapped over two frees on either side of a Thomas Kerr beauty. Rory Beggan left his goal to land a long-range Monaghan point, though his subsequent efforts proved unsuccessful. Conor McManus’s first point from play left four between them.
Cillian O’Connor scored from out on the left wing just before O’Connell was sent off, and suddenly momentum seemed to be swinging Mayo’s way as O’Connor punished further Monaghan dissent with another free.
But Gavin Doogan’s high, hanging point left Monaghan three up, and David Clarke came a long way from goal to make what Midwest Radio analyst John Maughan called ‘a superb intervention’, denying Owen Clarke. Two further Cillian O’Connor points – one a beauty from the left, the second another ‘gimme’ free – left just one between them. Diarmuid O’Connor saw his shot blocked following a good move involving Fergal Boland and David Drake, and McManus had the last word with another monster point.
Whatever happens in 2017, this match is unlikely to loom large in the post-mortems when the championship is over. There’s even a chance it could end up being what former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness called ‘one of the disguised days’ – a bad day from which good things come. But on Saturday night, it seemed like a pretty good disguise.
R Beggan (0-1, 1f); F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; K Duffy, N McAdam, C Walshe (0-1); D Hughes (1-1), K Hughes; K O’Connell, S Carey, G Doogan (0-1); C McCarthy, T Kerr (0-1), C McManus (0-6, 3f, 1 45’).
Subs used: D Malone for C McCarthy (h-t); R McAnespie for S Carey (52 mins); O Duffy for T Kerr (58 mins); J Mealiff for N McAdam (67 mins).
D Clarke; D Newcombe, K Higgins, P Durcan; C Boyle, S Coen, D Drake; D Vaughan, D Kirby; F Boland (0-1), K McLoughlin, J Doherty; E Regan (0-2, 1f), C O’Connor (0-7, 5f), A Freeman (0-1).
Subs used: D O’Connor for E Regan (48 mins); T Parsons for D Kirby (53 mins); A Moran for A Freeman (55 mins); C O’Shea for J Doherty (67 mins).
Referee: C Lane (Cork)