TALKING SHOP Mayo manager Stephen Rochford is pictured in conversation with his selectors Seán Carey (left) and Tony McEntee last Sunday. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
NUI Galway 1-10
ONE of the realities of life for the FBD League is that matches, results and individual displays rarely live long in the memory. The competition is the equivalent of the melon starter at the five-course wedding meal, destined to be overtaken by events sooner rather than later.
But Mayo had to start somewhere after the dramatic and traumatic events of last autumn, and this perennial win over NUI, Galway marked the beginning of a new chapter.
It also heralded the start of Stephen Rochford’s reign as the team’s new manager, and his experimental line-up featured four debutants, all from North Mayo: Padraig O’Hora, Darren McHale, Keith Ruttledge and Conor Loftus.
Only five of the Mayo XV that started the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Dublin four months ago were rolled out here but the unfamiliar-looking selection got the job done.
Injury-time frees from Kevin McLoughlin and goalkeeper Rob Hennelly were the scores that dragged Mayo over the line in the end, as NUI, Galway came up just short in a frantic finish.
The match itself ticked all the boxes that you’d expect for the first game of a new year: lots of hard graft and raw effort that kept the big crowd of 2,390 entertained from gun to tape.
Shane Nally, who was starting just his second game for Mayo, and the tried and trusted duo of Tom Parsons and Kevin McLoughlin were the pick of the Mayo bunch.
But reading too much into the minute details of the match would be to miss the point: this was about the big picture.
“We still have plenty of work to do,” explained Stephen Rochford afterwards. “I thought a lot of the lads tried very, very hard and, things that we asked them to do, in the main I think they tried to do.
“We’ve been on the pitch maybe twice and individual mistakes and little things like that can come back to hurt you. . . I think we had two or three more goal chances, but we weren’t sharp enough at this stage of the season to take them.”
NUI, Galway, managed by former Mayo forward Maurice Sheridan, gave as good as they got all through, and they were full value for their half-time lead of 0-7 to 0-6.
They doubled that advantage early in the second half, but Mayo then put together a very impressive ten-minute spell as they rattled off 1-4 without reply to take the initiative.
The highlight of this purple patch was a brilliant interception and subsequent goal by the razor-sharp Kevin McLoughlin, while Mark Ronaldson, Colm Boyle and Conor Loftus also hit superb points.
At that stage, Mayo looked ready to close the game out.
Instead NUI, Galway rallied impressively again and they wiped out the five-points deficit to draw level for the fourth time when Mayo Gaels forward Adam Gallagher converted a penalty with aplomb on 52 minutes.
Ultimately though all their hard work proved to be in vain as Mayo finished strongly and impressively, running hard at the students to win frees that were converted by McLoughlin and Hennelly (a 50 yard effort).
Earlier in the day, the students had come flying out of the blocks and points from Micheál Daly, Owen Finnerty and Cristóir Davey eased them ahead.
However, Mayo’s second-string side went on to land six of the next seven points as debutant Conor Loftus (2, one free), Kevin McLoughlin (2 frees), Darren McHale and Jason Doherty all found their range.
The nip-and-tuck trend continued right through the second half as well, before Mayo eventually made the decisive break.
“We looked to try and keep the game very simple, keep it positive, tackle and work hard and use the session for their fitness levels,” added Rochford.
We can expect more of the same again next Sunday.
R Hennelly (0-1, 1f); B Harrison, K Keane, P O’Hora; C Boyle (0-1), S McHale, S Nally; J Gibbons, T Parsons; K McLoughlin (1-4, 4fs), M Ronaldson (0-1), D McHale (0-1); K Ruttledge, J Doherty (0-1), C Loftus (0-3, 2fs).
Subs used: M Sweeney for Ruttledge; K Higgins for McHale; C Crowe for Gibbons (inj); G Cafferkey for O’Hora.
D O’Sullivan; K McDonnell, D Cunnane, D Murray; J McManus, L Cullen, A Nolan; C O’Shea (0-1), P Cooke (0-2, 1f); O O’Donoghue, M Daly (0-1), A Gallagher (1-4, 1-0pen, 2fs); K Finn, O Finnerty (0-1), C Davey (0-1).
Subs used: S Moran for O’Donoghue; E Boland for Nolan; E Lavin for Gallagher.
Referee: B Judge (Sligo)
Did you know?
MAYO also beat NUI, Galway by two points in their first FBD League match last year, by 1-13 to 1-11.