Mayo in good shape as shown by away win over Monaghan

Monaghan's Conor McManus attempts to get away from Mayo's Lee Keegan during Sunday's game at Clones <br />Picture by Colm O'Reilly
Monaghan's Conor McManus attempts to get away from Mayo's Lee Keegan during Sunday's game at Clones
Picture by Colm O'Reilly

WHEN you beat Monaghan in Clones you know you’re a good team. Ignore the fact that Mayo lost their first three games in Division One; they’re in good shape and deservedly posted their first League points of the new season yesterday.

The day belonged to Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly.

Not only did he make a brilliant save to deny Karl O’Connell a goal in the opening seconds of an enthralling game, the Breaffy clubman showed wonderful composure in the closing stages to nail two long-range frees to win it for Mayo.

As soon as the ball left Hennelly’s right boot in the 67th and 74th minutes there was no doubt of its destination.

After losing to Cork, Dublin and Donegal, the Mayo supporters in the Gerry Arthurs Stand celebrated yesterday’s victory like it was a Championship match.

With Hennelly standing over the two placed balls, Mayo were in good hands.

“I actually felt good before hitting them,” said Hennelly (right).

“They were perfect conditions to kick in, so once I made a good strike I was happy enough.

“I felt like we deserved to get the two points. That’s our first points of the campaign. Division One is extremely competitive and a day like today felt like a Championship game.”

The Mayo ‘keeper added: “We maybe weren’t 100 per cent in our first three games and it wouldn’t have been good for us to get relegated. We’ve still a lot of work to do to avoid that. “The attitude was right and we dug deep.”

Afterwards, Mayo manager Stephen Rochford paid handsome tribute to his goalkeeper.

“Rob had a couple of good frees against Dublin, he’d a couple of good frees against Donegal last week and he struck those really, really well and he dug us out with a really good one-one-one from Karl O’Connell early in the game.

“In fairness he produced from the first minute right to the 74th minute.”

As for the hosts, Monaghan produced a sparkling opening 15 minutes but lost their way in the middle part of yesterday’s clash.

Monaghan fell five points behind when Diarmuid O’Connor raised a green flag for Mayo in the 43rd minute but the home side showed great resilience to draw level in the 66th minute thanks to a Conor McManus free before Hennelly took centre stage.

Monaghan’s renowned warrior spirit alone probably would have been enough on another day but not against a Mayo team hungry for their first League points.

The Farneymen gave away cheap possession on too many occasions and couldn’t register a score from play after the 22nd minute mark.

Mistakes by the lively Karl O’Connell and Colm Walshe led directly to two scores for Mayo towards the end of the half.

After the first quarter, the Mayo players realised there was no point running into Monaghan’s defensive web and Conor O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor and Evan Regan hit fine scores from distance.

Mayo, in fact, could have made the second half a breeze had Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin raised further green flags in the 40th and 54th minutes, respectively.

Those two gilt-edged misses kept Monaghan alive right to the end.

Monaghan boss Malachy O’Rourke rued the amount of times his side were turned over.

“I thought we started the game well but it was our own mistakes that cost us,” he said.

“We got turned over an awful lot. I think we got turned over 18 times in the first half and Mayo scored 1-4, 1-5 from that. So it was largely our own mistakes that cost us.

O’Rourke added: “Mayo, in fairness, started the second half well and had a couple of goal chances and could have killed the game off.

“But towards the end we started to get on top again but we just made mistakes again. When we were level we had the ball in our hands a couple of times and gave it away. At this level you’re going to pay for it, and that’s what happened in the end. That’s what disappoints us. I don’t know why that was.

“But, look, Mayo are a quality team who were well up for it. They’re physically a very strong team.”

Monaghan’s go-to man Conor McManus wasn’t given room to breathe throughout yesterday’s clash, with Ger Cafferkey and Lee Keegan among his many markers.

In the 52nd minute Keegan took a black card for his team to halt McManus.

The Clontibret attacker saw his poorly struck penalty saved by Hennelly in the 12th minute but he managed to slot home the rebound to put the home side 1-2 to 0-2 ahead.

But Mayo grabbed a major of their own in the next attack when Conor Loftus pounced on some indecision in the Monaghan defence and the Crossmolina man slotted the ball under the advancing Rory Beggan from a tricky angle.

Mayo, who lost Aidan O’Shea in the early stages to a black card, found their groove midway through the first half and forged ahead [1-6 to 1-5] in first-half stoppage time through Evan Regan’s long range effort.

Man-of-the-match contender Diarmuid O’Connor did brilliantly to hold off Fintan Kelly with one hand and collect Tom Parsons’ high sideline with the other and toe poked the ball through Beggan’s legs to give Mayo a commanding 2-7 to 1-5 lead.

Only for McManus’s ruthless precision from six placed balls in the second half and Mayo’s two missed goal opportunities in the second half, the visitors would have cantered to victory.

But nobody canters to a win over Monaghan, especially in Clones.

The game was still in the balance right until Hennelly’s beautifully struck free in the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time.

“You were looking at three games and no points and maybe a fourth loss in a row,” added Rochford.

“But it wasn’t genuinely something we’d spoken about before the game.

“We never spoke about relegation or Conor McManus or Darren Hughes – because they can fix the minds as much as anything.

“The boys have been in this position before and we just wanted to back up our performances with a win.”

Mayo are finally off and running in Division One – while Monaghan have hit the hard shoulder.