Séamus McEnaney believes Monaghan ‘robbed’ as Mayo hold on for win in Castlebar

Ulster side denied a late penalty in controversial ending to first-round qualifier

Mayo 1-13 Monaghan 0-12

Something had to give. In the end, it was one of the most resilient teams of modern times after a tense, long afternoon in Castlebar. The game finished in a welter of controversy, with referee Barry Cassidy given a Garda escort from the field after passing on what was a clear injury-time penalty shout for Monaghan. Mayo, who have written the manual on the art of survival, raced upfield and grabbed an insurance point from Paddy Durcan. They were flawed and imperfect and frail at times here. But no matter. They live on.

Monaghan, an enduring force in elite football, exit with a bagful of regrets. They missed chances they would normally punish but as they trucked back for the consolation of Saturday night beers, it was the closing act which would play on their minds. The Monaghan manager went straight to the referee at the final whistle and acted as both security guard and chief prosecutor as the official was heckled by incensed Monaghan supporters.

“I protected him as best I could. But I told him straight out exactly what I am after saying here. We feel we were robbed of a stonewall penalty.


“Listen, I wasn’t aggressive or anything like that. I am frustrated, I am very emotional. This is a Monaghan team that we love, that the people of Monaghan love. We travelled here in our thousands today. All we want is fair play. But let’s park that for a second. Mayo were very good as well.”

Well, in patches. There is something of Richard Harris after a bruising week on the tiles about the way Mayo start football matches. Everything hurts, the movement is stiff and they carry the emotional scars of a thousand disastrous love affairs. But a cold shower, a nip of cologne and when they look in the mirror, somehow there’s a movie star looking back at them. So it goes with this mob. Sooner or later, they remember who they are.

They watched Monaghan’s bright opening here and then responded by firing 1-4 without reply, with the familiar turnover machine gradually making its presence felt. Their cause was aided by the black carding of McManus in the fifth minute and a turnover by Cillian O’Connor, who trapped Ryan McAnespie tight against the stand sideline and set Aidan O’Shea off running.

Oisín Mullin was at the end of the fast break and his shot resulted in a penalty for the shot block. The Mayo crowd then saw the penalty they wished they had seen in last year’s All-Ireland final against Tyrone. Cillian O’Connor’s place kick was clean and high and unstoppable. Trailing 1-5 to 0-3 after 25 minutes, Monaghan did the thing they do best. The stuck to their guns.

Gary Mohan has been a brilliant addition to the front line, although every time you watch him play you can’t help thinking that there’s a hard rock mid-Ulster rock band even now wondering where the hell their bass player has disappeared too. He’s unconventional and full of energy and got wired into the task of unsettling the great Lee Keegan from the get-go, with two points to his name after five minutes.

Elsewhere, Jack McCarron showed signs of carrying the splendour of his league campaign into this knock-out theatre: he slipped in striking his third point but the connection was so pure, it still cut the posts. Given that Monaghan had missed three place-ball opportunities they would normally chalk up, they could live with trailing to O’Connor’s penalty. It was 1-7 to 0-7 when they retired to the shade of the dressingroom and even the children knew that the real stuff had yet to come.

But that real stuff included a heavy anxiety-laded game that settled over the ground: a realisation that the loser’s prize was teachers’ holidays. The summer yawning in front of them. Mayo went 20 minutes without a score, including a gilt-edged goal chance for Eoghan McLaughlin, who bust a gut to find himself at the end perfect pass from Cillian O’Connor but his finish was the perfect height for the diving Rory Beggan. The game hung uneasily at 1-8 to 0-9 for what seemed like an eternity: a vibe of Ulster caginess took hold and both sides were guilty of over caution and poor shooting.

And, remember, it was warm on that field: a proper June bank holiday Saturday. The athletes were tiring. The withdrawal of McManus after 57 minutes was a concession that Monaghan would need to find a new savior if they were to extend their summer.

Mayo lived with the slower tempo and found ways to keep their noses ahead. A Keegan score energised the home crowd and just when the day seemed done – Mayo ahead to 1-12 to 0-10 and injury-time looming, there was suddenly fireworks everywhere.

Monaghan are always magnificent when asked to chase a game with time running out. Brilliant defensive pressure forced two turnovers and quick points to leave a bare goal between them. Then O’Shea almost undid a fine afternoon’s work with a disastrous back pass which Seán Jones, the Monaghan substitute, intercepted. Keegan arrived to dispossess him, all of Monaghan screamed penalty but the game continued.

That was it. Monaghan rode their luck and courage during the league but they ran into an equally cussed bunch here and it was always going to be a tough assignment.

McEnaney rejected the idea that this would see the end of a team of absolute warriors.

“These boys have given their heart and soul to Monaghan. There is nobody in that dressingroom who is going to make any decision any time quick. We have unbelievable ambassadors. There is still loads left in the legs of them fellas. That’s it for the night.”

So farewell, Monaghan.

Mayo will be nobody’s favourites for the All-Ireland after this. And, of course, after this nobody will fancy meeting them either.

MAYO: 1 R Hennelly (0-1, free); 3 O Mullin, 2 L Keegan (0-1), 6 J McCarron; 4 E Hession, 5 P Durcan (0-1), 7 E McLaughlin (0-1); 8 A O’Shea, 9 M Ruane (0-1); 10 B Walsh, 11 A Orme, 12 D O’Connor; 13 J Carr, 14 J Carney (0-1), 15 C O’Connor (1-6, 1-0 pen, five frees).

Subs: 22 K McLoughlin for 13 J Carr (51 mins), 23 D MacHale (0-1) for 11 A Orme (59), 24 C Loftus for 10 B Walsh (66), 25 J Doherty for 14 J Carney (68), 17 P O’Hora for 15 C O’Connor (73).

MONAGHAN: 1 R Beggan; 2 K Duffy (0-1), 4 R Wylie, 3 C Boyle; 5 K O’Connell, 6 D Ward, 7 R McAnespie; 8 D Hughes, 9 N Kearns; 10 C McCarthy (0-1), 11 K Hughes, 12 M Bannigan (0-1); 13 J McCarron (0-3, one mark), 14 G Mohan (0-2), 15 C McManus (0-1, free).

Subs: 20 A Woods for 11 K Hughes (50 mins), 22 C Leonard (0-1) for 10 C McCarthy (54), 25 S Carey (0-2, two frees) for 15 C McManus (57), 26 S Jones for 12 M Bannigan (64), 19 F Kelly for 8 D Hughes (69).

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times