Late Hennelly frees secure welcome first brace of points for determined Mayo
Goalkeeper strides forward to convert two monster kicks for Rochford’s side
Karl O’Connell of Monaghan and Brendan Harrison of Mayo. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Inpho
Mayo are breathing still. An afternoon of league fare that was far more engaging than most of what we’ll see in the summer rocked and rolled all the way to the end, when two Robbie Hennelly frees got Stephen Rochford’s side over the line.
Their jubilation at the end showed how badly Mayo’s first league points of 2016 were needed. They’ll still have to scrap their way out of relegation trouble but at least the scrap is there for them to have.
When Lee Keegan said afterwards that it felt like the start of the championship, he was being overly deferential to what Mayo will involve themselves with through June and July.
This was tectonic stuff at times and when Mayo’s need was greatest, it was the likes of Colm Boyle, Ger Cafferkey and Diarmuid O’Connor who came through for them.
To get out of Clones with two points is a fair achievement at any time. To do so on the back of three straight defeats and without Cillian O’Connor, Keith Higgins and, to all intents and purposes, Aidan O’Shea – unluckily black carded after eight minutes – is a season-turning kind of deal.
“We never spoke about relegation,” said Rochford afterwards. “We never spoke about anything bar the Conor McManuses and the Darren Hugheses. They can concentrate the mind as much as what the consequences would be.
“The boys have been in this position before and it was genuinely about backing it up with a win on top of what the performances have been in the last two games.”
When the temperature is highest, their only reliable route to the scoreboard invariably must go through him. Between this game and one-point defeat to Dublin the previous weekend, they have scored 0-14 across the two second halves. McManus has accounted for 0-13 of that (0-12 from frees), with only a Rory Beggan 45 here to back him up.
Much like against Dublin, Monaghan had their opposition stretched here for long stretches. In the first half especially, it was fairly obvious which side was working under new management and which has had a few years of bedding in their systems and structures.
Monaghan delighted in doing what they do – setting up a screen just outside their 45 and daring Mayo to be good enough to break through it.
Their problem was that they couldn’t build a lead. McManus tapped home the rebound when Hennelly saved his 10th-minute penalty but Conor Loftus cancelled it out soon after when he skated along the endline and speared a low finish past Beggan.
Monaghan were in the ascendancy all the same and garnered points from Shane Carey and Thomas Kerr but the biggest gap they managed to open up was three points.
O’Connor was heroic for Mayo and when he, Conor O’Shea and Evan Regan all landed stylish points as the half drew to a close, Monaghan’s rewards for their energetic opening spell looked scant. And where they hadn’t kicked on, Mayo did.
Between the 21st and 45th minute, the visitors hit 1-5 without reply. O’Connor stole in for the Mayo goal, toe-poking under Beggan after a Tom Parsons line ball broke in the Monaghan square. It meant they led by 2-7 to 1-5 after 45 minutes.
The home side kept at it and worked themselves back into the game. McManus was nerveless from frees and with Mayo squandering two 24-carat goal chances at the other end through Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin, Monaghan had it back level with five minutes to go.
But Hennelly loped forward to kick two monster frees and Mayo went home with the points. A familiar story for Malachy O’Rourke’s side who can now feel the breath of Kerry, Cork and Mayo on their necks in the relegation stakes.
“For a long time in the first half in particular I thought we were playing well but our own mistakes were our undoing and that’s always,” said O’Rourke.