Mayo fight hard to rack up first league win

Monaghan suffered a second consecutive defeat as they missed Conor McManus

Monaghan 1-12 Mayo 2-11

Mayo are breathing still. A game that confirmed that this league fare is far more fun 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.

For Monaghan, this is a second defeat in a row against one of the big guns their lack of a back-up for Conor McManus was glaring. For the second week in a row, they went the whole of the second half without a score from play from anyone other than their All Star forward. They were in with a shout throughout but couldn’t get it done.

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. For much of the time, Sephen Rochford’s side didn’t have it in them. They were slow and unsure in possession and regularly ran into too many numbers in the Monaghan defence.

As the game progressed however, the home side found that gaining possession was only one half of the battle. Ger Cafferkey was doing an admirable strait-jacket job on Conor McManus and, as is so the case when their main man struggles, converting that possession to scores was a trial for them. They squandered plenty of chances and kept Mayo in the game.

An early penalty put them 1-2 to 0-2 ahead after Conor McManus tapped home the rebound from a Robbie Hennelly save. But Mayo dragged them back three minutes later when Conor Loftus skated along the endline and buried low to Rory Beggan’s left.

All the same, it was largely good stuff from Monaghan. Shane Carey and Thomas Kerr slung over smart points to push them into a 1-5 to 1-2 lead but when they needed to push on, they couldn’t. Diarmuid O’Connor was immense for Mayo and when he and Conor O’Shea landed gorgeous scores, it was the start of a purple spell.

Between the 21st and 45th minute, Mayo outscored Monaghan 1-5 to 0-0. 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 10 minutes after the break.

Monaghan are nothing if not persistent though and they worked their way back to parity through McManus’s frees. With five minutes to go, the scoreline read 1-12 to 2-9 and the game was anyone’s.

Mayo came good though and Hennelly’s frees carried the day.

Monaghan: Rory Beggan (0-1, 45); Colin Walshe, Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie; Kieran Duffy, Fintan Kelly (0-1), Karl O'Connell; Neil McAdam, Darren Hughes; Shane Carey (0-1), Dermot Malone, Thomas Kerr (0-1); Owen Duffy, Daniel McKenna, Conor McManus (1-8, 0-8 frees). Subs: Ryan McAnespie for Owen Duffy, half-time; Barry McGinn for Malone, 46 mins; Conor Boyle for Kieran Duffy, 47 mins; Conor McCarthy for McKenna, 58 mins.

Mayo: Robbie Hennelly (0-2, frees); Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Michael Hall; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Shane Nally; Tom Parsons, Seamie O'Shea; Diarmuid O'Connor (1-1), Aidan O'Shea, Kevin McLoughlin (0-2); Evan Regan (0-3, 0-2 frees), Conor Loftus (1-0), Conor O'Shea (0-2). Subs: Jason Doherty for Aidan O'Shea (black card), 8 mins; Mikey Sweeney for Loftus, 45 mins; Donal Vaughan for Keegan (black card), 51 mins; Chris Barrett for Nally, 57 mins; Jason Gibbons for Conor O'Shea, 65 mins; Andy Moran for Regan, 67 mins.

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times

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