Mayo snatched a crucial draw from the jaws of defeat with a last gasp heroic kick from net-minder Robbie Hennelly against Donegal in the first round of the National league.
Amazingly, this was the third league game in a row Mayo have Drawn with Donegal with last gasp equalisers. Who can forget Kevin Mcloughlin's late late equaliser in Ballybofey in 2018 that kept Mayo in division one? And least we forget the 13 steps he took before he broke Donegal hearts and maintained Mayo's proud 21-year stint in the top division, and what about James Durcan's blinder of a shot in the same venue last time we played Donegal in the league in 2020, when we absolutely stole a draw that we didn't deserve?
The importance of Hennelly's kick may not be realised until the league concludes in two months' time. It could be the difference between survival or not or even making it into a league final. No question, Hennelly was Mayo's hero of the day, as, prior to his inspiring equaliser, he brilliantly saved a penalty from Paddy McBrearty when Donegal were three points up.
Had that gone in, a six-point lead would have been virtually unsurmountable in such deplorable conditions. Hennelly also pulled off two excellent first half saves, especially the flick towards goal from Donegal’s best player on the day, Michael Langan, that was finding its way to the corner of the net, only for Hennelly to somehow scramble across his goal to keep it out.
Donegal will be disgusted they didn't close out this game having dominated it for long periods. When they went four points up in the second half after Michael Murphy thumped over the resulting 45 from Hennelly's penalty save, it still looked like an irreversible lead. Also, taking into account that Mayo were down to 14 men after newly-appointed captain Stephen Coen was issued with a second yellow card for the penalty foul on Michael Murphy, they will wonder how they didn't win it.
The first half was a deplorable spectacle from a Mayo perspective. Only three points scored, two from frees by Ryan O'Donoghue and a fine effort from Eoghan McLaughlin after a great penetrating run from fit-again Brendan Harrison. Mayo had too many passengers in that first half and the management had no choice but to change things around at the break, hauling off Fionn McDonagh and Aiden Orme and introducing Bryan Walsh and Aidan O Shea.
O'Shea’s impact was instant as he fetched the restart to put his team on the front foot. Mayo pressed hard but Donegal were always able to keep them at arms length thanks mainly in kind to the accuracy of Michael Langan. When Coen was sent off and Donegal went four up, it looked like there was no way back, but in typical Mayo fashion, they dug in, chased and harassed everything that moved in a Donegal jersey, very often turning over ball high up the field.
Paddy Durcan led the charge from the back, scoring two inspirational points, while Brendan Harrison and Eoghan McLaughlin carried the ball to great effect. The last time we saw Jason Doherty in a Mayo jersey was in a Super 8's round three game, against the same opposition in August 2019, when he was stretchered off after a horror cruciate injury.
To compound matters, he did the cruciate in his other knee at Mayo training while trying to get himself back on the team. I honestly wasn't sure if we'd see him in the green and red again but to his credit, he worked so hard to get back and thankfully he did as he scored three critical second half points from play in pretty terrible conditions.
It was like he was never away. I can only imagine how it felt for him to be back and then to have such a vital contribution. Mayo have plenty to work on going forward. A good few players will know what was produced especially in the first half will simply not cut it at this level.
Debutant Donnacha McHugh found the going tough on Michael Langan, it's a huge step up from anything he would have been used to and I'm sure he will learn. Brendan Harrison looks rejuvenated and will be a huge addition if he can stay fit and when you factor in Lee Keegan, Oisin Mullin and Matthew Ruane to the equation and hopefully Cillian O'Connor will be involved at some stage, things look promising for the future as it adds a lot of strength and depth to the squad, which will be vital, given the condensed season.
Well done to Paddy Durcan and Robbie Hennelly on making the GAA.ie team of the week. Hopefully we will see a few more on it next week after Mayo’s trip to Clones on Sunday where they take on Monaghan in round two. All of these games are of a critical nature as it's imperative to get a foothold in the league. Results against no team are guaranteed in the top tier - as was shown with Armagh’s defeat of Dublin, who look a little out-of-sorts.
Cruel blow for Conroy
Unfortunately, the dreaded news we all feared was confirmed by Mayo GAA on Wednesday that Tommy Conroy's injury that he picked up playing for NUI Galway in the Sigerson cup, was in fact a cruciate knee injury that will leave him out for the year - just when we thought things were looking positive from an injury perspective.