The only thing that will be remembered for a long time after Friday nights game in MacHale Park, will be a trivia question for years to come. Who was the first Mayo player to get a black card? That unfortunate footnote in history has gone to Moy Davitts' Sean Kelly whose Mayo debut came to a premature end ten minutes after it started, when he was shown to the line as the game crept over into injury time.
As for the football itself, it was nothing to write home about as both sides were slack in possession and not as clinical as they would like to have been in front of goal. But with this being only the first game of the year, it won't mind James Horan too much, right now.
The Mayo manager, who was starting his fourth year in charge of the side gave the untested and some panelists their chance to show their stuff. Robbie Hennelly who captained the side was the only one of last years All Ireland final starting side to appear in the first 15. There were debuts for Ballaghderreen's David Drake, Kiltane's John Reilly, Ballintubber's Diarmuid O'Connor (fresh out of minor football ), Mayo Gales Adam Gallagher and Castlebar Mitchels Tom King. While Kelly and last years minor captain Stephen Coen also made their senior bow. Eoghan O'Reilly and Mikey Sweeney were given starts after both men have spent a few years outside the Mayo panel, a reward for their impressive club form last year.
On the field Mayo went in leading by 0-6 to 0-4 at the break, but should have had two goals to their name also at the turn around, with NUIG goalkeeper Donal O'Sullivan pulling off a magnificent save from Tom King five minutes in, after the Castlebar speedster was played by John Reilly. Eight minutes later Darren Coen managed to beat O'Sullivan, but Garrymore's Caolan Crowe playing for the university cleared the ball off the line to deny his fellow south Mayo man.
Mayo went into the lead nine minutes into the game through a Coen free after King was fouled. The Galway side hit back and went into a one point lead by the 14th minute thanks to scores from Cristoir Davey and Louisburgh man Kevin Gibbons. Brendan Harrison leveled the game up with a fine score 17 minutes in and points from Tom King and Ballaghderreen's Keith Rodgers up from defence had Mayo 0-4 to 0-2 up seven minutes before the break. That lead was pushed out to three points by Sweeney a minute later. NUIG pulled the gap back to the minimum over the next few minutes with Gibbons and Shane Moran, with one of the scores of the night on target. Robbie Hennelly with his second attempt from a 45' hit the final score of the half right on the whistle to put Mayo in leading by two at the break.
Darren Coen kicked the first point of the second period from a free less than a minute in, but it would be another ten minutes before the next score arrived from another Hennelly 45. In between those two scores, Mayo had another goal chance but Tom King pulled his effort well wide of the target. Davey and Moran kicked two points in response for NUIG as the game began to run out of pace.
Coen put Mayo three points to the good with eight minutes left with a fine effort from the stand side and repeated the trick a minute later to stretch the Mayo lead out further. But there was chance for NUIG to get themselves back into he game when Sean Moran pulled on the ball on the deck and sent it to the back of the net after Robbie Hennelly had came to punch the ball clear, but failed to get the connection he had hoped for. But the students never pushed on and Coen kicked the next score with a minute left in normal time and Mickey Conroy put the final stamp on the win with a point right at the death and get Mayo off to a winning start for the year.
Mayo: R Hennelly (0-2,2 45' ); K Rodgers (0-1 ), K Keane, E Reilly; B Harrison (0-1 ), S McHale, D Drake; J Gibbons, J Reilly; A Gallagher, C Freeman, D O'Connor; T King (0-1 ), D Coen (0-5,3f ), M Sweeney (0-1 ). Subs: S Coen for B Harrison, B Gallagher for D O'Connor, A Moran for M Sweeney, S Kelly for A Gallagher, C Boyle for K Keane, M Conroy (0-1 ) for S Kelly (BC )
NUIG: D O'Sullivan; C O'Domhnaill, C Crowe, L Cullen; S Driscoll, J McManus, A Nolan; E hEochaidh, C Guckian; K Gibbons (0-1 ), S Moran (1-0 ), J Kelly (0-1 ); I Galvin, S Moran (0-2 ), C Davey (0-2 ). Subs: D Gavin for K Gibbons, K O'Malley for S Moran, N Freeman for C O'Domhnaill
Ref: Michael Duffy (Sligo )