Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly got their senior management tenure off to a winning start in Elverys MacHale Park on Sunday. The fare on show wasn't anything that will be remembered for long, but it got a few miles in the legs of a a couple of new and some returning faces in green and red.
The starting 15 showed no less than 12 changes from the last Mayo team to go out into battle last summer. While the he was happy with the win, Holmes acknowledged afterwards that they were only really getting going with the team. “We're happy to have won the game, we came in with the intention of looking at some new players and we did that today. We're only getting into our training schedule and we've a lot of work to do, we made a huge amount of mistakes and we've an awful lot to work on.”
While Keith Higgins was named as the captain for the team this year earlier in the weekend the Ballyhaunis man wasn't on duty on Sunday and it was left to Michael Conroy to skipper the first Holmes and Connelly senior team sent into competitive action. New faces to get a run out included Hollymount-Carramore's, Darren McHugh and Alex Corduff from Ballina Stephenites, while there were returns to action for Mark Ronaldson, Neil Douglas and Evan Regan. The three forwards who had been out of the Mayo set up for a number of years contributed 1-8 of Mayo's total and will be happy enough with their performances. Douglas in particular looked very lively and covered a lot of ground along with chipping in with 0-4 from play, before he was forced out of the game after 51 minutes just after he landed his fourth point.
There were two changes to the Mayo from the team selected on the program shortly before throw in, with Kevin Keane coming in for Donal Vaughan and Jason Doherty replacing Alan Freeman.
It was the students who started brightest with sharp shooting Peader O'Griofa from Kikeerin kicking the first two points of the day from free kicks inside the first five minutes. Over the 60 minutes the Gaeltacht man was a constant thorn in the side of the Mayo defence, finishing the day with 1-7 to his name and going very close to snatching a second late goal, only for Robert Hennelly to pull off a top class save to deny him.
Douglas got the ball rolling for the Mayo attack ten minutes in with a good score from the right hand side after he finished off a move involving Doherty and Adam Gallagher. He tied the contest up a minute later after Michael Conroy had done the donkey work down the left hand side and found Douglas free on the other wing, giving the Castlebar man the time he needed to sweep the ball over the bar. NUIG pushed their noses in front thanks to another pointed free this time from Louisburgh's Kevin Gibbons from the MacHale Road side of the ground.
Mayo then hit a little hot spot as the rolled off five unanswered points in six minutes. Darren McHugh continued his run up field after he cleared the ball and was on hand to put it between the posts after 13 minutes. Jason Doherty clipped the ball over the bar, after some neat interplay between Caolan Crowe and Michael Conroy a minute later. Evan Regan got his first score of the day when he converted a close range free after his clubmate Alex Corduff had been hauled to the ground unceremoniously and Michael Conroy crowned his captain's role for the day by chipping in with a nice point to put Mayo 0-6 to 0-3 into the lead. The final score in that run was to come from the boot of another returning face, Mark Ronaldson who got his first score of the day with a close in finish from play.
The game swung back in the direction of the students though in the final ten minutes of the half with two more O'Griofa pointed frees and scores from Damien Comer and Sean Moran leveling the contest up with 27 minutes gone on the stopwatch. Things were about to get better for Tommy Joyce's side. Mayo turned over the ball just past the half-way line and the students drove the ball long in on top of Comer, Stephen Coen did well to palm the ball away from the grasp of the Galway man, but it ricocheted off another Mayo defender into the path of O'Griofa who was one-on-one with Robert Hennelly and he made no mistake in nailing the first goal of the afternoon. Mayo did manage to cut the gap to two points before the half-time whistle when Douglas nailed his third point from a tight angle and the final action of the half, was Jason Doherty being shown a black card after an innocuous enough looking tussle in the left corner of the park.
Half-time saw Mayo introduce Mikey Sweeney, Keith Rodgers and Alan Freeman, with Doherty, Ger Cafferkey and Conroy making way. The second half took it's time getting going and it was seven minutes in before there was the first score in the half. Douglas bombed the ball in on top of Freeman who did really well to win it. The Aghamore man hand passed it off to Regan who spotted Ronaldson free inside by himself and the Shrule-Glencorrib man found the back of the net from close range to put Mayo back into the lead. The middle third of the half also failed to spark into life with just two O'Griofa points from frees and one pointed free from Regan the return for both sides efforts on the scoreboard. Mayo managed to tag on three points without reply over the next seven minutes, with Douglas, Chris Barrett and Regan the men getting the scores that looked to have the game won as it entered the home straight. However, O'Griofa cut the gap back to just two points a minute before the 60 minutes were up and when it was signaled that there would be five minutes injury time the students found another gear. First O'Griofa had a great goal chance only for Hennelly to deny him and then Comer dragged his effort wide of the post all within 60 seconds of each other. O'Griofa then narrowed the gap back to a single point three minutes into the added on time. But Mayo held their nerve and Adam Gallagher nailed a long range free for the contests final score and the full time whistle went shortly afterwards.
It's a winning start for the Holmes and Connelly ticket, but that's all that can be really taken from it. Bigger, tougher and more questioning challenges lie ahead in the future.
Mayo: N Douglas (0-4 ), M Ronaldson (1-1 ), E Regan (0-3, 3f ), M Conroy (0-1 ), A Gallagher (0-1, 1f ),C Barrett (0-1 ), D McHugh (0-1 ), J Doherty (0-1 )
NUIG: P O'Griofa (1-7,7f ), K Gibbons (0-1, 1f ), D Comer (0-1 ), C Davey (0-1 ), S Moran (0-1 )
Mayo:R Hennelly; D McHugh, G Cafferkey, S Coen; C Barrett, C Crowe, K Keane; J Gibbons, A Corduff; N Douglas, A Gallagher, M Conroy; E Regan, J Doherty, M Ronaldson. Subs: M Sweeney for M Conroy, K Rodgers for G Cafferkey, A Freeman for J Doherty (BC ), B Moran for A Corduff, G Cafferkey for N Douglas
NUIG: D O'Sullivan; D Murray, K McDonald, L Cullen; R Kiely, D Cunnane, A Nolan; E O hEochaidh, S Moran; C Connolly, C Davey, D Comer; P O'Griofa, S Conroy, K Gibbons. Subs: F Reilly for A Nolan, J McManus for D Cunnane, J Kennedy for S Conroy, N Lee for E O hEochaidh, B Walsh for D Murray, N Hickey for R Kiely.
Ref: R McBrien (Leitrim )