Mayo's 2017 league opener ended in defeat to an aggressive and physical Monaghan in Castlebar last Saturday evening. Despite my declaration last week that Mayo should target the national league for silverware, the target very much now is about survival. Again applause must be given to the 11,000 or so hardy souls who turned out to support the team. The basis for this first round defeat is pure and simple, Monaghan were better prepared and had a better pre season as it was purely obvious going into the final quarter that they had spent more time on the paddock than Stephen Rochford's team.
The Mayo line-up looked reasonably strong but when you looked at the back of the stand and in the press area and noticed club tied Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane along with the injured Ger Cafferky, Brendan Harrisson, Jason Gibbons and the not visible O'Shea brothers Aidan and Seamus (although I am informed they were there ) you realised we could be under pressure. Mayo offered débuts to two players, Donie Newcombe and Fergal Boland. Boland couldn't have got off to a better start pointing with the outside of his boot for the first score of the game although his contribution faded somewhat thereafter it was a promising début. For me Donie Newcombe had an absolute stormer in his first game for Mayo, assured on the ball, aggressive in the tackle, and very comfortable carrying the ball out of dangerous areas, he was coolness personified. The block he executed in the second half was top drawer and inspiring. He made the transition from the Castlebar jersey to the Mayo jersey look very simple indeed.
The first half was a game of two halves. After Boland's score, Monaghan went on a run to go 0-5 0-1 in front thanks mainly in kind to the accurate boot of Conor McManus who proved a real handful for Keith Higgins, although his four first half scores were from placed balls. For the final 15 minutes it was Mayo who dominated scoring five on the spin, the most notable score coming from Alan Freeman after a fine fetch and spin shooting over with his left foot. Freeman was finding the going tough with an aggressive Drew Wylie in the Monaghan fullback line. The killer score in the second half was a goal from Monaghan midfielder Darren Hughes, however, without seeing a replay of the incident and unless my eyes deceived me Conor McManus while in possession handed off (pushed him to the ground ) Keith Higgins in the lead up to Hughes goal. Conor Lane got it wrong, for me it should have been a free out, Higgins will still be disappointed however he went to ground.
Lane missed a few key calls
Another poor call by Conor Lane directly resulted in McManus getting another crucial second half score when Mayo substitute Tom Parsons was clearly being dragged back by one of the Hughes brothers for Lane to miraculously miss it and allow play to go on, McManus did not need a second invite to take the shot on and score. Monaghan corner back Fintan Kelly was having a right grapple with Cillian O'Connor hauling him to the ground, off the ball on several occasions only for none of the officials to see it. It did not bother the linesman one bit who was more concerned with flagging twice for encroachment from two sideline balls, a petty offence in the grand scheme of things. Mayo simply didn't have the legs in the last 10 minutes despite Monaghan being reduced to 14 men. Their wide count of 14 compared to Mayo's 6 highlights their dominance. It also can not be ignored that All-Star goal keeper David Clarke had an inspiring game in goal pulling off three top drawer saves for which he received thunderous applause.
Kingdom comes calling
Mayo's trip to Kerry tomorrow brings its own bit of pressure after that loss. Kerry were flying in Donegal last week despite not having their Dr Crokes contingent. James O'Donoghue looks back to somewhere near his best, while All-Star full forward Paul Geaney scored heavily with 2-4 and rightfully won this week's player of the week. Kerry newcomer Jack Savage will also need watching, scoring 0-3 from play on his début. Although Kerry only ended up winning by a goal they did take their foot off the gas for the final quarter. Two defeats in a row will leave Mayo under severe pressure. The sight of the Kerry jersey will hopefully bring out a performance and result.