By Brendan O’Brien, St Tiernach’s Park
Monaghan 0-12 Mayo 0-13
An injury-time point from Paddy Durcan earned Mayo a hard-earned two league points in Clones on Sunday against a Monaghan side that ended the afternoon with just 12 players on the pitch.
The Connacht side was the better of the two for long stretches of the game but Malachy O’Rourke’s men dragged themselves back to parity having trailed by three points with a dozen minutes of normal time to play.
Indiscipline cost them from there on in with experienced defender Ryan Wylie earning a red card for an altercation with Aidan O’Shea and fellow corner-back Barry Kerr following him on the back of a second yellow.
Dermot Malone followed both off the field shortly after Durcan’s winning score having earned a black card and, with all their substitutes used, Monaghan soldiered on for the last few moments with their ranks badly reduced.
“Lucky in some ways to get the win but our overall application was really good for a team that hasn’t done a lot and our prep hasn’t been what we wanted it to be based on weather and all sorts of other little challenges,” said Mayo manager Stephen Rochford.
“When we put ourselves three points up in the second-half we could have controlled it a little bit better but that was just probably evidence of our rustiness.”
It was a game that belied its unpromising spot in the calendar at the back end of January.
Though both sides were missing chunks of their rosters, everyone on duty was completely committed. Monaghan don’t do half-throttle and Mayo met them head-on for every block and tackle in conditions that made handling and passing difficult.
More than a few flashes of class belied the elements and a large crowd heavily swelled by a large travelling contingent – as always – played its part in fuelling an engaging first-half in which the sides drew level three times.
Monaghan started the brighter, mixing a patient passing game with some long, penetrative balls into their two-man full-forward line but Mayo claimed three of the last four points to leave it level at seven points apiece at the break.
Mayo probably felt a bit aggrieved at that.
There were just five minutes squirrelled away when Andy Moran rose for a high ball in the Monaghan area and was barrelled to the ground by goalkeeper Rory Beggan. Play on, said the referee who suggested the Monaghan man had made contact with the ball.
Six minutes later and Evan Regan had a free waved wide despite his strong protests to the contrary. Shortly after half-time and Mayo were again ruing one that got away with Diarmuid O’Connor blasting a good goal opportunity straight at the keeper.
Still, they were lording the midfield and well in control by the end of the third quarter having scored seven of the previous 10 scores and with the likes of defender Eoin O’Donoghue, midfielder Jason Gibbons and Neil Douglas up front doing well on their big auditions.
The final five to 10 minutes was of the helter skelter type that only Gaelic football can deliver. Tempers raged, the odd belt was thrown and some even landed.
Players came off and on and the scoreboard all but stood still for a spell as if rapt by the unfolding frenzy.
Mayo’s chance to claim the win seemed to come and go when Adam Gallagher sent what seemed to be a straightforward tap-over into the arms of a grateful Beggan but then Durcan swept forward all purpose and promise and landed a beauty from distance.
League football at its very best.
Scorers for Monaghan: C McCarthy (0-3, 2f); J McCarron (0-3, 2f); N Kearns, D Garland and K O’Connell (0-2);.
Scorers for Mayo: E Regan (0-5, 4f); N Douglas (0-4, 2f and 2 ‘45’s); P Durcan (0-2); E O’Donoghue and A Moran (0-1).
Monaghan: R Beggan; B Kerr, C Boyle, R Wylie; F Kelly, P McGuirk, K O’Connell; D Hughes, N Kearns; O Duffy, K Duffy, R McAnespie; C McCarthy, J McCarron, D Garland.
Subs for Monaghan: P McKenna for O Duffy (42); D Malone for McCarron (54); D Freeman for Garland (57); D Wylie for K Duffy and C Walshe for McGuirk (both 64); D Ward for McAnespie (70).
Mayo: D Clarke; E O’Donoghue, G Cafferkey, B Harrison; P Durcan, S Capoen, C Boyle; A O’Shea, J Gibbons; D O’Connor, S Nally, K McLoughlin; A Moran, E Regan, N Douglas.
Subs for Mayo: C O’Connor for Douglas (57); A Gallagher for D O’Connor (black card, 59); C Loftus for Moran (62); S Akram for Nally (66); G McDonagh for Boyle (72).
Referee: D Gough (Meath).