After leaving the senior panel last year he was well down in the county’s goalkeeping pecking order behind first-choice David Clarke and Kenneth O’Malley.
Then in June, Clarke and O’Malley picked up injuries in quick succession and Mayo suddenly had a custodian crisis.
James Horan flicked through his phone for Hennelly’s number.
“He got the opportunity. He was probably frustrated he wasn’t involved and he’s performed exceptionally well,” admitted Mayo selector Tom Prendergast.
“Robbie is an ambitious footballer. He was playing well for Breaffy and was in pretty good shape. He fitted in seamlessly. It was fantastic that we had a ’keeper who played through 2011 to come in. That’s the way it falls for you.”
It was toughest for Clarke though. The story of his career so far reads, seven Connacht and one All-Ireland club medal in his back pocket but he only played in one of those for a variety of reasons.
“Your mind is probably in a slightly different place, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not about me and my injury, it’s about Mayo getting over the line,” Clarke said.
“Things aren’t all that different. I still train pretty much every day. You concentrate on getting the maximum out of every training session.
“I think the best way to approach it is not to think too much about it, just concentrate on what you can do, your everyday training or your rehab. If I can help any of the lads, I do.”
John Madden is one of the few who can understand what Clarke is going through. His debut season for Mayo came in 1996 when they lost an All-Ireland final replay to Meath. The following year he dislocated his thumb six weeks before the opening championship game against Galway. “Peter Burke was drafted in. Even though I was back before the Galway game they went with Peter and he was the ’keeper of the generation and became the incumbent. It was very hard to get the jersey back,” he said.
“Even though David Clarke could be fighting fit, despite the fact he would be recognised as one of the best keepers in the country, the nature of the position is that you’re not going to swap out Hennelly.”
In 1996, Mayo were within minutes of ending their All-Ireland title famine — until a Hail Mary effort from Colm Coyle bounced over Madden’s crossbar to rescue the Royals and force a replay which they won.
The debate still rages over whether Madden should have advanced off his line to catch the effort.
“The actual moment is not exactly frozen in my mind. What might be frozen is immediately after the game I was grabbed for an interview and you’d be sort of shook as the realisation sets in that ‘oh my god I’ve been involved in an incident that one way or another has led to us not winning an All-Ireland’.
“I was going through a 10 to 15-minute period of ‘ah shit, have I f**ked up here’. We went into the dressing room afterwards and Martin Carney, who was a forwards’ coach I think, came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘that had nothing to do with you, that was just one of those things’.
“In terms of regrets it was probably the replay. Meath got a penalty. Kenneth Mortimer had to pull back Tommy Dowd I think after I tried to catch a ball when I should have punched it. They got the penalty but that would stick a bit. It’s like everything though. Would I have done anything different, would I have preferred if we won the All-Ireland? They’re life lessons along the way. You learn from the experience and move on.”