Another new era for the Mayo senior footballers got off to a solid start with a hard-fought victory over the students of NUI, Galway at MacHale Park, Castlebar.
Lining out with only three of the side that started last August’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay defeat by Kerry, Mayo finished strongly to pip NUIG at the post.
Late frees from Evan Regan and Adam Gallagher got the job done for the Connacht champions as NUI, Galway’s over-dependency on Peadár Ó Gríofa for scores eventually caught up with them.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we’re happy to have got the win. We came in with the intention of looking at new players, we did that today, but we’re only into our training schedule, we’ve a lot of work to do,” Mayo’s joint manager Pat Holmes said.
“NUIG have Sigerson next month so they have a greater level of fitness than we have. They came out of the blocks hard, competed very well around the middle of the field, and caused us a lot of problems,” added Noel Connelly, the other half of the partnership.
“On the balance of play they were everybody bit as good as us, but, for us, in terms of building a team and trying guys in new positions, it was nice to win it.”
NUI, Galway deservedly led at half-time 1-7 to 0-8 with their marksman-in-chief, Peadár Ó Gríofa weighing in with 1-4 of that tally.
His goal arrived on 29 minutes after Mayo defenders Ger Cafferkey and Stephen Coen were unable to deal with a probing delivery from NUI, Galway full-back Kevin McDonald.
O’Gríofa’s tidy finish propelled the visitors ahead but the outstanding Neil Douglas (who finished with four points from play) pulled a score back just before the break.
Six players got on the scoresheet for Mayo in that opening period (including Jason Doherty who was black carded just seconds before half-time).
Mayo’s only clear-cut goalscoring opportunity was taken instinctively by corner-forward Mark Ronaldson eight minutes after the restart. His smart finish from close-range eased Mayo ahead again and was the stand out moment of a pedestrian third quarter.
The unerring Ó Gríofa steered over another free to tie things for the fourth time but Mayo, driven on by the inspirational Chris Barrett, were determined to get back to winning ways.
Three points in seven minutes from Douglas, Barrett and Regan (free) pushed them clear and, despite the best efforts of flawless free-taker Ó Gríofa, NUIG were unable to beat Mayo for the first time since 2009.
“The message today was ‘work hard’, simple as that,” said Pat Holmes. “It’s January 4, you want to improve your fitness levels and you want fellas with a good work ethic.”
Meanwhile, Keith Higgins was also confirmed as the new Mayo captain for 2015, succeeding Andy Moran. All Star Cillian O’Connor is the new vice-captain.
MAYO: R Hennelly; D McHugh (0-1), G Cafferkey, S Coen; C Barrett (0-1), K Keane, C Crowe; J Gibbons, A Corduff; N Douglas (0-4), A Gallagher (0-1, 1f), M Conroy (0-1); E Regan (0-3, 3fs), J Doherty (0-1), M Ronaldson (1-1).
Subs: A Freeman for Doherty (black card, half-time); M Sweeney for Conroy (half-time); K Rogers for Cafferkey (half-time); B Moran for Corduff (46m); G Cafferkey for Douglas (inj, 51m).
NUIG: D O’Sullivan; D Murray, K McDonald, L Cullen; R Kiely, D Cunnane, A Nolan; E Ó hEochaidh, S Moran (0-1); C Connolly, C Davey (0-1), D Comer (0-1); P Ó Gríofa (1-7, 7fs), S Conroy, K Gibbons (0-1, 1f).
Subs: F Reilly for Nolan (inj, 5); J McManus for Cunnane (half-time); J Kennedy for Conroy (half-time); N Lee for Ó hEochaidh; B Walsh for Murray (inj, 45m).
Referee: R McBrien (Leitrim)