Conor McManus rolls back the years as Monaghan beat Mayo to complete great escape

Monaghan 2-14 Mayo 0-14

Monaghan players celebrate with their manager Vinny Corey, top

Frank Roche

Harry Houdini is alive and well and living in Clontibret. Conor McManus rolled back the years to inspire Monaghan to their latest great escape from the relegation trap door, deservedly securing a six-point victory over a final-bound Mayo at Castlebar.

McManus wrapped up his tour de force with a 77th-minute penalty, confidently dispatched past Rob Hennelly with the final kick of a see-sawing contest.

That goal brought the 35-year-old’s tally to 1-7, comprising two marks and 0-5 from play, on a day when the Monaghan old guard came to the rescue of their former teammate, and now manager, Vinny Corey.

The only caveat is that Kevin McStay started with such a weakened hand, their place in the Division 1 final already assured. But that’s only a minor quibble on a day when Monaghan made their own luck.

With Tyrone securing victory over Armagh in Omagh, this victory ensured that Monaghan leapfrogged Kieran McGeeney’s men to ensure they will spend a tenth consecutive season in the top-flight next spring.

The final margin looks emphatic but doesn’t remotely tell the full story. Mayo only trailed by a point (1-6 to 0-8) at half-time and when Paul Towey’s free brought them level within two minutes of the resumption, the signs looked ominous for a Monaghan team now facing the wind.

Instead, McManus popped up with two quickfire points – making it five from play with the game just 39 minutes old. A Jack McCarron free stretched their lead to three, but another Towey free, Darren McHale and Jordan Flynn tied up the game with 55 minutes on the clock.

During a fraught final quarter, Mayo fluffed a couple of chances to edge in front; then Stephen O’Hanlon and Bob Tuohy swapped points; and finally came Monaghan’s winning surge.

Conor McCarthy restored their lead in the 67th minute before two Karl O’Connell foot pass assists set up McManus for his critical brace of converted marks. Ryan O’Donoghue, off the bench, kicked an injury-time free for Mayo but this was countered by O’Hanlon’s second point.

In the game’s final play, with Hennelly pushing into midfield, Monaghan won Rory Beggan’s raking kickout and with the Mayo ‘keeper stranded, Jason Doherty’s despairing pull-down on O’Connell resulted in the inevitable black card – and that ice-cool penalty from McManus to seal their latest incredible escape act.

The big pre-match imponderable at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park was how both teams would approach the contest, with Mayo already through to a league final next weekend while Monaghan were fighting for their Division 1 lives and reliant on favours from others.

With one late change to their previously announced team – Paul Towey displacing 2021 All Star Ryan O’Donoghue – that meant Kevin McStay had made a staggering ten changes from the team that cruised to victory over Donegal.

It was easier to list the survivors from Ballybofey: Sam Callinan, Stephen Coen, Matthew Ruane, Jordan Flynn and the in-form Aidan O’Shea. Amid the musical chairs, McStay handed first league starts of 2023 to eight players, namely returning ‘keeper Rob Hennelly, Pádraig O'Hora, Michael Plunkett, Jason Doherty, Kevin McLoughlin, Frank Irwin, Conor McStay and Towey.

Monaghan had received a timely boost with Friday’s confirmation that the Central Hearings Committee had rescinded Killian Lavelle’s red card against Tyrone, facilitating his inclusion at midfield.

Jack McCarron was also sent off last Sunday – through a combination of yellow and black cards – and he was one of four players promoted at the 11th hour by Vinny Corey, with Karl O’Connell, Shane Carey and the evergreen Conor McManus back in the starting mix for this must-win game.

And barely 40 seconds were on the clock when McManus launched Monaghan’s survival quest with an eye-catching point. That set the trend for an opening quarter during which Mayo – perhaps not surprisingly given all the changes – were defensively loose and lacking the intensity of their opponents.

Monaghan had the wind to begin with, but the manner in which Ryan O’Toole ghosted behind the cover for a fisted point was an ominous portent for his 14th minute goal, when the wandering defender again found himself in far too much space and this time drilled a low shot past Hennelly.

Just three minutes later, McManus was almost through a second goal but, as the veteran attempted to jink past O’Hora, he went to under under a challenge from O’Hora and what appeared to be strong Monaghan penalty claims were waved away.

When McManus cut back onto his right foot for a sublime 26th point from the left wing, the visitors led by 1-5 to 0-3 and their talisman already had 0-3 from play in brackets.

And yet Mayo finished the half far stronger, kicking five of the last six points even into the elements to trail by just 1-6 to 0-8 at the midpoint.


Monaghan: C McManus 1-7 (1-0p, 2m), R O’Toole 1-1, J McCarron 0-3 (1m, 1f), S O’Hanlon 0-2, C McCarthy 0-1.

Mayo: P Towey 0-6f, J Flynn, B Tuohy 0-2 each, S Coen, M Ruane, D McHale, R O’Donoghue (f) 0-1 each.


MAYO – R Hennelly; D McHugh, P O’Hora, S Callinan; M Plunkett, J Doherty, S Coen; B Tuohy, M Ruane; K McLoughlin, F Irwin, J Flynn; C McStay, A O’Shea, P Towey.

Subs: D McBrien for McHugh (ht), D McHale for McLoughlin (inj 37), J Coyne for O’Hora (48), J Carney for Irwin (57), R O’Donoghue for Towey (64).

MONAGHAN – R Beggan; R O’Toole, K Duffy, T McPhillips; K O’Connell, R Wylie, C McCarthy; D Hughes, K Lavelle; S O’Hanlon, M Bannigan, S Carey; K Gallagher, C McManus, J McCarron.

Subs: G Mohan for Carey (ht), K Hughes for McCarron (59), S Jones for Gallagher (68), J Irwin for O’Hanlon (74).

REF – D Gough (Meath)