Mayo show heart to outgun Farney
WINNING ugly, especially when you have played very poorly in the first half, is a heartening trait in a team and Mayo can only emerge from this dogged encounter at McHale Park with their self-esteem considerably enhanced.
Two crucial goals at vital times when Monaghan had a choke-hold on the run of play proved decisive.
But before talking about those scores and the rest of the game, let's take a brief moment to discuss the best moment -- an unfortunately disallowed goal by Conor Mortimer.
Rarely do we witness in modern Gaelic football a classic moment of spontaneity that speaks to an inherent sublime skill and a football brain that thinks outside the box.
You are more likely to see flashes of genius in hurling, and, while I wouldn't go so far as to call Conor Mortimer a genius, he did produce one of those amazing moments that is wonderfully thrilling to witness.
It happened in the 51st minute when gutsy Aidan O'Shea broke through the Monaghan cover, but was falling under pressure from a tackle.
Prior to hitting the deck he passed the ball out to Mortimer. Surely he'd take it in hand ... but no!
In a flash, and with barely a glance at goal, cheeky Mortimer took the ball first time on his left foot and half volleyed, half chipped, it to the net.
A goal that would have done credit to Wayne Rooney of Man United, but damn and blast that handpass rule -- because O'Shea didn't fist the ball, and referee Rory Hickey ordered a free out.
Such a pity, particularly as the match had more to do with perspiration than inspiration.
Mortimer had worked hard but had been relatively ineffective up to that point, but at least the spark of creativity livened him up and he visibly blossomed for the rest of the match.
Had his goal been allowed, Mayo probably would have enjoyed an easier run to the final whistle.
As it was, they turned a potential embarrassment and a disjointed performance into two precious League points that keeps them on course for an NFL final.
Credit to Monaghan. They present themselves as a physically tough, no-nonsense, hard-working side with a direct football style, and it served them well for most of the game.
The visitors set about Mayo in a very business-like fashion from the start and points by Darren Hughes (45), Stephen Gollogly from play, and a free by big midfielder Paul Finlay had them leading by 0-3 to no score in the first six minutes.
Mayo's opening gambit came from a free by Alan Dillon after seven minutes.
In quick succession after that they pressurised the Monaghan defence, with Tom Parsons forcing a save from keeper Shane Duffy, and Conor Mortimer dropping a shot short into Duffy's hands. For much of the half, Mayo were far from convincing, particularly with their passing and handling. Some of this problem was caused by the focused close-quarters work of an industrious Monaghan, whose players looked a stride ahead in pace to the ball and a touch keener to get the possession.
Paul Finlay made good use of scoring chances earned from frees conceded by Mayo to score three of his side's nine first-half points, with Darren Hughes getting two, the ever-dangerous Conor McManus two, and Stephen Gollogly and Tommy Freeman one each.
Mayo, coming past the 35th minute, had only four on the board -- two points by Dillon; one by Mark Ronaldson, who replaced injured Dillon in the 33rd minute; and one by Donal Vaughan.
Five points down and the game drifting from Mayo -- but then Vaughan and fate combined to give the home team a huge lift before the interval and make it 0-9 to Monaghan and 1-4 to Mayo.
Referee Hickey signalled three minutes of extra time, but play was in the fourth added minute when Parsons and Ronaldson combined to open a chance for Vaughan who charged in and scored the first goal of the game. Vaughan, who got man of the match, described this key moment.
"The goal? I just remember a kick-out came out, I went up to catch it. It broke to Tom Parsons. I just continued my run. Someone popped it into Mark Ronaldson. I was looking for it back.
"I didn't get it. Over to Tom Parsons. Tom Parsons saw me making the run and I think it was Enda Varley was to my left. He kept the space out, and made his man make the decision, either come to me or wait with him, and thankfully I got the ball and just took the chance. It was disappointing for Monaghan.
"By right I'd say we should have been six or seven points down, so it was a big psychological blow to them, but you never give up. You have to keep playing till the final whistle," he said.
If Monaghan were rocked, they had cleared their heads by the restart, as Finlay with three points and Conor McManus with one put the visitors back in charge with a six-point lead.
Enda Varley nicked a point for Mayo in the 47th minute, and two minutes later came hammer-blow number two for Monaghan.
Mayo's Andy Moran launched a skyscraper of a kick from the half-way line aimed at O'Shea, who stood deep in the Monaghan half.
It looked a 60-40 in favour of defender Colm Greenan, but O'Shea fielded high and turned almost in the one movement before slotting the ball into the net.
Over 20 minutes were left, and from then on Mayo, inspired by the driving force of Trevor Mortimer, Kevin McLoughlin, and Vaughan, forced the pace and kicked seven scores compared with Monaghan's two points.
Monaghan's Darren and Kieran Hughes, Paul Finlay, Conor McManus, Dick Clerkin and Stephen Gollogly featured prominently but ultimately Seamus McEneaney's team fell short as Mayo rallied strongly in that last 20 minutes.
Scorers -- Mayo: D Vaughan 1-1, A O'Shea 1-0, A Dillon (1f), M Ronaldson, E Varley (1f) 0-2 each, C Mortimer, C Barrett, K McLoughlin, A Moran, T Parsons 0-1 each. Monaghan: P Finlay 0-8 (7f), C McManus 0-3 (1f), D Hughes 0-2 (1f, 1 45), S Gollogly, T Freeman 0-1 each.
Mayo -- D Clarke; L O'Malley, K Conroy, K Higgins; D Vaughan, T Howley, K McLoughlin; T Parsons, S O'Shea; A Moran, A O'Shea, T Mortimer; E Varley, A Dillon, C Mortimer. Subs: M Ronaldson for A Dillon (33); C Barrett for K Higgins (44); G Cafferky for T Howley (63).
Monaghan -- S Duffy; D McArdle, D Hughes, C Greenan; C Walshe, N McAdam, K Hughes; Dessie Mone, P Finlay; D Clerkin, S Gollogly, Dermot Mone; C McManus, H McElroy, T Freeman. Subs: C Hanratty for H McElroy (22); V Corey for D McArdle (h/t); R Woods for D Malone (55); JP Mone for S Gollogly (60).
Ref -- R Hickey (Clare).