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Rob Hennelly's second coming is a blessing for Mayo


Robert Hennelly, Mayo

Robert Hennelly, Mayo

Robert Hennelly, Mayo

For some context and perspective to the second chance that presented itself, Rob Hennelly need only look to the goalkeeping community's principal to realise how unlikely it was.

Since Stephen Cluxton first bedded down as their No 1 choice goalkeeper in 2002, he has missed just one championship game in 67 that Dublin have played.

A raft of potential challengers have been seen off in much the same way that Tipperary hurling goalkeeping great Brendan Cummins stood firm over two decades.

By their nature, goalkeepers last longer and are less exposed to injury. So, the window of opportunity for just one position narrows even further.

Hennelly would have weighed all this up before making the call to leave the Mayo squad just after their Connacht semi-final win over Leitrim in 2012.

He had been first choice during the 2011 championship, but with David Clarke reclaiming his place and an employment contract in the communications industry in Dublin that didn't give him the flexibility to train as he would have liked, a difficult choice had to be made.

So, he cut himself loose, using the furore over Conor Mortimer's poorly-timed departure to slip out quietly. The road back, he understood, could never be straightforward.

"I'm comfortable with pressure, I must say, in the sporting kind, but it's the external pressures that really dictate how you're feeling and if you're enjoying things or not. I just wasn't enjoying it, so I left," Hennelly said.

The regret didn't take long to kick in. Nor did the realisation that he had bumped himself so far down the queue.

"I suppose it was after three or four months. I'll never forget, I was sitting up in the upper Hogan Stand looking down on the All-Ireland final thinking, 'Jesus, when am I going to be back playing with Mayo'.

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"I kind of thought it was the right thing to do at the time. I felt like the right decision was to leave the panel, but I regretted it hugely and it did look like I was never going to get back in.

"I said then I was going to put in the effort and move home. But circumstances didn't really open up for me because there were two very good goalkeepers."

Clarke had produced a couple of magnificent saves that season; Kenneth O'Malley had tied down the role as reserve, while Paul Mannion was graduating from the U-21s.

Hennelly made sure in the off-season to check in with James Horan and let him know his situation had changed. With Cathal Freeman, a member of the Mayo squad in 2013, he had set up a web development and social media management business in the west that gave him more freedom.


"I would have contacted James saying, 'Listen, I'm back in the right frame of mind and I've moved home and I've got a job at home'. I was making it known that I was making myself available."

He still knew that something extraordinary would have to happen for that window of opportunity to nudge open even a fraction. But when Clarke tore his hamstring so badly, the muscle came away from the bone and O'Malley fractured his ankle in the space of a few weeks, the freak sequence of events he required had unfolded.

Two men's bad luck was another man's good fortune.

Mannion is a progressive 'keeper, but Hennelly's experience weighed heavily in his favour.

"I didn't ask too many questions when James asked me back. Initially, he said it might be only two or three weeks. I said, 'Two or three days and I'll be happy.' I haven't looked back since."

Clarke has only recently returned to club action, while O'Malley is still struggling to shake off the ankle injury.

"They weren't just little niggles, they were bad injuries and it was an ill wind that blew some good for me. That's just the way it happens sometimes in football and you just have to make the most out of it."

Hennelly didn't take long to make up for lost time and produced a series of great saves in the All-Ireland final from Michael Darragh Macauley and Eoghan O'Gara, in particular, to help justify the recall.

"I felt like I'd matured a lot. I had a new appreciation for it. Sometimes you do need to go away to come back stronger.

"I was enjoying my training and enjoying the atmosphere and I played well, but there's definitely areas I could improve on.

"Was it Team Sky who introduced the 1pc improvement motto? I look at it and say I could improve nearly 10pc in nearly every aspect. Kick-outs are obviously the big thing now, you are in control of the set-piece and that's something I've put a lot of work into this year.

"They were kind of minding me last year, so I didn't do much physical conditioning, but I've put a lot more effort into my strength."

Hennelly believes the perception of Mayo as a team burdened by defeats in successive All-Ireland finals is misplaced.

"Externally looking in, I'm sure everyone is saying, 'How are they going to do it'? But the way we look at it is, we've more experience than anyone else now. We've been very consistent over the last three years, but we've areas that we need to practice on and they've been highlighted because we've been beaten in the last two All-Ireland finals.

"We know exactly what we have to do. So in a way, we're in a very good position. The only thing is, when you're starting all over again down at the bottom, it can be tough too."

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