Mayo travelled to Croke Park on Saturday evening looking to go four wins from four in Division One of the Allianz Football League.
It wasn’t to be for James Horan’s side as they fell to a comprehensive eight-point defeat against a Dublin side who, despite not firing on all cylinders, never really looked in trouble from the get-go.
On the night, Mayo were lacklustre and lethargic with very few of the starting XV standing out. The one player who could leave the field with his head held high was the goalkeeper, Rob Hennelly, and what a redemption it was for the Breaffy shot-stopper in his first Croke Park appearance since the 2016 All-Ireland final replay.
To re-cap his All-Ireland final nightmare, Hennelly spent the season as back-up to David Clarke. Mayo made it all the way to Croke Park on the third Sunday in September, only to concede two own-goals and draw with the All-Ireland champions when they really should have won.
In a dramatic twist of fate, Hennelly was drafted in for the replay, with many viewing it as a shrewd move as Mayo had struggled with their kick-outs in the drawn game. However, Hennelly’s All-Ireland final came to an early end as he pulled down Paddy Andrews inside the small rectangle, giving away a penalty and receiving a black card in the process.
Mayo went on to lose the game and Stephen Rochford was subsequently hung, drawn and quartered for his decision to play Hennelly ahead of eventual All-Star, Clarke.
Since that October 1st day in 2016, Rob Hennelly had not been seen in Croke Park. In fact, he was rarely seen in a Mayo shirt as David Clarke went on to claim another All-Star in 2017.
Enter James Horan…
The Ballintubber native returned to the Mayo fold for 2019 and the one significant change we’ve seen is the return of Hennelly, the goalkeeper Horan trusted to mind the sticks the last time he guided Mayo to an All-Ireland decider in 2013.
Horan’s faith in Hennelly has clearly paid off as the big Breaffy man has started the league well. His kick-out is as booming as ever, he’s been assured under the high ball, he’s hitting long-range frees and he made six point-blank saves against Dublin.
Had it not been for Hennelly, Saturday evening would have been much grimmer for Mayo fans.
The Breaffy ‘keeper’s night didn’t get off to the best of starts as he sent his first kick-out over the sideline. However, he bounced back on 15 minutes to score Mayo’s first point.
It was a booming kick from way beyond the 45-metre line. The graphics below show just how far out Hennelly was. Granted it may have been a good evening for kickers, but this is a kick that very few players would have been able to make.
It was probably the perfect way to settle the goalkeeper’s nerves on what was no doubt a difficult evening for him mentally. Would he have had such a good game without scoring such a monstrous point? Who knows, but either way, he went on to play a blinder.
The first of his six saves came a few minutes later as he saved well from Paul Mannion who tormented Mayo in the opening 25 minutes.
As can be seen here, Ciaran Kilkenny collects a pass from Eoin Murchan creating a two-on-one situation. As he goes to pass to Mannion, Hennelly is still inside the small rectangle.
Hennelly is smart, as Mannion receives the ball he makes his run to close down the space.
Like a flash, Hennelly was on top of Mannion, leaving the Kilmacud Crokes man with no option but to try to go through the goalkeeper’s legs.
From here on out, Hennelly finished the half strongly. He made his second save of the game in the 28th minute followed by a second point on 33 minutes.
He then had a hectic two-minute spell in first-half injury time making a further two, one-on-one saves in the 36th & 37th minute.
Two points and four saves in the first half alone. Hennelly kept Mayo in the game.
The Breaffy shot-stopper picked up where he left off in the second half and it wasn’t long before he was called into action once more.
Dublin win a free-kick and Niall Scully sends a long hopeful ball into the penalty area. Mannion again waits on the break as Hennelly observes closely.
As the ball breaks to Mannion, Hennelly looks flat-footed. The goal is on and it’s hard not to see him burying it this time.
However, Hennelly again closes down the space leaving Mannion with next-to-no target whatsoever.
It keeps Mayo in the game.
Hennelly saved his best stop for last as once again he was called into action on the 68th minute.
The game has long passed Mayo by at this stage, however, the Breaffy goalkeeper has had a huge game and is not going to let Dublin spoil it by scoring another goal.
Con O’Callaghan this time takes a shot at goal, but it’s dropping way short. It’s dangerous and dropping perfectly for Paddy Andrews to get a hand on it.
Paddy Andrews reaches for the ball. It’s hard to tell if he gets a touch on it or not, but it doesn’t matter, his presence alone is enough to make the situation extremely difficult for Hennelly who shows cat-like reactions to parry the ball away from goal.
It was a bad night for Mayo, but they will learn from it.
Hennelly may have left the field disappointed like the rest of his teammates, but he should at least take some satisfaction from his performance considering his last trip to Croker ended so horribly.
James Horan seems to trust the Breaffy goalkeeper between the sticks, hopefully, he can repay that trust throughout the remainder of the league and into the championship and finally put his All-Ireland ghosts to bed.