The game hinged on four key decisions all of which went the way of the home side — but by far the most controversial came halfway through the allocated six minutes of injury time.
Aidan O’Shea miscued a hand-pass to Lee Keegan in front of his own goals. Monaghan substitute Conor Leonard intercepted and then appeared to be fouled by Keegan.
But after a moment’s hesitation the referee waved on play. Mayo lifted the siege and Paddy Durcan swept over a point at the other end to finally nail shut a game which they looked to have twice secured going down the final straight.
Monaghan midfielder Darren Hughes, manager Séamus McEnaney and a female Monaghan fan all approached the referee after he sounded the final whistle. He was surrounded by a Garda and stewards who escorted him off the field.
McEnaney was adamant that his team should have been awarded a penalty which would have given them the opportunity to level the tie deep in injury time.
“I am not going to sugarcoat this here. We are absolutely very disappointed. We think it was a stone wall penalty there at the end. We were robbed of a penalty. We were robbed of extra-time. There is no grey area.
“Listen, never in my lifetime and I am 20 years managing teams, and managing Monaghan teams, have I ever complained of a referee in my life. Today was disgraceful as far as we are concerned that is my immediate thought.
“These are huge margins: We can do everything. But you can’t legislate for that kind of stuff there today. This Monaghan group of footballers have been phenomenal for football and for the supporters.”
McEnaney said he did his best to protect the referee afterward, but he acknowledged that he told him what he thought of his decisions.
“I told him straight out what I felt. I wasn’t aggressive. But I am very frustrated. We feel we were robbed of a stone wall penalty. And may I add it is not the first time this has happened,” he said.
The first half revolved around two key decisions. After five minutes Conor McManus was black-carded for what appeared an innocuous challenge on Aidan O’Shea. But Cassidy adjudged the foul was a deliberate trip.
Mayo boss James Horan acknowledged the black card was harsh. “But by the letter of the law it appeared a trip.” McEnaney said he didn’t see the incident.
The Mayo goal came via a penalty — a superb effort from Cillian O’Connor — after a foot-block on Oisín Mullin who was Mayo’s free man after McManus’s dismissal.
Mayo led by five points, 1-4 to 0-2, when McManus returned but inspired by Jack McCarron who scored 0-3 in the first half it was a three-point game at half-time in Mayo’s favour, 1-7 to 0-7.
The third quarter was woeful; Monaghan had the advantage of the breeze but only kicked two points while Mayo’s only score was a point from Cillian O’Connor after a free from Rob Hennelly dropped short.
After 15 scoreless minutes Lee Keegan kicked a point for Mayo in the 58th minute which felt like a huge score. And when Cillian O’Connor added a free four minutes later to extend their lead to four it looked like it was game over.
But the drama was only starting; Seán Jones looked to have been foot-blocked inside the Mayo penalty area, but the referee ignored appeals for a penalty.
Mayo were five points clear at the end of normal time but scores from Conor Leonard and a free from Shane Carey left a score between the sides and then we had the second Monaghan penalty appeal turned down.
In the end the Mayo fans in the crowd of 16,377 at MacHale Park breathed a sign of relief when the final whistle did eventually sound. By any strength of the imagination, they got out of jail.
“It was good to win to Monaghan in a pressure game. “We weren’t sure where we were. It has been a while since we played. But it was great to come out and get the win. We made loads of mistakes but loads of honestly and effort as well,” said Mayo manager Horan.
Mayo will be in tomorrow’s draw for Round 2 of the qualifiers where they will be drawn against one of the beaten provincial finalists — Donegal, Kildare, Limerick, or Roscommon.
But it will be a source of huge concern for the Mayo boss that only two of their starting forwards, Cillian O’Connor and Jack Carney, scored from play.
For Monaghan it was another disappointing championship campaign after their heroics in the league.
This is the fourth year in a row and the third under current boss ‘Banty’ McEnaney that they have flopped in the premier competition.
Perhaps they are guilty of putting too much emphasis on staying in Division 1 at the expense of blooding new players or maybe it is their lack of pace in key positions which goes against them on hard pitches in summertime.
Mayo: C O’Connor 1-6 (1-0 pen, 5f); R Hennelly (f), M Ruane, J Carney, E McLaughlin, L Keegan, D McHale, P Durcan 0-1 each.
Monaghan: J McCarron 0-3 (1m); G Mohan, S Carey (2f) 0-2 each; C McManus (f), C McCarthy, M Bannigan, K Duffy, C Leonard 0-1 each.
Mayo: R Hennelly; L Keegan, O Mullin, E Hession; P Durcan, S Coen, E McLaughlin; A O’Shea, M Ruane; B Walsh, A Orme, D O’Connor; J Carr, J Carney, C O’Connor. Subs: K McLoughlin for Carr (50), D McHale for Orme (60), C Loftus for Walsh (64), J Doherty for Carney (69), P O’Hora for C O’Connor (75).
Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, R Wylie, C Boyle; C McCarthy, K O’Connell, D Ward; D Hughes, N Kearns; M Brannigan, K Hughes, R McAnespie; G Mahon, C McManus, J McCarron. Subs: A Woods for K Hughes (50), C Leonard for McCarthy (53), S Carey for McManus (59), S Jones for Brannigan (65), F Kelly for D Hughes (69).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).