Kevin McLoughlin brace sees Mayo earn league final spot

Fergal Boland of Mayo gathers possession as James McCormack of Mayo and Fintan Kelly of Monaghan look on. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mayo 3-15 - 1-18 Monaghan

Mayo are going back to Croke Park after their fifth win of an eventful National League campaign booked their place in their first Division 1 final since 2012.

The Westerners will take on Kerry next weekend after this thrilling victory over 14-man Monaghan at MacHale Park, Castlebar in front of 13,287 people.

Kevin McLoughlin scored two goals in the opening half to put Mayo in control, and he also played a major role in his side’s third goal in the 50th minute when Monaghan’s Ryan Wylie deflected the ball into his own net.

To their credit, the visitors staged a brave comeback in the final quarter — despite playing for more than 30 minutes without only 14 men after a red card for Fintan Kelly — but they were unable to wear Mayo down.

Leading the Monaghan charge were Conor McManus, who kicked eight points (three from play) and Jack McCarron, who finished with seven points to his credit, all from play.

But despite their best efforts, and a stunning goal from Darren Hughes, the Farneymen had to be content with the fact that they would still be safe in the top-flight again next year following Kerry’s win over Roscommon.

Meanwhile, Mayo will head back to Croke Park with a spring in their step with all but four points of their final tally here coming from open play.

And despite playing against the gale-force wind in the opening half, the winners led at the interval by 2-7 to 0-6.

Kevin McLoughlin’s first goal in the sixth minute set the tone and his second 25 minutes later cemented Mayo’s position.

In between, James Horan’s new-look side played some very impressive and intelligent football with Fergal Boland involved in some of their best attacking moves.

The diminutive half-forward clipped three superb points from play, with Jason Doherty (free), James McCormack, Aidan O’Shea and Brian Reape (mark) also on target.

Down at the other end, Monaghan had to rely on Jack McCarron to keep them in touch, and his five points were crucial.

Monaghan’s hopes of mounting a second half comeback suffered an early setback when Fintan Kelly was sent off by referee Derek O’Mahony for a heavy challenge on Kevin McLoughlin.

However, Malachy O’Rourke’s men stuck to their task against the strong breeze and a goal from Darren Hughes in the 48th minute threw them a lifeline.

Mayo now only led by 2-10 to 1-10, but they delivered an emphatic response to their visitors inside less than two minutes when Kevin McLoughlin’s palmed effort rolled into the Monaghan net after ricocheting off both Rory Beggan and Ryan Wylie.

The homeside kicked on to add further points from Brendan Harrison, Jason Doherty and McLoughlin and led by 3-13 to 1-11 swinging into the final quarter.

The game looked beyond Monaghan at that stage, but last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists rallied once more and six unanswered points, four from Conor McManus frees, meant that the game ended in a welter of excitement.

By the 60th minute there were just two points between the teams, but Mayo showed all their experience as Diarmuid O’Connor and Donal Vaughan both scored to seal their team’s place in the league decider.

Mayo: D Clarke; S Coen, B Harrison (0-1), E O’Donoghue; P Durcan, C Barrett, J McCormack (0-1); M Ruane, A O’Shea (0-1); F Boland (0-3), J Doherty (0-2, 1f), D O’Connor (0-1); K McLoughlin (2-2), D Coen (0-1), C Diskin.

Subs: B Reape (0-1, mark) for Diskin (inj, 25); R Hennelly (0-1, 1f) for Clarke (inj, 33); J Gibbons for Ruane (47); D Drake for O’Donoghue (54); J Carr for Coen (60); D Vaughan (0-1) for McCormack; C Treacy for Boland (74).

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1, 1f); B Kerr, D Wylie, R Wylie; K O’Connell, C Boyle, K Duffy; D Hughes (1-0), N McAdam; R McAnespie (0-1), D Malone, F Kelly; C McCarthy (0-1), J McCarron (0-7, 1f), C McManus (0-8, 5fs).

Subs: S O’Hanlon for Malone; D Mone for McAdam (49); V Corey for D Wylie (62); O Duffy for McCarthy (71).

Referee: D O’Mahony (Tipperary)

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