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To hell and back with Hennelly...

'Keeper has survived the slings and arrows of Mayo misfortune


Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly has had a roller coaster career

Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly has had a roller coaster career


David Clarke

David Clarke



Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly has had a roller coaster career

A WEEK ago, ahead of their do-or-die date with Donegal and before any teams had been announced, Martin Carney offered an intriguing insight into the attitude of Mayo supporters towards goalkeeper Rob Hennelly.

David Clarke had started the previous five games for Mayo and, even before news of his injury leaked out, there was speculation of a recall for Hennelly.

Against this backdrop, Carney (a Donegal native long domiciled in Mayo, who had played for both counties) told The Herald: "The criticism Hennelly has shipped in the past is completely disproportionate to maybe a lot of the errors he has made.

"For example, had Clarke made some of the errors that Hennelly made … I just think the public here have a thing about Robert Hennelly in goals. I think that one error in the replay of the 2016 final has stuck to him far too long."

It's hard to disagree with that sentiment; it's equally clearcut that any overall assessment of Hennelly's roller coaster Mayo career will quickly return to that ill-fated reference point.

You might even argue that it has taken the Breaffy clubman, now 29, almost three years to get back to here: a chance to set the record straight against the Dubs in a win-or-bust Croke Park showdown.


With Clarke ruled out, Hennelly was handed his recall papers for that decisive Super 8s finale in Castlebar. Speculation about a goalkeeping change had been mounting in any event - on the premise that Donegal were likely to press high and hard on the Mayo kickout.

There has long been a belief that while Clarke holds the edge when it comes to command of his area and probably shot-stopping too, Hennelly scores more highly on restarts, in both their range and trajectory.

And kickouts, in the modern game, are king.

As it happened, Hennelly's longer missiles went reasonably well (not perfectly), there were no major calamities and Mayo completed their latest epic escape to victory.

Back in the last-four. Back against the Dubs.

Even if Clarke is restored to fitness, the feeling out west is that Hennelly has done enough to hold his place on a winning team.

Yet whatever about Donegal, the pressure exerted by Dublin (not just their zonal press but the relentless nature of their attacking play) will make this an altogether more taxing occasion for the Mayo netminder.

And that's before we even factor in his previous trials and tribulations against Jim Gavin's all-conquering collective.

There is a belief that Hennelly's confidence isn't bullet-proof; that he needs the reassurance of a good start in these pressure-cooker games. That was certainly the case for that 2016 All-Ireland replay - although the circumstances of his recall, displacing a player who would win the All Star, placed Hennelly in an unforgiving spotlight.

Recalled for his kickouts, he lost the first three going long. Then an errant short restart led to Lee Keegan's pivotal black card. Finally came that fateful third-quarter spillage, under minimal pressure, that led to his black card pull-down on Paddy Andrews ... all of which meant that Clarke was back in goal for the penalty, dispatched by Diarmuid Connolly, in a game that Dublin won by a point.

Yet, as Carney argued above, it's unfair to pigeon-hole his career based on one high-profile calamity.

For most of this decade he has played musical chairs with Clarke, who is over six years his elder; Hennelly has actually started four of the seven Dublin/Mayo SFC showdowns this decade.

Critics will blame him for Dublin's first goal in the 2013 decider, outjumped by Bernard Brogan under a dropping ball ... but he went on to redeem himself with three big saves.


After the 2015 semi-final replay, Darragh Ó Sé devoted almost his entire Irish Times column to a forensic dissection of Hennelly's approach to the kickout that ultimately led to Dublin's first game-changing goal. There may have been a valid criticism, but it still appeared over the top.

More recently, Hennelly has continued to endure the slings and arrows of oscillating fortune - notably the short kickout gaffe that led to a Roscommon goal in May and a 'back door' recall for Clarke.

Yet his league form had placed him in the early-season All Star conversation. Even in defeat, his heroics against Dublin last February, making six eye-catching saves, offered proof of a serious talent.

Now he just needs to repeat it on the biggest stage of all ...