Mayo suffer alarming collapse but do enough to squeeze past Westmeath
Published 30/07/2016 | 19:47
Mayo qualified for their sixth successive quarter-final with a wholly unconvincing victory against the beaten Leinster finalists although little can be gauged here about any promising prospects of beating Ulster's resurgent champions Tyrone.
Despite a sluggish start - it was two points apiece after 15 minutes - when Mayo eventually pushed up on Westmeath's kick-outs, they unleashed a powerful combination of slick running and sharp passing to rack up a pretty unassailable doles scores lead at the break, 2-10 to 1-5, thanks to goals from Jason Doherty and Cillian O'Connor's penalty.
Yet the manner in which they were comprehensively out-played in the second-half when Westmeath went man for man will furrow brows out west a Mickey Harte's impressive Tyrone side lie in wait.
Just four points after the break indicated that Mayo still remain nowhere near capable of producing a sustained level of performance required to come close to achieving their All-Ireland dreams.
Mayo led by 12 points at one stage - 2-10 to 0-4 - but entered injury time clinging on to a mere three point lead before emerging with a sigh of relief.
A late flurry flattered them as did the even point margin.
Mayo were pedestrian for the opening 15 minutes but a burst of 1-3 from the 22nd minute offered them the platform they needed for some intelligent, pacy running to rack up a comprehensive 2-10 half-time total against a side operating with two sweepers.
Westmeath gained some succour with a 34th minute James Dolan goal against the run of play but ponderous build-up, in sharp contrast to the intelligent, sharp runs of their counterparts, undermined any chances of a shock result.
John Heslin pointed an early free to underline a quick start for the outsiders but another missed attempt and a similar miscue from Mayo sharpshooter Diarmuid O'Connor immediately offered a contrast to the wonderfully free-scoring encounter that we had witnessed just moments earlier.
Evan Regan levelled with his free attempt as it took 11 minutes for the westerners to open their account against a Westmeath side content to withdraw 14 men inside their own half.
Heslin edged Westmeath ahead with his second free before a costly turnover saw Diamuid O'Connor intercept a John Egan pass, before freeing Andy Moran to nab the first score of the game from play, which was soon augmented by a neat Cillian O'Connor effort that gave his side the lead for the first time midway through an uninspiring half.
Now upping the ante in midfield, Mayo were now dominant and another Regan free maintained the impression that the favourites had relaxed into the evening's fare, O'Connor's second score, this time off his right side, put his men 0-5 0-2 ahead.
Heslin's free staunched the bleeding for Tom Cribbin's men but the manager was already being forced to alter his line-up.
The game was effectively ended as a contest when the increasingly influential Donal Vaughan put Jason Doherty in for the opening goal after 22 minutes, the midfielder then picking another lock by setting up Andy Moran for the Ballaghaderreen man's opening point.
At 1-6 to 0-3, having spurned eight other scoring chances, the business was almost done and Heslin's switch to full-forward for Westmeath seemed almost superfluous at this stage, even though he did interrupt Mayo's surge with a nice score.
O'Connor picked off the third score of an increasingly productive afternoon though and a raking effort from the impressive Regan and another from Moran negated the effect of Westmeath's increasingly redundant double sweeper.
The nightmare continued for the Leinster men when goalkeeper Darragh Quinn was pinged by referee Rory Hickey for over-carrying; O'Connor replicated his finish against Fermanagh last time out by slotting his kick high to Quinn's top right corner for a 2-10 to 0-4 lead.
James Dolan raised some cheer with a lovely low finish beyond David Clarke and when Kevin McLaughlin spilled the subsequent kick-out, Westmeath should have had a second but Kieran Martin and John Connellan both spurned chances to further embarrass the Mayo men.
The Lake County maintained their improvement after the break as they resumed with a more orthodox, attacking formation.
Dolan added another point, Francis Boyle clipped a lovely effort while Heslin's brace of frees meant that their opening four-point salvo made it 1-5 without reply and the gap was suddenly reduced to a mere four points with just six minutes of the second-half gone.
Cillian O'Connor's free stopped the rot for Stephen Rochford's men, ending an eleven-minute barmen spell before Doherty's point indicated that his side had swept their half-time sleep from their eyes as the gap grew to a more manageable six points by the 45th minute.
Heslin's dinked left-footed score, a fine team effort from deep, reflected what they could do with belief but it all seemed too late; at the other end, Regan should have ended the debate but spilled the ball as a goal beckoned.
Cillian O'Connor smacked the post with a shot as the game entered the last 15 minutes but his side were being out-scored by 7-3 and a four-point lead with ten minutes remaining was much too perilous, particularly as Westmeath had squandered several chances.
Aidan O'Shea flicked O'Connor's poor free on to the post but Westmeath went straight down the other end and Heslin set up Kieran Martin for a fine point to reduce the margin to three points with just eight minutes remaining.
Vaughan kicked a badly-needed point with five minutes left, doing so as Denis Corroon's late hit resulted in him seeing red.
Westmeath continued to hit wides with as much abandon as they had earlier kicked points; Mayo, just, will continue in the championship. Not for much longer on this evidence.
Westmeath - D Quinn (S Gallagher HT); K Maguire, F Boyle, K Daly; J Gonoud, D Lynch (S Duncan 32), J Dolan; A Stone (D Corroon 22), G Egan; J Egan (S Corcoran 45), P Sharry, K Martin; C McCormack (D Conway 67), J Heslin, J Connellan (D McNicholas 53).
Mayo - D Clarke; B Harrison, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan (C Barrett 68), C Boyle (B Moran 53), P Durcan; S O'Shea (T Parsons 70), D Vaughan; K McLoughlin (A Dillon 55), A O'Shea, J Doherty (C O'Shea 59); E Regan, A Moran (A Freeman 66), C O'Connor.
Ref - R Hickey (Clare).