O'Connor penalty sends Erne men packing
Mayo 2-14 Fermanagh 1-12
Mayo relaunched their All-Ireland campaign yesterday when they knocked back-door specialists Fermanagh out of the race for Sam 2016.
Results rather than performances are what matter at this stage of the championship. Nonetheless, the Mayo fans in McHale Park will have been concerned by the side's display - particularly in the first half - as they stuttered to a flattering win over Pete McGrath's side.
Furthermore, they had to depend on veterans Alan Dillon, Andy Moran, Barry Moran and Donal Vaughan to steer them over the line.
Playing with a near gale-force breeze, Fermanagh looked sharper in the early exchanges and Mayo's inability to secure their own kick-out meant they coughed up scores and the visitors deservingly led 0-4 to 0-1 after 10 minutes.
Then the game turned briefly in favour of Mayo. In what was only their second purposeful attack in the 12th minute, Mayo drove at the heart of the Fermanagh defence. Evan Regan did the spadework, winning a great ball and fiding space. His pass put Keith Higgins clear and while his shot was brilliantly saved by Fermanagh keeper Christopher Snow, Alan Freeman drove the rebound to the net.
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Cillian O'Connor quickly added a point to give Mayo the lead for the first time but their fans had scarcely time to digest their new-found advantage when Fermanagh struck back.
Colm Boyle found himself isolated on Sean Quigley when contesting a through ball from Ryan Lyons. Boyle protested vigorously that Quigley pushed him over before the ball arrived but the referee ignored his protestations and the Fermanagh full-forward had oceans of time to pick his spot and beat Clarke.
Tomás Corrigan extended Fermanagh's advantage to four points and then O'Connor kicked two frees after fouls on O'Shea. Fermanagh looked more fluent when they counter-attacked with wing-back Aidan Breen - who was effectively Kevin McLoughlin's man - being particularly impressive, hitting two points on the spin.
Two more of their impressive performers, Eoin Donnelly and Ryan Jones, added another brace from distance before the break to give Fermanagh a deserved six-point lead (1-10 to 1-4) at the interval.
The Mayo fightback began well with early points from the O'Connor brothers.
Aidan O'Shea was lucky not to get a second yellow card for a foul but Fermanagh still punished the indiscretion when they worked the free through to Barry Mulrone who hit his second point and Fermanagh's ninth from play.
Fermanagh got a crucial break after 49 minutes when Marty O'Brien - having dropping the ball after catching it over the head of Cillian O'Connor - appeared to foul the Mayo captain inside the square but the referee wasn't interested.
The scoring rate dropped but it was Mayo who needed the scores. However, O'Connor (free) and Regan squandered chances as panic started to set in. But two of Mayo's key defenders, Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle, showed the way with a brace of points to leave one between the sides with 15 minutes left.
Cillian O'Connor tied it up with a 45 before a Corrigan free restored Fermanagh's lead and then came the game's final turn when the referee harshly adjudged that Che Cullen bundled over Aidan O'Shea in the square. O'Connor calmly stepped forward and slotted the penalty to give his side the lead for only the second time.
Appropriately, it was two of Mayo's best performers, Keegan and Aidan O'Shea, who extended their advantage but Clarke earned his corn at the other end when he blocked a goal-bound shot. This pair, together with Boyle, Higgins and Cillian O'Connor stood up when it mattered while Diarmuid O'Connor was one of the key Mayo players who shone in the first half.
It was altogether too close for comfort though Mayo's second-half performance, in which they outscored Fermanagh by 1-10 to 0-2, was impressive.
Still, it was that disputed penalty eight minutes from the end of normal time which turned the game. Mayo will probably need more home comforts in tomorrow's draw.
Scorers - Mayo: C O'Connor 1-5 (pen, 3f, 1 45), A Freeman 1-0, L Keegan, D O'Connor, A Dillon 0-2 each, C Boyle, A O'Shea, E Regan (f) 0-1 each; Fermanagh: S Quigley 1-1 (f), T Corrigan 0-4 (2f), A Breen 0-3, B Mulrone 0-2, E Donnelly, R Lyons 0-1 each.
Mayo: D Clarke; B Harrison, K Keane, P Durcan; C Boyle, L Keegan, K McLoughlin; S O'Shea, S Coen; K Higgins, A O'Shea, D O'Connor; E Regan, A Freeman, C O'Connor. Subs: D Vaughan for Durcan (33); A Dillon for Freeman (46); B Moran for Coen (52); A Moran for Regan (60); J Doherty for A O'Shea (71).
Fermanagh: C Snow; M Jones, M O'Brien, B Mulrone; D McCusker, C Cullen, A Breen; E Donnelly, R O'Callaghan; D Kelly, R Jones, R Lyons; R Corrigan, S Quigley, T Corrigan. Subs: P McCusker for Lyons (46); J McMahon for O'Brien (56); K Connor for D McCusker (65), K Flaherty for O'Callaghan (66), P McGovern for Breen (38).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).
Sunday Indo Sport