Down denied as O'Shea rules
Mayo 1-16 Down 1-11
Mayo manager James Horan says Cillian O'Connor is "very close" to a return to action after watching his side survive what could have been a tricky Saturday night in Newry.
Andy Moran justified the decision to start him call with two vital scores - yet Lee Keegan still scored more points from play than any of the Mayo starting attack as Down missed several opportunities.
"He just got a bad injury and he's working with the medical crew who are trying to get him back," said Horan of the Ballintubber man. "But it's hard to get back to the fitness levels these guys are at. He was out for a number of months... he's pushing, he is getting very, very close."
In the absence of the injured Matthew Ruane, Aidan O'Shea helped give Mayo midfield dominance in the first half as they recovered well from the shock of conceding an early goal.
Down, in a phase of rampant transition, depart with hope of better things to come.
"At the start of the year they were getting their first opportunity to play league football, now they have played championship football as well and they looked different men altogether," said manager Paddy Tally. "We knew tonight there was an opportunity to really go at it.
"There may have been a certain vulnerability in the Mayo team that we tried to expose, which I think we partly did, but it came down to not being clinical enough."
No argument there. Down were wasteful, shooting six wides in each half, four more than Mayo, dropping a couple short, and also squandering goal chances.
In the second half, Conor Francis was denied with a last-ditch block, while Caolan Mooney ran through the middle and blazed over the bar with the goal exposed.
In the 58th minute, Donal O'Hare gathered a beautifully judged delivery from Kevin McKernan behind Brendan Harrison and while the Mayoman attempted to smother the danger, O'Hara still managed to turn and hit a snap-shot off the ground, which David Clarke did well to get down and stop.
A goal at that point would have reduced Mayo's advantage to just two points and put them under significant pressure.
Down's first-half goal, in the eighth minute, came from a brilliant piece of individual play by Mooney, who made a darting run through the heart of Mayo's defence and then finished past Clarke to put Down 1-1 to 0-2 in front.
However, from there to the interval Mayo outscored Down 0-8 to 0-2 and never really looked back.
Mayo's goal arrived within seven minutes of the resumption as Jason Doherty atoned for an earlier miss with his quick-thinking teeing up Loftus up for a facile finish.
Down kept pegging away but the goal allowed Mayo breathing space and in the second-half, the excellent Lee Keegan scored three points from trademark sorties up the field.
"A goal in that kind of game is massive," conceded Tally.
"And I think that the goal that Mayo got in that second half turned the game in their favour and we didn't take ours," he added.
SCORERS - Mayo: C Loftus 1-4 (0-3 fs); L Keegan 0-3; F McDonagh, A Moran 0-2; K McLoughlin, C Barrett, A O'Shea, D O'Connor, C Treacy (0-1 each). Down: C Mooney 1-1; D O'Hare 0-3 (0-2 fs); C Harrison, C Quinn 0-2, P Havern, O McCabe, J Johnston (0-1 each)