Mayo bounce back from Roscommon disappointment with victory over Down in Qualifiers
Mayo 1-16 Down 1-11
League champions Mayo reignited their championship season with a win in the qualifiers over a misfiring Down at Newry. After a shock defeat to Roscommon in the Connacht semi final, James Horan's side head into the third round next weekend, as Down's championship came to an end.
The game took a significant turn seven minutes after the interval when Conor Loftus scored Mayo's second goal to open up a six-point lead. Down were caught by a quickly-taken free by Jason Doherty to Loftus after Doherty was fouled. Only a minute earlier Doherty blew a terrific chance of a goal when striking wildly off the upright.
But, six up, they missed a succession of chances to widen that lead with Down on the ropes. With composure needed it was finally provided when Evan Regan played a great ball to Andy Moran who showed his experience in fisting over the bar to move Mayo seven ahead with 13 minutes of the second half played.
But Mayo were not safe. Conor Francis had a shot for a goal blocked by Colm Boyle - a goal there would have reduced the gap to just three points with 20 minutes remaining. Cory Quinn came on and scored a point to bring Down to within five points with 15 minutes still to play but it looked like Down needed a goal.
Down had their chances but they had a nightmare on frees and before the end were on their fourth free-taker, though finding no joy with sharing the duties. Still they showed terrific spirit right through and Mayo relied on three points from play by the outstanding Lee Keegan to steer them to safety.
In the 58th minute they also had to rely on David Clarke to make a vital save to deny Donal O'Hare a goal with Mayo leading by five points. Undeterred, Down came at Mayo in waves and scores from Quinn and Jerome Johnston reduced the deficit to three points before a relieving score from Mayo by Diarmuid O'Connor with three minutes of normal time left.
O'Hare kicked a free but late scores from Keegan and sub Ciaran Treacy sealed their safe passage.
Mayo dropped goalkeeper Robbie Hennelly, one of the casualties of the fall-out from the Roscommon defeat, and recalled the long-serving Clarke who had an excellent match. There was widespread anticipation that Cillian O'Connor would play some part after recovering from injury in recent weeks but he was not even listed among the substitutes.
Down had their Ulster title hopes ended by Armagh after a replay and went into tonight's game hoping to produce a bumper performance and shock the favourites whose supporters had to make the long journey from the West, most arriving early in Newry to warm sunshine.
The promising Westport player Fionn McDonagh made his first championship appearance after making a strong impression during Mayo's league run, and made an excellent start, wasting no time in stamping himself on the game by winning the free for the opening score, a Loftus free.
Free-taking was a problem area for Mayo in the Roscommon game, with Kevin McLoughlin missing the chance to level the match in injury time from one, but Loftus gained confidence in the opening half with four points, three from frees. He had one poor miss but, kicking each attempt from the hand, he soon atoned with a fine effort for 40m out to the right.
Mayo had to field without Matthew Ruane, the midfielder ruled out after suffering a broken collarbone, but they still dominated the sector where Aidan O'Shea bossed the exchanges. Down tried to use short restarts to avoid the area but with Mayo pressing up they were forced to go long on occasions and place the ball at higher risk.
There was also a familiar look to Mayo's selection with starting places for veterans Colm Boyle and Moran, the latter, now 35, among the early point scorers. Mayo dominated the first half but were still being closely pursued by Down by the interval who trailed by just three points, 0-10 to 1-4.
Mayo were rocked by the Down goal in the eight minute from Caolan Mooney, the midfielder allowed find a pathway through the heart of the visitors defence which was exposed for pace and concentration, the initial penetration coming from a run by Down's Gerard Collins.
The goal raised a huge cheer from the home fans and gave them hope that this could be a sign of an imminent upset. The score put them in front, 1-1 to 0-2, but Mayo were leading 0-8 to 1-2 by the half hour mark, outscoring Down 0-6 to 0-1 over a 23-minute spell. McDonagh kicked two from play and while Mayo suffered a set-back with an early black card for Darren Coen, they spent much of the time in the Down half of the field.
Down finished the half promisingly. An excellent point by midfielder Owen McCabe came after a precision kick-out to the middle of the field by goalkeeper Rory Burns as Mayo switched off following a break in play. O'Shea responded well with a point in immediate reply, and the half ended with Donal O'Hare, with Down's first score from a free, and Cathal Barrett trading points.
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. 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.
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan; D O'Connor, A O'Shea; F McDonagh, C Loftus, J Doherty; K McLoughlin, D Coen, A Moran.
Subs: E Regan for Coen (b/c 13 mins); F Boland for Doherty (52); M Murray for McDonagh (61); C Treacy for McLoughlin (66); M Plunkett for Moran (72); J McCormack for O;Connor (75).
Down: R Burns; D O'Hagan, B McArdle, G Collins; R McAleenan, K McKernan, P Laverty; O McCabe, C Mooney; C Francis, D Guinnes, C Poland; P Havern, D O'Hare, C Harrison.
Subs: J Guinness for Laverty (41 mins); J Johnston for D Guinness (47); C Quinn for Haverty (inj 51); B O'Hagan for McCabe (inj 55); P Devlinf or OHagan (b/c 61).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).