Mayo just about keep All-Ireland hopes alive after Armagh thriller - but suffer more injury blows to key men
Mayo 2-13 Armagh 1-15
Mayo's All-Ireland ambitions are still alive - just.
In a pulsating tie in Castlebar, they survived by the narrowest of margins against Armagh to secure a place in the Round 4 All-Ireland qualifier draw, in which they can be drawn against any of the beaten provincial finalists.
As is their wont, Mayo made life difficult for themselves having taken control of the game with a gem of a Kevin McLoughlin goal twenty minutes from the end. But having extended the lead to five points, they were nearly caught by a late Armagh surge, which twice cut the deficit to a point in a dramatic finale.
Two pointed frees from Cillian O'Connor, who was making his first appearance of the season, helped get them over the line but their injury crisis worsened with Lee Keegan and Jason Doherty both having to be replaced.
Armagh have came to the end of their All-Ireland journey for the season – a round earlier than they exited last year. Despite being away from home, they would have fancied their chances but ultimately Kieran McGeeney's side fell short with five second half wides, compared to one for Mayo, contributing to their demise, though a brilliant save from David Clarke from the excellent Jamie Clarke played a crucial role as well.
As expected, the home side made wholesale changes with Colm Boyle, Ciaran Treacy, Jason Doherty and Darren Coen coming into the side at the expense of Michael Plunkett, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin and Fergal Boland. Cillian O'Connor, who was listed among the substitutes, took a full part in the warm-up.
Mayo won the toss and elected to play with the slight breeze and although they opened the scoring with a fourth minute free from Conor Loftus, they were quickly on the back-foot.
Armagh full-forward Rian O'Neill scored his third championship goal in the space of a week after five minutes. This time it was a simple effort, as he palmed the ball to an empty net after Rory Grugan and Aidan Nugent set up the opportunity, with the latter's weighted fist-pass taking out David Clarke.
Mayo hit back with a goal themselves two minutes later. Initially the chance looked to have been lost when Andy Moran failed to control a free from Aidan O'Shea, but he got a second opportunity and linked up with an unmarked Fionn McDonagh, who glided the ball past Blaine Hughes.
Mostly though, it was Armagh who looked the more creative side as they repeatedly exposed gaps in the Mayo defence. They stretched 1-3 to 1-1 ahead after ten minutes before Loftus' second free.
It took Mayo 15 minutes to register their first point from play, from their best player McDonagh. Jamie Clarke (free) and Darren Coen exchanged points before Stefan Campbell restored Armagh's slender lead ten minutes from the break.
Mayo's policy of pushing up on Hughes' restarts finally paid dividends in the second quarter, as they secured four of the visitors' restarts on the spin but only managed two points in return from Jason Doherty and Patrick Durcan.
Worryingly for James Horan, they also kicked four wides in that spell of dominance even though they nosed 1-6 to 1-5 ahead.
The manager opted to replace veteran Andy Moran with Kevin McLoughlin three minutes from the break. Then Mayo lost Lee Keegan with an ankle injury. As the teams headed to the dressing rooms there was some jostling between a couple of players before they disappeared down the tunnel.
Mayo introduced their third substitute, Donal Vaughan, three minutes into the second half, which meant they could only make three more changes. But it was Armagh who made the more productive start to the half with a brace of Jamie Clarke points – the first from a free and then from play after Armagh won Clarke's restart.
Kevin McLouglin replied for Mayo after a quick free from Darren Coen. As as a summer shower swept over MacHale Park, Jamie Clarke's increasing influence was underlined when he kicked his second point from play in the half. But at the other end, Darren Coen was being equally influential kicking a brace of points.
The biggest cheer of the evening was reserved for the introduction of Cillian O'Connor after 48 minutes. After the sides had been level on four occasions in the half, the home side finally put some daylight between themselves and Armagh with a peach of a goal from Kevin McLoughlin, who chipped the ball over the advancing Blaine Hughes.
Coen kicked his third point to extend Mayo's lead to five points, but Jamie Clarke underlined his class in the 56th minute when he outfielded two Mayo defenders, turned and picked his spot but David Clarke was equal to the challenge, tipping his shot off the butt of the upright and Mayo scrambled the ball clear.
But they were living dangerously as they continued to cough up possession in the middle third of the field. Four points on the spin from the magnificent Clarke, Rory Grugan – whose attempt to chip David Clarke just cleared the bar - and a brace from Stefan Campbell brought the margin back to the minimum with eight minutes remaining.
Mayo steadied the ship with two pointed frees from O'Connor before Armagh staged one last ditch effort and an O'Neill free and a Campbell score left it a one-point game deep into the fourth minute of lost time. Armagh had one last chance of sending the contest into extra time, but Niall Grimley was wide with a long range effort. Mayo survived but didn't impress.
The official attendance was 18,711.
Scorers: Mayo F McDonagh 1-1; K McLoughlin 1-1, D Coen 0-4, C O'Connor 0-2 (2f), C Loftus (2f), 0-2 each. P Durcan, J Doherty, D Vaughan 0-1 each. Armagh: J Clarke 0-5 (2f),R O'Neill 1-2 (2f), 0-5 each. S Campbell 0-4,R Grugan 0-3, N Grimley 0-1
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan; M Murray A O'Shea; C Treacy; J Doherty, F McDonagh, D Coen, A Moran, C Loftus. Subs: K McLoughlin for Moran 32m; S Coen for Keegan (35+1); D Vaughan for Murray (38) C O'Connor for Loftus (48); F Boland for Doherty (53), E Regan for Treacy (70 + 2)
Armagh: B Hughes; M Shields, P Burns, A McKay, P Hughes; A Forker, B Donaghy, M Shields; J Og Burns, N Grimley; J Hall, A Nugent, S Campbell; J Clarke, R O'Neill, R Grugan. Subs: E Rafferty for Nugent (53), G McCabe for McKay (56), b Crealey for Burns (70+ 2)
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)