Mayo overpower Sligo to set up Connacht semi-final with Galway
Mayo 2-14 Sligo 0-11
While Mayo fashioned a performance more than sufficient to see off the challenge of Sligo, a team they finished 15 places ahead of in the Allianz League, there were precious few hints in this display that their All-Ireland famine will end in September.
Certainly it was a far cry from the demolition job they carried out on the same opposition in the 2015 Connacht final; a game which was effectively over by the tenth minute and ended up with Mayo winning by 26 points.
Indeed, Mayo were flattered to win here in Castlebar by nine points– they scored 1-3 when the contest was effectively over and it is questionable whether their second goal should have been allowed.
But championship football is about results rather than performances and after an indifferent league Mayo will be satisfied to have cleared the first hurdle, albeit against a team that has only ever won one championship match against them in Castlebar.
Sligo would have been bitterly disappointed to be four points behind at half time. They won the toss and elected to play with a very strong breeze. But they needed to make this advantage count on the scoreboard.
Though they led on three occasions there was never more than a point between the sides until the game changer - a Diarmuid O'Connor goal which came 23 seconds before the end of normal time in the half.
Predictably with the strength of the wind Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney went long with his restarts.
But three of them went awry and the last stray effort had fatal consequences as Mayo's best player in the first half, Seamus O'Shea, secured possession and released O'Connor who managed to shrug off two woeful tackles before sliding the ball past Devaney.
Effectively this score decided the game. In the early stages of the second half Mayo appeared poised to run riot as they won Sligo's first three kick-outs and extended their lead with points from Fergal Boland and Andy Moran while wing back Patrick Durcan was unlucky to pull a goal chance right and wide of the upright.
Then, inexplicably, Mayo stopped playing. Even though their superior physical strength meant that they consistently won turnovers, their work rate dropped alarmingly and their forward failures of old resurfaced again.
Even the appearance of Aidan O'Shea – initially as a blood substitute and then as a permanent replacement failed to inspire his colleagues. Instead it was Sligo who looked the more defiant team – as evidenced by the fact that they ended up with five players on yellow cards compared to two for Mayo.
But the mind-set of the visitors was revealed that they reacted to the arrival of O'Shea to replacing corner forward Stephen Coen – who was their top scorer from play with 0-2 – with defender Kevin McDonnell who initially marked O'Shea.
Mayo failed to score between the 41st and 52nd minute while Sligo tagged on two points. Then having gone 1-10 to 0-8 ahead in the 56th minute, Mayo went to sleep again and an Adrian Marren free allied by a 61st minute point from substitute Niall Murphy cut the margin to three points.
While the game looked in the melting pot on the scoreboard one got the sense that Mayo had something in reserve if needed. Still, it took they a long time to finally nail down a place in next month's semi-final in Pearse Stadium against Galway.
A worrying feature of the second half for Stephen Rochford was the fact that team captain Cillian O'Connor missed two middle distance frees despite wind advantage though he was still their top scorer with a 1-6 return.
In the final minute of normal time Mayo finally put away Sligo, though in the build-up to their second goal substitute Conor Loftus appeared to have picked the ball off the ground and O'Connor looked to have arrived in the square before the ball which allowed him to be perfectly placed to punch to to the net.
Mayo tagged on two more points while Sligo's only response and, indeed, their only score in the final 14 minutes was a converted 45 from Adrian Marren. So Mayo, despite all their short-comings, had still outscored Sligo 1-4 to 0-1 at the business end of the contest.
But it was their overall performance against a team whose forward line only managed three scores from play which left lingering doubts about Mayo's championship prospects in 2017. But it's only May.
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan (0-1); S O'Shea, T Parsons; F Boland (0-2), D O'Connor (1-0), C O'Shea; K McLoughlin (0-1), C O'Connor (1-6, 5f), A Moran (0-2). Subs: J Doherty (0-1) for McLoughlin 26m; A O'Shea for D O'Connor (blood sub) 43; A O'Shea for Moran 53m; S Coen for Boyle 57m; D Vaughan for C O'Shea 62m; C Loftus for Boland 66m; D Kirby (0-1) for S O'Shea 68m.
Sligo: A Devaney (0-1, 1f); R Donavan; C Harrison, E McHugh; Keelan Cawley; B Egan, N Ewing; P O'Connor (0-1), A McIntyre; J Kelly, M Breheny (0-2, 2f), Kyle Cawley; S Coen (0-2), P Hughes, A Marren (0-4, 2f, 1 45). Subs: D Kelly for Kyle Cawley 30m; K McDonnell for Coen 45m; N Murphy (0-1) for Hughes 49m; G O'Kelly-Lynch for McHugh 54m; S Gilmartin for Kelly 55m; N Gaughan for Keelan Cawley 71m.
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)