Mayo survive and Down take heart after gutsy performance
Mayo 1-19 Down 1-16
This encounter will probably be referenced by both sides quite a few times over the next few weeks as they begin preparations for championship football.
Down, relegated after seven straight defeats, will look back on this as an example of what they can do and they will take a lot of heart from this display as they prepare to take on Monaghan in the Ulster Championship in eight weeks.
Manager Eamonn Burns was the first to acknowledge that 1-16 would win most matches, and for a side who had accumulated only 46 points in their previous six matches, this was a big upswing.
Mayo had flirted seriously with relegation in Stephen Rochford's maiden season in charge and the manner in which they were hauled back by Down in the second half will ensure nobody will be getting carried away with their good finish to the league.
Rochford now has seven weeks to prepare for the championship opener away to London - where James Horan almost came a cropper in his first match in charge five years ago - but he wasn't surprised by how spirited Down were.
"Down are a very proud GAA county and certainly coming to Mayo, they weren't just fulfilling a fixture. They wanted to deliver some sort of a platform for their campaign as they head to Clones in a few weeks' time.
"We were very, very focused on ensuring our own performance. We delivered that in patches. We went into a six- or seven-point lead at one stage. There were a couple of silly errors and not executing a couple of the basic skills to the standard that we'd like, left the door open.
"Down came back and scored a goal right at the death to put a bit of nerves in it. Thankfully a couple of our big players, Andy Moran, stepped up. It was a good score to stretch that lead again," said Rochford.
His side were full of purpose early on and it seemed that the 100th league match to be played at MacHale Park would be marked by a huge Mayo win and certainly none of the home supporters in the crowd of 8,352 had any anticipation of a tight finish the way their side started.
The Connacht champions were in full flow from the outset and opened up a 0-5 to 0-1 lead after just six minutes, with Evan Regan, Aidan O'Shea and Alan Freeman to the fore.
It took Down a long time to get into the game but they stemmed the flow before Cillian O'Connor made it 0-7 to 0-4 after 18 minutes and then two minutes he blasted a penalty into the top left corner after Regan was fouled to lead by 1-9 to 0-10 at the break.
The margin should have been bigger with Aidan O'Shea (left) missing a good goal chance before the break. O'Connor quickly added two pointed frees with the wind behind him after the restart and it seemed they would pull away for an emphatic victory.
But Down kept chipping away at the advantage with Sean Dornan and Paul Devlin landing good points and while Mayo led by 1-16 to 0-12 going into the final quarter, Down rallied again.
They hit four points in a row and then in stoppage time Donal O'Hare burst through to rattle the net to leave just a point between them in stoppage time. Mayo responded to the challenge well and Andy Moran slotted a good point from the right before Regan sealed it with a late free on a day when both sides could take something from the match.
Down manager Burns said they would take a lot of positives from this clash as they head into the championship. "I thought they battled hard. They kept going when the tide turned against them in the first half," he said.
"They battled really, really hard, a very encouraging performance from our fellas. They were in the game at half-time. Mayo got a good start to the second half. We rallied again and came back when it could have gone either way."
Scorers - Mayo: E Regan 0-9 (7f); C O'Connor 1-4 (1-0 pen, 4f); A Freeman 0-2; C Barrett, A O'Shea, J Doherty & A Moran 0-1 each. Down: D O'Hare 1-5 (5f); M Cunningham (2f) & S Dornan 0-2 each; D McKibbon, D O'Hanlon, P Turley, M Poland, R Mallon, K McKernan & P Devlin 0-1 each.
Mayo - D Clarke 7; B Harrison 6, K Keane 7, C Barrett 6; L Keegan 7, C Boyle 7, S Nally 6; T Parsons 7, S O'Shea 6; C O'Shea 7, A O'Shea 7, J Doherty 7; A Freeman 7, E Regan 8, C O'Connor 7. Subs: P Durcan 7 for Barrett (28), A Dillon 7 for Freeman (58), B Moran 6 for S O'Shea (58), C Carolan 6 for C O'Shea (63), A Moran 7 for O'Connor (65).
Down - M Cunningham 7; D O'Hagan 6, G Collins 6, G McGovern 5; D McKibbon 7, A Carr 6, D O'Hanlon 7; P Turley 7, H Brown 7; M Poland 7, R Mallon 6, K McKernan 7; C McGovern 6, S Dornan 7, D O'Hare 8. Subs: P Devlin 7 for Mallon (41), C Maginn 6 for Brown (44), D Turley 6 for O'Hanlon (57), B O'Hagan 6 for Poland (63), J Murphy 5 for Carr (70).
REF - J McQuillan (Cavan)