O'Connor brothers keep Mayo in the hunt

Mayo 2-14 Clare 0-13 SFC Round 3A Qualifier

Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor scores his side’s first goal past Clare goalkeeper Joe Hayes. Photo: DIARMUID GREENE/SPORTSFILE

Donnchadh Boyle

Afterwards, Stephen Rochford spoke about relief. Mayo hadn't been anything near their fluid best for long parts of the game, but the job was done and they were in the hat for the draw once more.

They took some time to spark to life, though they didn't leave it as late as they had against Derry a week earlier. Mayo played with a sense of urgency after half-time, but they had been out-fought and out-foxed for the first 35 minutes.

They needed a break and they got one. Cillian O'Connor hit the net after a routine free in the Clare defence was intercepted and two minutes later Diarmuid O'Connor also fired home. Having trailed for much of the game, Mayo found themselves five points up. They'd never look back.

"When you're coming through the qualifiers there's a certain amount of relief," Rochford agreed.

"That's probably what it is. We weren't anywhere near where we wanted to be in the first-half, but thankfully we only went in at half-time being two points down and were probably lucky to only be two points down.

"We set ourselves the target of getting the first score and we got a goal in the early part of that third quarter and that ignited that second-half performance."

Diarmuid O'Connor scores Mayo's second goal despite the efforts of Sean Collins. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Rochford wouldn't be drawn on comparisons, but there are touches of 2016 about them here. As was the case 12 months ago, Mayo were unconvincing against northern opposition in their first foray in the back door route, but are improving with each game.

Here they showed flashes of what has brought them so close in recent seasons.

The quick hands and support running for Diarmuid O'Connor's goal was superb. Their efficiency in front of goal improved as well, as Mayo cut their wide count - which was almost fatal against Derry - by more than 50pc.

There were negatives. Clare bossed the first-half. Their hard, direct running at the Mayo defence caused untold trouble. Donal Vaughan took a black card after just four minutes when Gary Brennan broke through the cover. They couldn't stop Jamie Malone, but his shot was well saved by David Clarke, who was making his 100th appearance for the county - though perhaps Malone should have slipped a pass to the unmarked Eoin Cleary.

Mayo's Chris Barrett


That goal chance came in the midst of a period of real dominance for Clare. After conceding the first point of the game after 23 seconds, Colm Collins' men reeled off six in a row.

The Banner were five points clear after 20 minutes, with Martin McMahon having a fine game setting up Clare's attacks, but they could have been further ahead.

Kevin McLoughlin grabbed Mayo's second point to end a 19-minute scoreless period. By the time the short whistle came, Clare led by just two as Andy Moran grabbed two late, crucial points to see his side trail by just 0-8 to 0-6.

Gary Brennan and Aidan O'Shea battle for possession. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"They played with a super tempo," Rochford said of Clare's first-half display.

"That didn't surprise us, I think it was our own reaction to it. Maybe there was a bit of a lag with the game and a half last week, but that would have been no excuse. Clare played all the best football in the first-half. We didn't attack the ball at pace and we spoke about that at half-time. I think you saw more of what we're about. I don't think we were in any way at our best in that second-half, but I think we were moving in the right direction."

Mayo were immediately better on the restart. Kevin McLoughlin grabbed a point after 20 seconds and then pulled a fine save out of Joe Hayes.

Clare hadn't settled and picked up a pair of yellow cards and a black (Ciaran Russell) after the restart, while they also lost the excellent Cathal O'Connor to injury. Then Hayes' wayward free-kick fell to Conor Loftus, who found Cillian O'Connor for their first goal. His brother Diarmuid followed up.

Mayo didn't exactly streak off into the distance, but they were in control from there, with Aidan O'Shea putting in another fine shift, mixing the spectacular with the effective. Lee Keegan was a powerful presence as well, while probably no one did more to stem Clare's flow in the first-half than Andy Moran.

Mayo's Aidan O'Shea and Gary Brennan of Clare in conversation after the match. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

However, for the second time in a matter of weeks, Clare failed to follow up on a bright first-half against one of the game's big guns.

"We're bitterly disappointed to lose a match where we were in a winning position at half-time and playing really good football," Clare manager Colm Collins reflected.

"But it just wasn't to be. A combination, I suppose, of the fact that we lost two key players and Mayo upped it a bit and got two great goals and that stayed between us for the rest of the match."

Clare's progress in four seasons under Collins has been remarkable. After seven consecutive campaigns in Division 4, the Banner are now established in Division 2, have won silverware in Croke Park and reached the last eight of the championship.

With his term now up, though, he is unsure what his next move will be.

"I have four years done now so they must be getting well sick of me!" he said.

"I don't know, we'll see. This evening is probably not an evening to talk about that. Maybe four years is enough."

However, he remains convinced there is more to come from his side.

"I suppose Kerry and Mayo are two and three in the ratings in the country so there's a lot of things going well. I think there's more in them. There's a fantastic bunch of players and anything they're asked for, they do. But at the same time that's no consolation this evening."

Mayo finished the game with 14 men as Brendan Harrison picked up a black card deep in injury-time and couldn't be replaced as they had used all their subs. It made no difference. They are still alive and nothing else matters.

Scorers - Mayo: C O'Connor 1-5 (5f), D O'Connor 1-1, A Moran 0-3, K McLoughlin 0-2, K Higgins, L Keegan, A O'Shea 0-1 each.

Clare: D Tubridy 0-4 (4f), E Cleary 0-3 (2f), K Sexton 0-2 (0-1 45), G Brennan, G O'Brien, J Malone, S Collins 0-1 each.

Mayo - D Clarke 7; B Harrison 7, G Cafferkey 6, C Barrett 7; L Keegan 8, C Boyle 7, K Higgins 7; S O'Shea 7, D Vaughan 5; A Moran 7, A O'Shea 8, D O'Connor 7; K McLoughlin 8, C O'Connor 7, C Loftus 6 Subs: S Coen 8 for Vaughan (4), E Regan 6 for Loftus (48), J Doherty 7 for Moran (55), T Parsons 6 for O'Shea (59), F Boland for D O'Connor (65), A Dillon for A O'Shea (67),

Clare - Joe Hayes 6; D Ryan 6, K Hartnett 7, M McMahon 8; C O'Dea 6, G Kelly 8, C Russell 7; G Brennan 7, C O'Connor 8; J Malone 7, S Collins 7, P Lillis 6; E Cleary 7, D Tubridy 6, K Sexton 6 Subs: John Hayes 7 for O'Connor (39), E Collins 6 for Russell (40 BC), G O'Brien 6 for O'Dea (53), S Malone for Lillis (65), D Nagle for Sexton (75).

Ref - S Hurson (Tyrone).