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Mayo get down to serious business

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MAYO ON THE MOVE Man of the match Alan Dillon breaks through the Down defence as Aiden Branagan, left, and Brendan McArdle are caught flat-footed during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park.?Pic: Sportsfile

Mayo get down to serious business


Quarter-Final
Mayo 3-18
Down 2-9

Mike Finnerty
Croke Park


ON an evening when Mayo produced one of their most impressive and professional performances under James Horan’s watch, and booked their place in a second consecutive All-Ireland semi-final, we still left Croke Park with heavy hearts.
Andy Moran’s serious knee ligament injury, sustained 17 minutes into the second half after he twisted awkwardly, rules him out of the semi-final reunion with Dublin, and casts a long shadow over one of Mayo’s finest hours on Jones Road.
The team captain had been doing what he does best until his unfortunate accident; leading the line from number 14, winning possession brilliantly (15 possessions in all), engineering frees, linking play, and encouraging team-mates throughout. However, he now faces an uncertain few weeks ahead of Mayo’s return to HQ on Sunday, September 2.
In his expected absence, James Horan will be looking to the likes of Alan Freeman or Enda Varley to step into the breach, or perhaps there will be another twist to the Conor Mortimer story before the year is out.
All will be revealed in time.
The story of the game, which was played in front of 52,359 people is easily told; Mayo made light of their long lay-offs between recent outings and looked fresh, sharp and hungry, just as their manager had promised.
From the first whistle they took the game to Down, running at them from all angles, and playing with confidence, pace and power all over the field.
As it transpired, Down were in no mood to stand in their way.
First half goals from Jason Doherty and Michael Conroy set the tone for the evening, and when Conroy palmed in his second, eight minutes into the second half, the floodgates opened.
The sides were level twice in the first half but Mayo, who were playing against the strong wind, finished with a flourish and rattled off 1-3 without reply in the last ten minutes to streak ahead.
Doherty’s goal, in the fifth minute, came when Mayo ran right through the middle of Down’s obliging defence and a neat pass from the chief architect, Andy Moran, set up the Burrishoole sniper for a smart, left-footed finish.
That goal was cancelled out eleven minutes later by Down’s gargantuan midfielder, Kalum King, who popped up unmarked inside the Mayo cover to apply a deft finish from six yards.
However, the beaten Ulster finalists were taking in water in most of the key positions, especially around the middle.
It was no major surprise then when Davitts’ Michael Conroy sneaked in unnoticed to take a pass from Kevin McLoughlin and fired home a second goal on 27 minutes.
Three pointed frees from the unflappable Cillian O’Connor underlined Mayo’s dominant stance, and the die was cast.
A six-point advantage (2-7 to 1-4) seemed about right, given Mayo’s midfield superiority as Barry Moran produced yet another barnstorming display of fetching and gathering that has catapulted him into All Star contention.
Aidan O’Shea, who was starting his first county game beside him for more than three months, also got some air into his lungs and anything he did, he did well.
We expected Down to muster some sort of a revival after the restart but, instead, they capitulated completely once Andy Moran’s quickly-taken free allowed Cillian O’Connor to set up Michael Conroy for his close-range tap-in.
That green flag left Mayo ahead by 3-9 to 1-6 and the Connacht champions free-wheeled through the last 30 minutes, as Down gave up the ghost and their porous defence chased shadows in vain.
Up front, Alan Dillon had a field day, spraying passes around as he pleased, and snaffling four of the finest points he’s ever kicked at Croke Park. He was pretty much unmarkable.
Beside him, Kevin McLoughlin played the number 10 role to perfection again, linking defence and attack, covering runs, tracking back, and sharing the play-making duties with Dillon.
Aidan Carr shot all four of Down’s first half points (two from frees) and things didn’t get much better for Messrs Coulter, Laverty et all in the second period.
James McCartan’s side were outscored by 0-9 to 1-3 after Mayo’s third goal, with Benny Coulter’s snap-shot only flying into the net two minutes into stoppage-time.
By that stage, Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea and the industrious Kevin McLoughlin had all got on the scoresheet and the result was a formality.
However, once Andy Moran left the field on a stretcher caddy the mood of the evening changed. Hopefully there is better news to come.

Mayo
D Clarke; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, K Keane; D Vaughan, L Keegan (0-1), C Boyle; B Moran, A O’Shea (0-1); K McLoughlin (0-2),J Doherty (1-0), A Dillon (0-4); C O’Connor (0-7, six frees), A Moran (0-1), M Conroy (2-1).
Subs used: A Freeman for A Moran (54 mins, inj); R Feeney for Doherty (59mins); E Varley (0-1) for Conroy (63 mins); J Gibbons for O’Shea (65 mins); C Barrett for Boyle (67 mins).

Down
B McVeigh; D O’Hagan, D Gordon, C Garvey; N McParland, B McArdle, K McKernan; A Rodgers, K King (1-0); A Carr (0-8, six frees), M Poland, C Maginn; E McCartan, E Laverty, B Coulter (1-1).
Subs used: A Branagan for McParland (22 mins); D O’Hare for McCartan (32 mins); L Doyle for Maginn (h-t); D Turley for Garvey (41 mins); D Rooney for McArdle (59 mins).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)