DOWN wreaked sweet revenge for their All-Ireland quarter-final thrashing at Croke Park with two late winning points at Newry on Saturday which pushed Mayo ever nearer the brink of relegation.
Trailing by five points five minutes into the second half, Mayo embarked on a spirited recovery that brought them to level terms on two occasions.
But they were unable to sustain the momentum and conceded two late points to a Down side seeking their first win of the competition.
That late flourish by the Mourne men capped an unerring display of accuracy by corner forward Donal O’Hare who reeled in a total of nine points, six of them from frees.
Down were up for this one, and they spared no stratagem in seeking their objective. In the final minutes as Mayo surged back into attack midfielder Kevin McKiernan grabbed Aidan O’Shea around the waist rugby style, fully aware that the Mayo man was already on a yellow card and unable to retaliate without further sanction.
All through, some of their tactics were suspect and a nasty tackle on Ger Cafferkey, that warranted a red card, forced the Mayo full-back to retire shortly before the end of the first half with a nose injury. The culprit got away with a yellow card.
The Ballina man had left behind every trace of his performance against Dublin and was the outstanding figure in defence up to his withdrawal. Kevin Keane was an adequate replacement, but Cafferkey’s influence was missed.
Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett and Lee Keegan were unflagging in their efforts, but as a unit they are not the solid block that won acclaim last season.
Keegan started at centre-half back with Vaughan moving to the wing. Higgins switched places with Cafferkey, but each reverted shortly afterwards to his customary position.
It was tough football, each having moments of superiority, but Down had that bit of an edge in tenacity, and while Mayo showed some improvement on recent form, they made too many elementary mistakes which are fatal at this level.
Although slow to come to terms with Down’s spoiling tactics at midfield, Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran did eventually rise above the mediocrity and in the second half Moran gave one of his best performances for Mayo in a long time.
He could have capped it at the beginning of the team’s resurgence in the second half when a splendidly worked three-man move involving Richie Feeney and Lee Keegan provided the Mitchels’ man with an open chance of a goal, but he shot straight at goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh.
Mayo had a couple of similar goal chances in the first half, but Michael Conroy and Jason Doherty elected to play it safe by bagging points instead.
The forward line, however, still lacks penetration and the ability to take long-range points. To his credit, Cathal Carolan, a surprise choice at wing forward, did not shirk that responsibility and hauled in three fine medium range points from play.
His was the last of Mayo’s four first-half points . . . in the 15th minute. Doherty with two, one from a free, and Conroy accounted for the rest, a poor return for a team of Mayo’s stature. In fact they registered no score at all in the final twenty minutes of the half.
Mayo kicked five wides in that first half. Down were more economical, their first wide coming in the 23rd minute. Marksman O’Hare was on target for three of their six points, all from frees. Paul Comiskey, Conor Laverty and Ryan Mallon had one each.
When O’Hare (2) and Mark Poland put Down five ahead five minutes after the break it looked ominous for the visitors. But after his goal miss Moran got behind the defence for a fine point.
Carolan added two and Doherty two from frees to draw level. And after O¹Hare regained the lead for Down, Kevin McLoughlin and goalkeeper Kenneth O¹Malley hauled them back to square one again.
But O’Hare’s canny accuracy won it with those two late points, one from play from fifty metres.
B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, R Boyle; R Mallon (0-1), A Carr, K Quinn; K King, K McKernan; C Laverty (0-1), M Poland (0-1), P McComiskey (0-1); D O’Hare (0-9,6fs), C Harrison, B Coulter.
Subs used: C Gough for King; E McCartan for Harrison.
K O’Malley (0-1f); C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; D Vaughan, L Keegan, C Boyle; B Moran (0-1), A O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-1f), R Feeney, C Carolan (0-3); E Varley, J Doherty (0-4,3fs), M Conroy (0-1).Subs used: T Cunniffe for Feeney; A Freeman for Vaughan; E Regan for Varley.
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)