ALL SMILES Mayo’s Lee Keegan poses for a selfie with Orla Maloney from Hollymount after Sunday’s win over Down at MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
THE pre-match script went along the lines that Mayo were going to put Down out of their misery, probably put on a show in the process, and guarantee themselves Division 1 football again next year without any major issues.
It sounded great in theory.
Unfortunately, Down didn’t concern themselves with reading the proposed storyline and instead improvised, throwing in some dramatic twists to see if Mayo were paying attention.
What unfolded was a finish that was much too close for comfort for Mayo, with the home fans left on the edge of their seats before their team ended up securing the two precious points they needed to stay in the top tier.
Late scores from veteran Andy Moran and a revitalised Evan Regan (free) saw Mayo get what they wanted.
“With two minutes left in injury-time there was only two points in it and it could have gone either way,” offered Down manager Eamonn Burns afterwards.
“I suppose at the end of the day, Mayo’s experience got them over the line.”
It was all about the result in the end for Mayo who won their first game on home ground after defeats to Dublin and Kerry, but it was achieved on the back of yet another patchy performance.
“It’s been a challenging campaign, and today was a challenging game in many ways,” admitted Stephen Rochford afterwards.
“We set out at the start of the league saying that we wanted to get six or seven points, make sure we survived, and that’s what we’ve done.”
On a day when Mayo only played in fits and starts, a second successive man of the match display from corner-forward Evan Regan was one of the biggest positives.
The UUJ student looked sharp and finished with nine points (including seven frees) while Cillian O’Connor marked his first start of the year by shooting 1-4 from placed balls.
His penalty on 19 minutes proved crucial in the end.
Despite starting slowly, Down stayed in touch through a combination of Mayo’s stop-start performance, their own perseverance, and the assured free-taking of Donal O’Hare who finished with 1-5.
Mayo’s early work had suggested they were in the mood to cut loose, and they were 0-5 to 0-1 up after five minutes.
But Down’s counter-attacking game began to cause them some problems, and frees from goalkeeper Michael Cunningham and Donal O’Hare, along with a neat score from Kevin McKernan, gave the visitors something to build on.
However, Cillian O’Connor’s confident penalty conversion midway through the first half looked like being a pivotal moment as it nudged Mayo five points ahead.
The floodgates never opened though and Down proceeded to make a mockery of their 10/1 outsiders’ tag by rattling off six points during the second quarter to make a game of it.
By half-time Mayo led by just 1-9 to 0-10.
Stephen Rochford reorganised his troops at the interval and a strong third quarter saw Mayo tag on seven points during an impressive phase to surge ahead by 1-16 to 0-12.
The pick of these string of scores came from Regan, Doherty and Freeman.
At that stage the game looked over as a contest but Down rallied impressively and hit 1-3 down the home stretch as Mayo eased off the pedal.
Down’s goal was brilliantly finished to the net by Donal O’Hare after David Clarke had saved Seán Dornan’s initial effort.
Incredibly, that left Mayo clinging to a one point lead on 67 minutes and they needed scores from Andy Moran and Evan Regan (free) to guide them to safety.
“I don’t think the lads panicked, but our problem was that when we made the one or two individual errors, we really got punished for it,” surmised Rochford.
“That’s something we have to strongly address.
“It wasn’t something that was an issue in the last two games, but previously in the league we had been hit on one or two individual errors, and ended up losing games.
“But thankfully we had put ourselves in a good enough position to soak up the Down goal.”
With the league done and dusted, Mayo move into championship mode.
London is now less than seven weeks away.
D Clarke; B Harrison, K Keane, C Barrett (0-1); L Keegan, C Boyle, S Nally; T Parsons, S O’Shea; C O’Shea, A O’Shea (0-1), J Doherty (0-1); E Regan (0-9, 7fs), A Freeman (0-2), C O’Connor 1-4, 1-0pen, 4fs).
Subs used: P Durcan for Barrett (27); A Dillon for Freeman (55); B Moran for S O’Shea (55); C Carolan for C O’Shea; A Moran (0-1) for C O’Connor (65).
M Cunningham (0-2, 2fs); G Collins, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D McKibbin (0-1), A Carr, D O’Hanlon (0-1); P Turley (0-1), H Brown; M Poland (0-1), K McKernan (0-1), R Mallon (0-1); C McGovern, D O’Hare (1-5,5fs), S Dornan (0-2).
Subs used: P Devlin (0-1) for Mallon (40); C Maginn for Brown (43); D Turley for O’Hanlon (53); B O’Hagan for Poland,(62); J Murphy for Carr (71).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)