THERE may have been a carnival atmosphere around the Irish TV GAA grounds in Ruislip this afternoon (Sunday), but Mayo showed they were in London ‘on business’ as they got the defence of their Connacht title off to a winning start.
A capacity crowd turned out on a glorious day in London, and they were treated to an entertaining match as Mayo justified their 1/100 favourite’s tag.
Despite lining out without six of last summer’s regulars — including Ger Cafferkey, Diarmuid O’Connor, Seamie O’Shea and Tom Parsons — Mayo still got the job done with something to spare.
Not even the loss of captain Cillian O’Connor to a black card in the seventh minute knocked Stephen Rochford’s team out of their stride.
They were focussed, fit and far too strong and powerful.
“We took the game quite seriously and, at times, I thought we played well,” Rochford told The Mayo News afterwards. “But our execution was nowhere near where we’d expect it to be, or nowhere where we’d need it further on in the championship.
“Some of it was good,” he continued.
“We still racked up 18 scores and probably missed some more difficult chances.
“Maybe the decision to take on the shot, we should have been a little bit smarter about it. But then we missed one or two easy ones two.
“Look, it’s the first round of the championship and while we are building things along there is always going to be things to work on, shooting and other little things.”
Mayo made their decisive break midway through the first half, striking for 2-6 during a blistering eleven-minute spell.
When they were finished, London had fallen 0-2 to 2-7 behind. They were fighting an uphill battle from there.
A slow Mayo start — they failed to score in the opening ten minutes — gave London plenty of cause for optimism as they tried to give their guests something to think about.
However, Rochford’s tactic of applying a merciless ‘full court press’ on Gavin McEvoy’s restarts caused London huge problems with their kick-outs.
The Exiles’ goalkeeper was pressured into mistakes time and again during the first half, and Mayo punished enough of them to pull away.
Man of the match Evan Regan, making his championship debut, had landed three points in a row (two from frees) to ease his side ahead by 0-4 to 0-1 after seventeen minutes.
Another debutant, Conor Loftus, who had come in to replace O’Connor, then palmed in a goal less than a minute later.
Loftus and Regan (free) tacked on points shortly afterwards, before Jason Doherty hit the London net on 24 minutes to propel Mayo into a ten point lead.
The marauding Aidan O’Shea also galloped through to clip a score on the run as the relentless high pressure on London’s restarts began to pay dividends.
Although the damage had been done, Ciaran Deely’s side duly changed tack with McEvoy driving his restarts further from the danger area.
Ironically, this approach paid off immediately with James Moran and Mark Gottsche working well to create chances that were taken by former Chelsea FC underage star Adrian Moyles (2, one free) and Liam Gavaghan.
The first half scoring was brought to a close by another Evan Regan free to send wind-assisted Mayo in at the break leading by 2-8 to 0-5.
Despite London’s best efforts, there was a sense of inevitability about the second half as Mayo kept the homeside at arm’s length without hitting too many high notes.
However, another purple patch between the 53rd and 58th minutes that yielded five points without reply from substitute Andy Moran (2), Evan Regan (free), Stephen Coen and Kevin McLoughlin showed just what they were capable of.
Moran’s introduction meant that the veteran Mayo attacker became his county’s ‘most-capped’ player of all time as he marked his 133rd appearance with an eye-catching cameo.
The 32 year-old showed he has lost little of his appetite or ability with two well-taken scores, while Alan Dillon (33) also showed some nice touches late on.
London were thirteen points behind with ten minutes remaining, and that was also the margin of defeat when the final whistle sounded.
A converted free from the stylish Adrian Moyles was their only score in the last quarter as Mayo ran their bench and shut up shop impressively.
At the other end, their forwards continued to spurn chances (Mayo had fifteen wides in total) and it was left to Alan Dillon to add the signature score in stoppage time.
Mayo now embark on a five-day training camp in London as they step up their preparations for their Connacht semi-final derby against Galway on Saturday, June 18.
Mayo: Evan Regan 0-7 (5f), Conor Loftus 1-2, Jason Doherty 1-0, Andy Moran 0-2, Robert Hennelly (’45), Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Stephen Coen and Alan Dillon 0-1 each.
London: Adrian Moyles 0-4 (2f), Liam Gavaghan 0-2, Scott Conroy (f), Eoin Murray and Mark Gottsche (f) 0-1 each.
Gavin McEvoy; Philip Butler, Caoimhin Carty, Ciaran Dunne; Colin Dunne, Danny Ryan, Dave McGreevy; James Moran, Liam Gavaghan; Adrian Moyles, Mark Gottsche, Cormac Coyne; Eoin Murray, Scott Conroy, Patrick O’Hara.
Subs used: Lorcan Mulvey (for O’Hara 42), Ciaran Healy (for Colin Dunne 44), Michael Walsh and Cathal Og Greene (for Coyne and Conroy 63), Conor O’Neill and Sean Hickey (for Ciaran Dunne and Murray 65).
Robbie Hennelly; Brendan Harrison, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Patrick Durcan; Stephen Coen, Jason Gibbons; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Jason Doherty; Evan Regan, Cillian O’Connor, Conor O’Shea.
Subs used: Conor Loftus (for O’Connor 7), Shane Nally (for Boyle 47), Andy Moran (for C O’Shea 52), Cathal Carolan (for Doherty 53), Alan Dillon (for Gibbons 57), David Drake (for Keegan 60).
Referee: D O’Mahony (Tipperary)