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Mayo take care of business against Westmeath


GETTING TO GRIPS Westmeath’s James Dolan has his jersey pulled by Mayo’s Kevin Keane during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Mayo 3-15
Westmeath 1-14

Mike Finnerty
Croke Park

NOT for the first time this summer we were left with more questions than answers about Mayo’s wellbeing last weekend as they produced yet another erratic display to stumble into next Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
A first win over Westmeath in the championship looked cut and dry at half-time with Mayo leading by eight points and in complete control.
But in keeping with their stop-start performances all season, for some reason they seemed to lose their way after the restart and Westmeath came roaring back into contention.
With ten minutes remaining there were only three points between the sides and, were it not for a string of poor wides from the underdogs, the margin would have been even closer.
Thankfully the arrival of Barry Moran, Conor O’Shea and Chris Barrett off the Mayo bench meant more possession and pace for the 1/33 favourites, and a late scoring burst settled the nerves and broke Westmeath’s stubborn resistance.
Points from Keith Higgins, Cillian O’Connor (free) and man of the match Donie Vaughan gave Mayo a little breathing space before Aidan O’Shea’s injury-time goal settled the issue.
However, there was no disguising Mayo’s relief at the final whistle as they trooped off the field to begin their preparations for Tyrone next weekend.
It had been a very different story at the halfway stage as Mayo’s supporters in the crowd of 27,615 basked in the afterglow of a series of impressive power-plays during a blistering fifteen minute spell.
Despite lining out without the injured Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen Rochford’s team had produced passages of football during the second quarter that were as good as anything we had seen in the last twelve months.
Running hard and fast at the Westmeath goal, and with Andy Moran winning any kind of ball that came his way, the beaten Leinster finalists were unable to cope.
Tom Cribben had set his team up with two sweepers but they were powerless to prevent Kevin McLoughlin, Donie Vaughan and Keith Higgins from running lanes at will.
Goals from Jason Doherty and Cillian O’Connor (a penalty) in the 23rd and 31st minutes were the scoring highlights of Mayo’s time in the ascendancy and they weren’t flattered by an interval lead of 2-10 to 1-5.
When O’Connor’s penalty hit the net (awarded after Westmeath goalkeeper Darren Quinn overcarried the ball in the small square), Mayo’s lead had swollen to eleven points.
At that stage a landslide victory seemed the most likely outcome as Westmeath seemed devoid of energy and ideas.
Their marquee forward, John Heslin, shot four of his team’s scores in that opening period (three from frees) while James Dolan’s goal before the break was as unexpected as it was well-taken.
The wing-back had scored Westmeath’s only previous goal of the championship and there seemed little danger when he took possession around 35 metres from Mayo’s goal.
However, he managed to evade Kevin Keane’s jersey tug before firing the ball low and hard from 20 metres past David Clarke and into the bottom corner.
That score sliced Mayo’s lead back to eight points, and it could have been eroded further just seconds later when Kevin McLoughlin and Brendan Harrison combined to lose the ball after a quick kick-out from Clarke.
However, a slip from Kieran Martin, allied to Clarke’s recovery and Westmeath’s lack of a killer instinct, meant that Mayo escaped with the concession of a point from a free on that occasion.
The half-time whistle sounded soon after with Westmeath’s goal seeming more like a wake-up call for Mayo than anything more sinister.
Little did we know.
The third quarter was a complete write-off for Mayo with Westmeath changing tack, abandoning their ‘two sweepers’ policy and throwing caution to the wind.
The result was a string of points from Heslin, Frank Boyle and Kieran Martin to kickstart their comeback and Mayo were reeled back in.
They also seemed powerless to prevent Westmeath’s revival as their midfield dominance waned and the defence creaked as it came under more sustained pressure, conceding frees and ground far too often.
There were long spells in that second half when Mayo looked spent, but they managed to dig themselves out of a tight corner and eventually quell Westmeath’s rebellion.
Next Saturday will provide answers, one way or another.

D Clarke; B Harrison, K Keane, K Higgins (0-1); L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan (0-1); S O'Shea, D Vaughan (0-1); K McLoughlin (0-1), A O'Shea (1-0), J Doherty (1-1); E Regan (0-3, 2fs), A Moran (0-2), C O'Connor (1-5, 1-0pen, 2fs).
Subs used: B Moran for Boyle (52); A Dillon for Regan (54); C O'Shea for Doherty (59); A Freeman for A Moran (65); C Barrett for Keegan (67); T Parsons for S O'Shea (69)

D Quinn; K Maguire, F Boyle (0-1), K Daly; J Gonoud, D Lynch, J Dolan (1-1); A Stone, G Egan; J Egan, P Sharry, K Martin (0-2); C McCormack, J Heslin (0-10, 7fs), J Connellan.
Subs used: D Corroon for Stone (21); D Daly for Lynch (31); D McNicholas for Connellan (52); D Conway for McCormack (65).

Referee: R Hickey (Clare)

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