Dogged Down make Mayo men work to avoid the drop
National Football League Division One: Mayo 1-19 Down 1-16
THE Mourne men may have been resigned to their fate ahead of Sunday’s final game of the National League away to Mayo, but Down refused to go down without a fight and pushed the Westerners every step of the way in Castlebar.
A crowd of 8,352 turned up expecting to see Mayo clock up what was supposed to be the routine win they needed to continue their unrivalled long stay in Division One. But instead, the home fans were left on the edge of their seats as Mayo ended up securing the two precious points they needed to stay up right at the death.
Late scores from veteran Andy Moran and impressive newcomer Evan Regan 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,” said Down manager Eamonn Burns.
“I suppose at the end of the day, Mayo’s experience got them over the line. We scored 1-16, and that would be enough to win you most games. I thought they battled hard, they kept going when the tide turned against them in the second half, and they really battled right to the end. It’s very encouraging from our perspective, we’re just disappointed about the result.”
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,” said Mayo manager Stephen Rochford.
“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 a big plus. 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.
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 chipped in 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 running game began to cause Mayo 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.
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. At that stage, the game looked over as a contest but Down rallied impressively and hit 1-3 down the home stretch.
The 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 Moran and Regan to guide them to safety.
Mayo: 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, 0-7 frees), A Freeman (0-2), C O’Connor 1-4, 1-0 pen, 0-4 frees); Subs: 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).
Down: M Cunningham (0-2 frees); 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, 0-5 frees), S Dornan (0-2); Subs: 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).