Bloody hell, we made hard work of that. Despite the many permutations about how Division One might finish up, a win for us today against Down at MacHale Park was always likely to keep us up. It was a win we got but the way we fell asunder in the final quarter almost resulted in victory – and our top tier status – being snatched away from us. But at least we managed to steady ourselves right at the finish to see out the nerviest of wins.
It should never have got to that. We were seven points up midway through the second half but we still couldn’t shake the Mournemen off. From what I could gather from following this one on the radio and online, the bulk of the blame for our failure to close the game out efficiently was an overly accommodating backline. For once, it appears our much-criticised forward division wasn’t in the firing line.
It was announced today that this match was our 100th to be played at MacHale Park and we started it off in confident enough fashion. We got the first two points of the day – from Alan Freeman and Chris Barrett – before Mallon opened the Northerners’ account. We got the next three scores, two frees from Evan Regan and one from play by Aidan O’Shea, as we took a firm grip on proceedings.
As was to be the case all day, though, we didn’t build on this dominance. Instead it was Down who got the next two scores to keep them in touch.
We did manage to bolt clear after that. Evan Regan and O’Hare swapped scores from frees, then Cillian O’Connor pointed from a free after a foul on Jason Doherty. The Ballintubber man – captain for the day – got the next score too and a significant one it was as well. Evan Regan was fouled in the square and Cillian fairly wellied the spot-kick to the net:
— Emma (@EmmaMc7) April 3, 2016
This was the moment to push on and put the game to bed without any fuss. But we didn’t as Down got three out of the next four scores to stay alive in the contest. Alan Freeman responded by pushing our lead back out to five but they then bagged the final three scores of the half to trail by just two at the break.
The As It Stands table at this point had Monaghan in the jump seat to Division Two, as they were losing to Donegal, but not by much. Cork were also losing but also still in touch against Kerry so coming out for the second half our lads would have known that securing a win was an absolute prerequisite for us in our quest to retain our top tier status for another year.
Like the first half we started after the break like we meant business. Three pointed frees, the first two from Cillian and the other front Evan, restored our five-point advantage so once again we looked comfortable.
And once again we let them back into it. Points by Dornan and Devlin pared the lead back to three.
When we stretched the lead out to seven – Jason Doherty from play and frees from Cillian and Evan (2) – that should have been the end of it. But then the scores dried up for us and they bagged five on the spin to claw their way right back into it with time running out.
I was following results elsewhere and could see that Monaghan had pulled level in Castleblaney. If our meltdown in Castlebar continued, I could see we were heading right for the trapdoor.
With both Cillian O’Connor and Alan Freeman both subbed off by now, the free that Evan Regan shaped up to take on the left-hand side of the posts was a harder one for us that it really should have been. Fair play to Evan, though, as he popped it over confidently to give us some vital breathing space.
Into injury time now and a goal for O’Hare at the other end threw the contest right back into the melting pot. David Clarke had batted away the initial goal attempt but we failed to clear our lines and O’Hare made no mistake at the second attempt.
Our lead was now down to a point and Monaghan were winning. A draw wouldn’t be enough for us at this stage.
Down, sensing blood, poured forward in search of the scores that would secure their first league points. This time, though, our backline held and instead it was sub Andy Moran – whom Midwest said was equalling James Nallen’s record for most appearances in a Mayo jersey today – who knocked over a precious point into the Bacon Factory End. Evan Regan followed up with another free – his ninth score of the day – to complete the recovery from that late wobble and seal a three-point win for us.
It goes without saying that the result – and our survival in Division One – was all that mattered today. It would have been great to have done the job with a bit of panache but I guess panache will have to wait for another day.
The bottom line is that, despite losing four out of our opening five matches in this League campaign, we’ve done enough, yet again, to stay in the top division. Who would have thought on that awful day in January when Cork whipped our asses that it would be them and not us to lose their place at the top table come April?
In the final analysis, and despite the various bumps on the road we hit along the way, this League campaign – Stephen Rochford’s first – can now be chalked down as a success. He was, after all, right about it: it was all about survival and survive we did.
Job done, time to move on. Summer football here we come.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Kevin Keane, Chris Barrett (0-1); Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Shane Nally; Tom Parsons, Seamus O’Shea; Conor O’Shea, Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-1); Evan Regan (0-9, seven frees), Alan Freeman (0-2), Cillian O’Connor (1-4, penalty goal and four frees). Subs: Paddy Durcan for Barrett, Alan Dillon for Freeman, Barry Moran for Seamus O’Shea, Cathal Carolan for Conor O’Shea, Andy Moran (0-1) for O’Connor.
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