There’s one thing about the qualifiers that’s more important than anything else and it’s a simple thing. You have to win your matches. This we did at Páirc Esler in Newry this evening and so we’re into the Round 3 draw on Monday morning.
We controlled this match for most of the evening. True, when Down rocked us back after just seven minutes, Caolan Mooney waltzing unchallenged through our backline before sticking the ball in the net, they were briefly in the ascendancy but we worked hard to re-establish control after that. We reached the halfway stage with a three-point lead.
Conor Loftus, on freetaking duties, landed our opener after Fionn McDonagh had been pushed in the back thirty yards or so out. A rapid downfield move by Down yielded their opener but Andy Moran responded quickly at the other end for us.
It took us a while to settle after conceding the goal but Kevin McLoughlin’s point had a calming effect on us, though Darren Coen’s departure just after on a black card – I didn’t see the incident and have no idea what it was for – was a blow we could have done without. Evan Regan came on for the Hollymount/Carramore man.
Fionn McDonagh – who showed flashes this evening of the style with which he’d graced our early matches in this year’s League – blasted over a screamer off his left to level the match. They then hit two wides before Havern put them back in front.
But the next two scores – from Conor Loftus, after a nice flowing move, and Fionn McDonagh, who was pulled around the place before hooking the ball over off his left – came for us and after that Down would never lead again.
We pushed two clear when Conor banged over a long-range free from out on the right, having missed a similar one a few minutes earlier.
Down’s wastage continued, with two more wides, and we pushed on further, another free from Conor after Kevin McLoughlin had been fouled. They pulled one back straight from the kick-out but then Aidan O’Shea powered forward, took a pass from Andy Moran and fired over.
Down responded in kind immediately but we had the final say before the break. Kevin McLoughlin took an indelicate number of steps before offloading to the charging Chris Barrett who pointed with glee.
Down recorded two more wides on the resumption before we got the half’s first score. Lee Keegan took the sensible option, fisting over as he bore down on goal from the left.
Down were nearly in on goal just after, Mooney leaving Keith Higgins for dead. The point that resulted looked like a let-off for us.
Jason Doherty smashed a piledriver off the woodwork when, as Lee had done earlier, a fisted point was probably the more sensible option. But, soon after, we got the goal that put clear water between the teams.
Andy was fouled out on the right but was up smartly and popped the free inside to Conor Loftus. The ‘keeper charged out and clattered into him but Conor did really well to ride the challenge and slip the ball to the net. When Andy fisted over a few minutes later, after taking a great ball in from Evan Regan, we were seven up and looking like easy winners.
But then we lost our way and let them back into it. Two points for them started to make the game more interesting and the rising panic in our backline as a combination of high balls into the square and renewed hard running by Down made us look more than a bit vulnerable once again.
Lee Keegan stabbed a point over to steady us with fifteen to go to put us six up again but ten minutes later the gap was back down to three and suddenly this match looked anything like closed out.
A point from Diarmuid O’Connor, which only barely made the distance, finally steadied us. We weren’t home and hosed yet, though, with Down once more cutting the gap to three and, with six minutes additional time to be played, they still weren’t completely out of it.
But they weren’t able to add to their tally and instead we bagged the final two scores of the game, finally sealing the win. The first was a delicious outside of the boot effort from Lee Keegan, while the second was fisted over by Ciaran Treacy after a wonderful mazy run by Aidan O’Shea to close out a five-point win.
Champagne football this wasn’t but then again that’s not the type of football one often encounters in Round 2 of the qualifiers. We were good in spots this evening, not so good in other spots but good enough overall to get the win we came for.
It’s a win that gets us into the hat again on Monday morning, which was, after all, the objective from this trip north. Job done, on we go.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barrett (0-1), Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-3), Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan; Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), Aidan O’Shea (0-1); Fionn McDonagh (0-2), Conor Loftus (1-4, three frees), Jason Doherty; Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Darren Coen, Andy Moran (0-2). Subs: Evan Regan for Coen (black card), Mikey Murray for Diarmuid O’Connor (blood) and for McDonagh, Fergal Boland for Doherty, Ciaran Treacy (0-1) for McLoughlin, Michael Plunkett for Moran, James McCormack for O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Down? Pick your top three performers
- Conor Loftus (27%, 465 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (24%, 424 Votes)
- David Clarke (15%, 268 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (11%, 196 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (8%, 146 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (3%, 59 Votes)
- Andy Moran (3%, 54 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (2%, 27 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (1%, 23 Votes)
- Mikey Murray (1%, 13 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 11 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 10 Votes)
- James McCormack (1%, 9 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 8 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 8 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (0%, 7 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 5 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 5 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 3 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 3 Votes)
- Ciaran Treacy (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,031