Mayo almost staged a amazing comeback win against Down in McHale Park on Saturday night, but Peadar Gardiner's last ditch effort was just off target in the night sky at the county ground. Mayo trailed by 3-6 to 1-7 with twenty minutes to go after Down had just scored their third goal of the contest, but a spirited fight back from Mayo saw them pull level and eventually have Down on the rack before the final whistle. Andy Moran was the man who stepped up when the need arose one minute before full time to finish off a move started by Alan Dillon to kick Mayo's 13th point and send the crowd into raptures. Moran's score came a matter of seconds after Conor Maginn had put Down back into the lead after a fantastic Mayo fight back that had seen them come from seven points down only a matter of minutes earlier. Down had gone seven points clear when Ronan McGarrity was the unlucky man to divert the ball into his own net as he tried to stop Maginn's hand pass from finding a team mate who would have been able to walk the ball into the net.
It took Mayo a while to get going in the game, with Down looking comfortable early on with their half forward line of Danny Hughes, Mark Poland and Martin Clarke looking very impressive. Mayo though were doing well around the middle with McGarrity and league debutant Jason Gibbons impressing in the midfield sector winning a lot of ball, as did Tom Parsons when he replaced Gibbons late on. The newcomers to the team did well with Richie Feeney putting himself about the place while he was on the pitch, while Cathal Hallinan did as good a job as you could expect from a man who was making his debut at full back. The Ballintubber man has a lot still to learn, but has the look of a man who can offer a lot in the coming months. From the 16th minute of the second half when Down got their third goal, until Maginn's point Mayo kept the All Ireland finalists scoreless. Mayo managed to rattle off seven unanswered points with Enda Varley's effort six minutes from time one of those once in a life time efforts. The Garrymore man somehow managed to find the distance and accuracy he needed while falling off balance under pressure from well out the field. That point was proceeded by efforts from the likes of Kevin McLoughlin, Andy Moran and Alan Freeman, who had to leave the action with what looked like a broken bone in his hand before the conclusion. The Aghamore man will be missed by Mayo if the injury is serious as his direct running throughout caused the Down defence all manner of problems
Mayo trailed at the break by 2-5 to1-4, after looking like they would be wiped out early on by Down who were flooding through from defence to attack with some incisive attacking play. They held on to the ball well while moving up the field with Martin Clarke their main go to man. Clarke was giving Ger Cafferkey a torrid time through out the opening exchanges, with the Ballina Stephenites defender well off his man on numerous occasions. Clarke's goal from a deflected 45 inside the opening minute gave his side the perfect start, as they raced into an early lead. The An Riocht clubman kicked his sides second point on five minutes from a free close in, before Mayo managed to register a score. Mayo made the breakthrough on the scoreboard when Andy Moran clipped the ball over the bar after the ball was worked back across the face of goal following a speculative shot by Alan Freeman which never troubled the posts. Mayo got their second score 12 minutes in from Alan Dillon, who made some space for himself with a characteristic swivel of the hips before he shot. Danny Hughes then kicked what looked would be the score of the game, when he bent a right footed shot over the bar from the stand side of the field to keep Down three points clear with 13 minutes on the clock. Mayo swept back down the field and Mark Ronaldson finished a move that was started by the tireless Keith Higgins who won the ball back in the opposite corner of the field. Down then moved five points clear thanks to a point from Clarke and their second goal of the night from John Clarke, a Martin Clarke shot for a point came back off the post and was claimed by Brendan Coulter who passed it across the goal mouth for an easy finish for the full forward.
Mayo hit back through a Alan Freeman goal almost straight away with the Aghamore man driving through the Down defence before arrowing a shot goal wards which took a slight deflection before it went in. John and Martin Clarke kicked Down's last two scores of the half with a Mark Ronaldson free the word on the opening half to leave the score 2-5 to 1-4 at the break.
On a night when a big crowd came to McHale Park under the lights and added brought a championship like atmosphere to the game, James Horan be happy with the fight shown by his players but know a lot more has to be worked on in the coming weeks.
Mayo: Kenneth O’Malley; Tom Cunniffe, Cathal Hallinan, Keith Higgins; Richie Feeney, Ger Cafferkey, Kevin McLoughlin; Ronan McGarrity, Jason Gibbons; Andy Moran, Aidan O’Shea , Alan Dillon; Enda Varley, Alan Freeman, Mark Ronaldson. Subs: N Douglas, P Gardiner, T Parsons, C O'Connor
Down: Brendan McVeigh; Gerard McCartan, Dan Gordon, Luke Howard; Aidan Brannigan, Kevin McKernan, Paul McPolin; Peter Fitzpatrick, Kalum King; Daniel Hughes, Mark Poland, Martin Clarke; Paul McComiskey, John Clarke, Brendan Coulter. Subs: C Maginn, R Murtagh, P Murney.