The Laois county board had done their bit to ensure that there was no repeat of the scenes from last months All Ireland junior club semi-final, with a strategically placed sign warning people to stay off the playing field. While Saturday night did mark the start of the season proper on a national level, there was never any chance that the freezing temperatures in Portlaoise could be raised on or off the field enough to see a mass exodus from the subs bench as was witnessed in that encounter.
The old cliche a game of two half's could be used to describe Saturday nights game, and while on a brief glance the fact that Mayo went in at the break leading, should nullify the need to use that phrase. It was only thanks to a lucky deflection late on that James Horan's men went in at the break in front.
Mayo showed no changes from the starting 15 that was announced on Friday evening, with the only alteration coming on the bench where Danny Geraghty replaced Aidan O'Shea who was injured playing for DIT in Sigerson Cup action during the week. On the field for Mayo the only swap in positioning was Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan swapping corners before throw in. Seamus O'Shea and Patrick Harte were put out as yet another midfield pairing as Horan tries to find his best duo, and in the first half in particular neither man really did that much at all to say that they should be it. They were beaten well contesting for the ball in the air and failed to come out even in the breaking ball stakes also. Both sides went for the big man at full forward option, with Barry Moran taking up station at the edge of the square for Mayo and Padraig Clancy doing the duty for the midlands men. The clear winner of this contest early on were Laois, with Clancy first giving Ger Cafferkey a tough time, until the Ballina man had to leave the action injured 13 minutes in and then Eoghan Reilly had more than his hands full with the Timahoe man. Mayo did try themselves a few early bombardments into Moran, but with far less success of the Laois tactic. Ross Munnelly opened the scoring from a free out on the left hand-side after eight minutes, this was cancelled out by a fine score from Barry Moran who did claim a long ball in cleanly before he swung it over the bar with ease less than a minute late. Mayo took the lead on ten minutes when captain Alan Dillon hit their second point, it should have in reality been a goal though. Conor Mortimer looked to have been fouled as he tried to make space for a shot, but he was still able to get the ball away to Dillon who cut through a gap to go clean in on goal, but he drove his effort over the bar. Munnelly leveled the game up a couple of minutes later from a free after Clancy was fouled when he won the ball close into goal. The midlands men went back into the lead just after the quarter of an hour mark when John O'Loughlin hit a booming effort from well out the park. That lead was doubled a short time later when David Conway kicked another pointed free after Eoghan Reilly had fouled Clancy under the dropping ball, Conway pushed the lead out to 0-5 to 0-2 with a fine score on the turn from play after 20 minutes.
Mayo were starting to get to grips with the Laois tactics of pulling almost their entire team behind the ball when they lost possession and looking to break quick and let the ball into Clancy with Conway and Paul Cahillane looking for the breaks off him. Conor Mortimer opened his account for the game from a free on the right hand side after 24 minutes. David Clarke was forced into a smart save two minutes later when he Clancy won the ball over the head of Reilly and cut in at goal, but the Ballina man stood tall and cut the angle down before saving the ball well. Clarke had a good game in goal, in the second half in particular he came off his line to break the dropping ball away from Clancy on a number of occasions. Conway tacked on another point from a free to leave double scores between the sides.
Conor Mortimer coughed up a goal chance for Mayo just after the half hour mark. Lee Keegan drove down the field and pinged a pass into the arms of Andy Moran, the Ballaghderreen man seemed to loose possesion but it fell into the path of Conor Mortimer on the ground. The Parnell's man tried to take it on soccer style, but his fresh air kick as he went to pull the trigger only resulted in him missing the ball and ending up flat on his face as he lost his balance. But to give him his credit, he did get his paw on the ball and tried to flick it to the net as he landed.
Mayo were pulled level in dramatic fashion a minute before the break, Alan Dillon played the ball into the arms of Alan Freeman who was moving at speed towards the goal. Freeman had only one thing on his mind and pulled the trigger. His shot took a massive deflection off midfielder John O'Loughlin which left Eoin Culliton stranded in the Laois goal.
Mortimer added on a point from a free before the break to give Mayo a lead which looked very unlikely a few minutes earlier.
Both sides came out unchanged after the break, but the contest was completely changed as Mayo had firmly got to grips with the Laois tactics, and O'Shea and Harte came into the game more, with O'Shea wining a few balls and heading off on some hard driving runs at the Laois defence. Lois did kick the first score of the half, but they would only register two points in the entire 35 minutes as Mayo pulled away.
Mortimer got the first point of the half for Mayo after O'Shea won the ball in air and played it into Barry Moran, who fed the ball back to Kevin McLoughlin. The Knockmore man picked out Mortimer who fired over a fine point from a tight angle. Alan Freeman hit the point of the night nine minutes into the half when he cut the ball over the bar with the outside of his right boot from out near the right hand touchline. The game entered a fallow period on the scoreboard (which had the wrong score on it come full time, not the first time this has happened to a Mayo side in the midlands in the last few weeks, with Davitts suffering a similar fate a few miles away in Tullamore ) and was only broken by Laois last point with 14 minutes left. Mayo hit back with points from Mortimer and Freeman before sub Enda Varley kicked a trademark point on the run. The Garrymore man went on to add another point to his personal total before the end, as Mayo dominated the closing stages of the game to pick up their first two points of the National League with Dublin up next in McHale Park.
Mayo: D Clarke; L Keegan, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; P Gardiner, D Vaughan, R Feeney; S O'Shea, P Harte; K McLoughlin, A Freeman (1-2 ), A Dillon (0-1 ); C Mortimer (0-5 4f ), B Moran (0-1 ), A Moran. Subs: E Reilly for Cafferkey (13 mins ), J Doherty for Harte (53 mins ), E Varley (0-2 ) for A Moran (53 mins ), D Geraghty for S O'Shea (61 mins )
Laois: E Culliton; C Healy, K Lillis, P O'Leary; D Strong (0-1 ), S Julian, C Boyle; B Quigley, J O'Loughlin (0-1 ); R Munnelly (0-2,1f ), K Meaney, C Begley; P Cahillane, P Clancy, D Conway (0-4, 3f ). D O'Connor for P Cahillane (50 mins ), MJ Tierney for D Conway (50 mins ), B Mulligan for S Jullian (59 mins )
Ref: R Hickey (Clare )