This long trek to Armagh on Saturday night promised to be a very tough examination of Mayo's progress this year. The hosts had drawn with Cork in the same venue in the first round and followed that up by taking two points home from a round trip to Kerry in round two.
Mayo who were notoriously slow starters last year in the league got off to the kind of start that James Horan would have been dreaming of during the week. With only eight minutes gone on the clock, Mayo were leading by 1-4 to 0-0 and a rout looked on. Alan Freeman showed the way, two minutes in with a neat point from the left wing, he followed it up with two pointed frees inside the next four minutes. The first free came about after Mayo blitzed down the left flank from defence to attack. Lee Keegan, Alan Dillon, Donal Vaughan and Andy Moran were all involved before the ball was worked back to Vaughan who was dragged to the ground as he bore down on goal. Freeman's second pointed free came after Aidan O'Shea forced Charlie Vernon to foul the ball in the middle of the park. The ball was moved 10 meters closer to goal for dissent and Freeman did the rest. The Mayo goal also came as a result of a set piece, Richie Feeney up from his wing back position chased the ball down on the deck and Paul Duffy conceded a 45'. David Clarke stepped up and drove the ball goalwards, it broke from a defender to Andy Moran who pulled on the ball on the deck and drove it past Philip McEvoy. This was quickly followed by a point from Enda Varley from close range.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for Mayo in the opening stages, when Armagh attacked, twice Donal Vaughan had to throw out a arm to pull off a last ditch block to stop Armagh working a goal scoring chance. Mayo would go 16 minutes before their next score and in that time frame the hosts had the gap cut back to only three points. Adrian Forker kicked two points, with Brian Mallon also kicking one long range free. Mayo on a number of occasions played a dangerous game by trying to build and attack from defence with short hand passing. For Armagh's third point, that tactic led to the concession of the point. Barry Moran turned the ball over on his own 45' but in reality that root cause of the concession of that score came a long time before Moran coughed up the ball. At least twice the ball went from side to side across the Mayo full back line, before it fell to Gavin McPartland who drove it over the bar with out a seconds thought.
The rest of the half was tit for tat scoring between the two sides, with Conor Mortimer kicking two frees for Mayo and Alan Freeman getting his fourth point and third from a free from close range, sending Mayo in at the break leading by 1-7 to 0-6.
It took Mayo five minutes to get going in the second half, but when they did they put another four points between the sides in breathtaking five minute period. Conor Mortimer kicked it off with a pointed free, which he followed up with a great point from play. Then Mortimer dropped a shoulder to turn his man before firing over the bar from distance a sweet left footed effort. Enda Varley added on of his trademark points on the run, before Lee Keegan got involved when he was on the end of a a sweeping move started by Ger Cafferkey in the full back line. Armagh struck back with pointed from from Aidan Forker on the three quarters of an hour mark, but it would be another ten minutes before the hosts scored again, despite laying siege to the Mayo defence for long periods. But when they hit back they did it with purpose and with when there were five minutes left on the clock the seven point lead Mayo had enjoyed was cut back to three, he points coming from a brace for both Aidan Forker and Colm Watters. It could have been worse, as with 27 minutes gone in the half Colm Boyle had to claw the ball off the line after a barreling run from Brendan Donaghy from his own full back line saw the ball break dangerously and evade David Clarke, but the Davitts man who had just come on threw himself at the ball and stopped it crossing the line. With normal time just elapsing Mayo nerves were calmed a little when Alan Freeman caught a lost cause ball on the end line after a poor shot by Pat Harte. Freeman was fouled and he put it between the posts to put four points between the sides. From the kick out Aidan O'Shea rose highest to win the ball, he played in Enda Varley who kicked a trademark Varley point on the run to put five between the sides as injury time slipped away. Varley wrapped up the scoring when he fisted over the bar after being played in by Richie Feeney to seal a hard fought win by Mayo against the Ulster men in their own back yard
Armagh: P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, D McKenna; K Dyas, P Duffy, D Moriarty; C Vernon, M Macken, A Forker, B Mallon, A Duffy; C Rafferty, J Kingham, G McParland. Subs: S Campbell, C Watters, J Lavery, R Rafferty
Mayo: D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; R Feeney, D Vaughan, L Keegan; A O'Shea, B Moran; A Freeman , A Dillon, J Doherty; C Mortimer, A Moran, E Varley. Subs: S O'Shea, C Boyle, P Harte.
Ref: M Deegan (Laois )