“I'm happy with the two points, but our performance overall was very, very poor.” There was no papering over the cracks from James Horan in Mullingar on Sunday evening. Mayo may have been going home with two more points in the bag, but it wasn't what the Ballintubber man expects from his team in terms of performance on the field.
The vast majority of the 6,600 paying spectators wouldn't have been expecting James Horan to have such reservations about the win ten minutes into the game when Mayo had built up a rapid fire 2-4 to 0-1 lead and it was looking like it was going to be a case of by how many rather than if they won the game. But somehow by the time Eddie Kinsella had blown his half time whistle, Mayo were trailing by 2-8 to 2-7, with the hosts outscoring Mayo by 2-7 to 0-3 over the next 25 minutes in a rain sodden Cusack Park in Mullingar. Mayo took their foot off the gas and Westmeath took the chance and went for it over those 25 minutes.
The game started gloriously for Mayo when Lee Keegan bustled the back of the net only two minutes in. The Westport wing-back who was captain for the day made a run into space behind the Westmeath rearguard who were expecting Mayo to take the easy option of a point from a close in free. Keegan's run was spotted by the alert Mikie Sweeney who picked him out with the quick free and Keegan finished low past Darren Quinn in the hosts goal. Kevin McLoughlin kicked Mayo's first point almost immediately after. The Knockmore man intercepted the short kick out that Quinn attempted and played a quick one-two with Sweeney before firing over on the run.
John Heslin kicked Westmeath's opening score and the first of his personal tally for the day of five points from frees two minutes later. But for the next five minutes, it was all Mayo. Alan Freeman kicked a score after a lighting break involving Donal Vaughan, Aidan O'Shea, Jason Gibbons and Keith Higgins. Enda Varley swept one over the bar after Leek Keegan set up the chance winning a break in the middle of the park and charging forward with intent. Aidan O'Shea put Mayo six points clear, kicking a point after using his power to bustle through a number of tackles before shooting. But it was to get better for Mayo not long after. Donal Vaughan launched a shot that was falling well short of the target, Alan Freeman contested for the dropping ball and knocked it into the path of Mikie Sweeney who buried it in back of the net.
When the Kiltane man's shot hit the back of the net, finding a person to offer you short odds on Westmeath leading the game at the break, would have been a difficult task. But that's exactly what transpired as Mayo too their foot off the gas and Westmeath took full advantage. The hosts grabbed the first of their three goals when Kieran Martin chased in after a James Gonoud effort for a point that took an eternity to drop short of the intended target. The Maryland player used the power he built up in his charge goal-wards to out jump Robbie Hennelly in the Mayo goal, who had a standing jump and fist the ball to the back of the net. Heslin added on a point soon after, with James Dolan also scoring a point after picking up the break after a Heslin free had come back off the post. Mayo did respond with points from O'Shea and Keegan, but Westmeath after being totally dominated in the middle of the park in the opening ten minutes were starting to break more than even in the middle of the field now. James Dolan and Heslin kicked another score each for the hosts while Freeman responded for Mayo to leave the score at 2-7 to 1-5 in favour of the visitors with ten minutes left in the half. The veteran Dessie Dolan cut the gap back to four points with a classy finish under pressure from close range, before Heslin left only a goal between the sides with his fourth point from a placed ball. While this was a home-game for Westmeath, the very large Mayo contingent in the crowd were starting to get a bit worried for their side and their fears proved well founded four minutes before the break. The classy Heslin picked out Dessie Dolan with a exquisite pass and Dolan held on to the ball just long enough for his cousin James Dolan to break past him and the Mayo rearguard at pace and the Garrycastle man crashed the ball to the back of the net. The Westmeath recovery was completed by Kieran Martin kicking a free two minutes later and what seemed unthinkable 25 minutes earlier came to pass and Westmeath went in leading at the break.
The half-time break saw Mayo introduce David Drake for Kevin Keane, however things didn't get off to a great start in the second period with Heslin landing his fifth point form a free two minutes in to put his side two points clear. But what ever was said in the dressing room at half-time started to work not long after and Mayo started to crunch through the gears and and by the 44 minute mark they had pushed themselves back into the lead. Kevin McLoughlin kicked the first of nine unanswered points in 18 minutes. Freeman quickly added on another from a free; as the Aghamore man prepared to take his shot, Cillian O'Connor made his return to action to a huge ovation from the Mayo faithful from the bench. McLoughlin put Mayo back into the lead within seconds of Freeman's point after he once again intercepted a short Westmeath kick-out before slotting it over the bar. Having regained the lead Mayo put their foot down and Freeman(2 ), Keegan, Drake, O'Connor and Brian Gallagher all got in on the scoring act as the Westmeath challenge began to wilt. James Dolan did get his second goal and Westmeath's third of the day, when a poor Mayo goal-kick was intercepted and it was worked to the Garrycastle man who finished at the second time of asking after Robbie Hennelly had saved his first effort. The final score of the game came from the boot of Brian Gallagher who slammed over his second point of the afternoon after coming on for Jason Doherty for the final ten minutes. It was far from vintage from Mayo and they know they'll have to do much better next Sunday when an unbeaten Cork team come to Elvery's MacHale Park.
Mayo: L Keegan 1-2; A Freeman 0-5 (3f ); M Sweeney 1-0; K McLoughlin 0-3 (1f ); A O’Shea, B Gallagher 0-2 each, E Varley, D Drake, C O’Connor (f ) 0-1 each.
Westmeath: J Dolan 2-2; J Heslin 0-5 (5f ); K Martin 1-1; D Dolan 0-1.
Mayo: R Hennelly; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, K Keane; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; A O’Shea, J Gibbons; K McLoughlin, J Doherty, K Higgins; E Varley, A Freeman, M Sweeney. Subs: D Drake for Keane (ht ), C O’Connor for Varley (44 ), S O’Shea for Gibbons (52 ), M Conroy for Sweeney (57 ), B Gallagher for Doherty (61 ), C Carolan for Higgins (67 ).
Westmeath: D Quinn; S Gilmore, K Gavin, K Maguire; P Sharry, J Gilligan, J Gonoud; D Duffy, J Heslin; D Harte, G Egan, K Martin; D Glennon, J Dolan, D Dolan. Subs: D McCormack for Harte (49 ), G Hoey for Glennon (53 ), D Corroon for Duffy (60 ).
Ref: E Kinsella (Laois )