Mayo’s season is still alive, despite another testing afternoon which saw them pushed to extra-time by Derry at McHale Park, writes Francis Mooney.
Stephen Rochford’s side did finish with a significant 11 points win, but more questions were raised than answered about their readiness to challenge for an All-Irleand title once again.
An Oak Leaf side that had been humbled in Ulster by Tyrone looked set to win a tight contest in normal time, until Conor Loftus came off the bench to smash home a crucial goal.
True, Derry needed a stoppage time goal from Mark Lynch, along with a string of fine saves from Ben McKinless, to get to extra-time, but they pushed the Connacht men all the way for 75 minutes.
Derry legs were no longer able to carry the fight once Jason Doherty fired in a second Mayo goal, and for the remainder of extra-time, it was a canter for the westerners.
Mayo made an encouraging start with scores from Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran, but once Derry got into their stride, it was clear a nervous home defence was in trouble.
Building from deep with just two men stationed in the inside line, the Oak Leafers took on their opponents with pace on the flanks and quick movement of the ball.
Niall Loughlin got them moving with a couple of scores, and it was Benny Heron who charged through the middle to fire over an inspirational lead point in the 16th minute.
Skipper Enda Lynn provided the pass for Ryan Bell to shoot them two ahead, and the home side went ten minutes without a score, before O’Connor converted his second free.
Loughlin and O’Connor traded further frees, but Mayo’s finishing was a problem as they racked up eight first half wides.
Lee Keegan pushed up to punch over a point, but Derry, with Chrissy McKaigue giving them an edge around midfield, where Benny Heron worked tirelessly, continued to press with menace.
Mayo almost had a goal when ‘keeper Ben McKinless pushed an Andy Moran effort on to a post, and denied O’Connor from the rebound, but Derry were also denied by goalkeeper David Clarke, who denied Carlus McWilliams, before the ball cannoned off a defender and on to a post.
The Ulster men lost midfielder Conor McAtamney to a black card just before the break, but thanks to a fourth score from Loughlin, they turned around with a narrow 0-8 to 0-7 lead.
McWilliams stretched the advantage, but O’Connor had another goal chance when he connected with brother Diarmuid’s dropping delivery, but couldn’t direct his shot on target.
Remarkably, a third opportunity fell to O’Connor, but this time he was denied by a superb McKinless save, after Moran had seen a brilliant effort come back off a post.
The Derry keeper pulled off yet another stunning save, this time from Kevin McLaughlin, and James Kielt came off the bench to drill over a free, restoring Derry’s two points cushion.
But Mayo got the goal they so desperately needed when O’Connor sent substitute Conor Loftus in to rifle his shot to the roof or the net.
When the same player added a point, it looked as if they had turned it around, but less than two minutes later, as the game slipped into stoppage time, Carlus McWilliams floated in a delivery for Derry sub Mark Lynch to punch to the net.
They were tied at 1-12 to 1-12 at the end of 70-plus minutes, but substitute Jason Doherty banged in a second Mayo goal.
And then it was the turn of their goalkeeper David Clarke to perform heroics with a penalty save from Kielt.
Despite the loss of Patrick Durcan to a straight red card, they turned around with a seven points advantage, 2-17 to 1-13, O’Connor having brought his tally to ten points, including a first from play.
And they pushed the gap out to 11 points with points from O’Connor, who finished with 12, Doherty and Diarmuid O’Connor.
Mayo: D Clarke; B Harrison; G Cafferkey, C Barrett; C Boyle, L Keegan (0-1), P Durcan (0-1); D Vaughan, T Parsons; F Boland, A O’Shea (0-1), S Coen; K McLoughlin (0-1), C O’Connor (0-12, 9f, 1 ’45), A Moran (0-2).
Subs: D O’Connor (0-1) for Boland (h-t), S O’Shea for Vaughan (54), J Doherty (1-1) for Coen (54), C Loftus (1-1) for Moran (56), D Drake for Harrison (63), C Crowe for Barrett (81), S Nally for Keegan (84), D Kirby for McLoughlin (87)
Derry: B McKinless; N Keenan, B Rogers, K McKaigue; M McEvoy, C McFaul, C McWilliams (0-1); C McKaigue, C McAtamney, D Heavron (0-1); R Bell (0-2), N Loughlin (0-06, 5f), E Lynn; D Tallon, D Heavron, B Heron (0-1).
Subs: E McGuckin for McAtamney (BC 35), M Lynch (1-1) for Tallon (46), J Kielt (0-1, f) for Bell (56), S McGuigan for Lynn (67), C Nevin for McEvoy (75), N Forrester for McFaul (75), G O’Neill for Loughlin (84), C Doherty for Heron (86)
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).