Horan happy as Mayo show steely side

For a team accused of having a soft centre, a six-point win over Armagh in the Athletic Grounds has to go down as a good night.

Mayo effectively had to win this Allianz FL Division 1 tie three times as Armagh pegged them back twice but James Horan preferred to dwell on the final flourish when his team halted a five-point scoring spree from Armagh to reel off the last three scores.

“We had a few scares there in the middle of the second-half when we fell asleep a little bit but in fairness to Armagh, they kept plodding away and stayed in the game,” he said.

“We should have kicked on and been further ahead but we finished strong, which we’d be very happy with. A six point win away to Armagh is ok.”

In truth, it was a little more than ok because this was a very good performance by Mayo, even if they made life tougher than it needed to be.

They were clearly the better side, racing into a 1-4 to 0-0 lead after nine minutes. Andy Moran finished the goal well when David Clarke’s off-target 45 was knocked down by Enda Varley into his path and his low shot found the net.

Armagh got it back to 1-7 to 0-6 by half-time, yet even when Mayo kicked on again after landing the first four scores of the second half, it wasn’t over. The visitors were held scoreless for the next 25 minutes as Armagh tackled hard and scrapped for every ball.

Missing the suspended Ciarán McKeever and losing Charlie Vernon through injury early on, they relied heavily on the frees by Aidan Forker and Brian Mallon. The Armagh starting 15 only managed two points from play all evening.

“We started very well,” said Horan. “We maybe caught Armagh a little bit cold.

“We got a few scores ahead on the board which kept us in the driving seat really. A few things went against us, a few of the subs maybe didn’t have the impact we’d have liked, and they got the momentum back.

“We had a goal-line clearance [Colm Boyle fisted out Rafferty’s shot] but I thought that when we rode that, we came out strong looking to win the game.”

Mayo are still behind a lot of teams in terms of physical conditioning. Old habits die hard and on too many occasions on Saturday night, they were stripped of possession by stronger-looking Armagh men who put a lot of pressure on the man on the ball.

“They [Armagh] are strong in the tackle,” conceded Horan, “but I was pleased with how we overcame that.”

There certainly was a spirited resolve about Mayo. They moved the ball swiftly and intelligently at times, the best move of the match resulting in a point for Enda Varley early in the second half when the impressive Kevin Keane intercepted an Armagh pass and another four Mayo players were involved in the score.

Their half-back line was superb and in Alan Freeman they had a willing outlet, someone who was constantly available and when he moved inside in the second-half, caused Armagh a lot of problems.

“A missed opportunity,” was how Paddy O’Rourke described the defeat.

Having battled hard to earn an opening round draw with Cork, their win in Tralee next day out indicated that even without the Crossmaglen contingent they had enough about them to stay in this division.

Now it’s not as clearcut, especially with only one home game remaining against Down on March 24. O’Rourke was brutally honest in his assessment of Armagh’s performance.

“If we’d got the goal near the end we would have won the game, but in hindsight we wouldn’t have deserved to win it,” he admitted.

“For most of the game we were playing catch-up. We played second fiddle for the first 15 minutes and were chasing the game after that. When you do that at this level it’s very difficult to get it back.

“We had a very bad start and a bad start to the second-half as well but fair play to the boys, they chased the game and battled. We could have got something out of it, but the performance is disappointing me more than the result.”

It’s not going to get any easier for Armagh, who take on All-Ireland champions Dublin in Croke Park on Sunday.

“The boys will be hurting after that performance, so hopefully we can get a more spirited performance next week,” added O’Rourke.

Scorers for Armagh: A Forker 0-6 (4fs, 1 45), B Mallon 0-2fs, G McParland 0-2 each, C Watters 0-1.

Scorers for Mayo: A Freeman 0-5 (4fs), E Varley, C Mortimer (3fs) 0-4 each, A Moran 1-0, L Keegan 0-1).

Subs for Armagh: S Campbell for Vernon (21), C Watters for B Mallon (ht), R Rafferty for McParland (57), J Lavery for Campbell (57), M Stevenson for P Duffy (59).

Subs for Mayo: S O’Shea for B Moran (51), C Boyle for Keane (58), P Harte for A Moran (66).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).

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