Taoiseach’s treat as Mayo turn on style

As opening statements go this was as impressive as it could get from Mayo as they cruised into yet another Connacht SFC final at their leisure in Castlebar yesterday.

The defending champions had spent the last eight weeks kicking their heels and Leitrim happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as Mayo took their frustration out on their outclassed guests.

On a day when the sun shone brightly and Elverys MacHale Park was officially opened by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Mayo made hay and treated their supporters in the crowd of 14,398 to an exhibition.

By the end there were 22 points between the sides but, in truth, it could have been much more had Mayo emptied the tank and been truly ruthless.

The statistics make sobering reading for Leitrim and their beleaguered supporters. The winners racked up 4-14 from play as 13 different players registered scores. At the other end, a well-organised and disciplined defence held Leitrim to just three points in the entire second half.

It was little wonder then that hundreds of supporters were streaming out of the ground long before the end of a game that was over by half-time.

First-half goals from Alan Freeman and Andy Moran eased Mayo into a 2-9 to 0-7 lead by the interval and the Leitrim challenge collapsed spectacularly in the second period.

Goals from Andy Moran on 53 minutes and Kevin McLoughlin a quarter-of-an-hour later underlined the one-sided nature of the contest.

On the field, Mayo did as they pleased, with man of the match Barry Moran giving his side complete and utter dominance in the middle of the field and supplying as much possession as his forwards demanded.

A miserable day all-round for Leitrim was compounded in the closing stages when full-back Fabian McMorrow was sent off after being shown a second yellow card for pulling down Mayo sub Enda Varley.

Ironically, the game had taken on a very different complexion after the opening 20 minutes as Leitrim were giving as good as they were getting and only trailed 0-5 to 0-6.

The sides had been level twice by that stage as quick-fire Mayo scores from Cillian O’Connor (who contributed six frees in all) and Alan Dillon were cancelled out by Leitrim’s Darren Sweeney and corner-back David Beck.

The visitors’ playmaker, Emyln Mulligan, exerted a big influence in that first half and his promptings from centre-forward were a joy to watch.

While Mayo defenders Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan broke upfield to nail eye-catching scores, and Alan Dillon also swung over a trademark point, Mulligan kept Leitrim in touch.

He curled over a couple of classy scores to keep things interesting and, at that stage, Mayo’s pre-match odds of 1/80 seemed wide of the mark.

However, the opening goal of the day changed the shape of the game completely as Alan Freeman took a popped pass from Andy Moran before rounding Leitrim goalkeeper, Cathal McCrann, and firing the ball to the roof of the net.

There were 20 minutes on the clock and everything was about to change.

Leitrim’s initial response was quite promising as Mulligan converted a brace of frees to keep the scoreboard moving, but Mayo were starting to build up a head of steam.

They upped the ante in the final five minutes of the half, rattling off 1-2 without reply, with Andy Moran scoring his first championship goal in six years to break Leitrim’s resistance.

Barry Moran’s barnstorming run and point on the stroke of half time also had a decisive look to it, and Leitrim left the field with their heads down.

The second half was a non-event; James Horan ran his bench and Richie Feeney, Ronan McGarrity, Michael Conroy and Varley made the most of the opportunity to impress. Conor Mortimer, however, was much more subdued.

Mayo were tipping along in front by 12 points (2-14 to 0-8) when Andy Moran fired in his second goal midway through the half.

The last quarter was little more than a training spin and time will tell just what effect this game has on both teams as they go their separate ways.

Subs for Mayo: R Feeney for Boyle (44), R McGarrity for Geraghty (48), C Mortimer for Freeman (52), M Conroy for Doherty (52), E Varley for Moran (60).

Subs for Leitrim: R Lowe for McKeon (inj, 8), C Sheridan for Moran (ht), G Hickey for McGowan (56), B McDonald for Croal (46), K Conlon for Lowe (56), Conlon for Lowe (65).

Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor 0-6 (6f), A Moran 2-0, K McLoughlin 1-2, A Dillon 0-3, C Mortimer 0-2 (1f), K Higgins, L Keegan, B Moran, D Geraghty, M Conroy, R McGarrity, E Varley 0-1 each.

Scorers for Leitrim: E Mulligan 0-7 (5f), D Beck, D Sweeney, R Cox 0-1 each.

Referee: M Higgins (Fermanagh).

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