Holders Mayo dig in to get job done

The 114th Connacht senior final won’t live particularly long in the memory, especially for the purists, but that won’t unduly concern Mayo as they make plans for their return to Croke Park as provincial champions next month.

Holders Mayo dig in to get job done

Against a backdrop of clear blue skies and beautiful sunshine, 23,257 sun-drenched supporters watched Mayo retain the JJ Nestor Cup for the first time in 15 years.

Unfortunately, despite the full-blooded nature of the exchanges, and the closeness on the scoreboard throughout, this dogged affair had war of attrition written all over it from an early stage.

Sligo hit the ground running but the teams were level on five occasions as both defences showed themselves to be well organised, allowing few clear-cut chances.

However, Mayo showed commendable character and no little craft in the final 13 minutes to shoot four points (three from play) that denied Sligo the opportunity to win a fourth provincial title.

Inspired by man of the match Barry Moran, who was sent off in stoppage time after his second booking, Mayo drove forward relentlessly in the closing stages.

This pressure led to substitute Aidan O’Shea, Colm Boyle, Cillian O’Connor (free) and Lee Keegan grabbing the all-important scores.

Boyle’s point was a real bone of contention afterwards though, as television replays suggested his shot had actually gone wide.

The fact the score nudged Mayo ahead, in the 64th minute, is likely to add to Sligo’s sense of disappointment.

James Horan’s decision to spring Aidan O’Shea from the bench six minutes into the second half proved to be a masterstroke.

The defending champions were trailing 0-3 to 0-5 at the break and were still two points down when the 22-year-old arrived after three months out injured.

Together with the outstanding Moran, O’Shea won possession and used it wisely, while his physical presence knocked Shane McManus and Tony Taylor out of their stride.

O’Connor had a mixed afternoon with his free-taking, finishing with a 50% conversion rate, but he nailed a crucial place-kick on 43 minutes to close the gap to the minimum.

With the wind at their backs, Mayo drew level for the second time in the game 60 seconds later when Moran galloped through to point on the run.

Sligo, who had played with confidence and invention in the first half, looked to be running out of steam and were fighting a rearguard action.

But Kevin Walsh’s team rallied superbly and the sides traded points three times over the next 15 minutes to retain the status quo.

On each occasion Sligo took the lead, through flawless place-kicking from Adrian Marren (free) and David Maye (two, a free and a 45), only for Alan Dillon, O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea to respond at the other end.

Locked together at 0-9 apiece, with 11 minutes of normal time left, nobody was ruling out a replayed final for the first since 1998.

Mayo’s full-back line stood firm in the face of Sligo’s counter-attacking raids and all the challengers could muster in the final 20 minutes was a pointed free from Mark Breheny.

It was a much different story in the first half, especially in the first 20 minutes, as Sligo tore into their illustrious opponents from the first whistle.

The tone was set by their inspirational captain Ross Donovan and the tenacious Charlie Harrison as the duo blocked and hassled and harried Mayo from pillar to post.

One shoulder challenge from Donovan on Mayo’s Jason Doherty drew a huge roar from the Sligo crowd and galvanised the outsiders’ challenge.

Danny Geraghty had opened the scoring on four minutes but the defending champions then went 22 minutes without raising another flag.

A string of bad wides dogged their approach work, while they also had a goal from Andy Moran ruled out for an illegal hand pass from O’Connor during the build-up in the first quarter.

In between, Sligo posted excellent points from Alan Costello (free), Mark Breheny (free), David Kelly and Adrian Marren to propel them into the lead.

Playing against the wind, Mayo recovered their composure and Enda Varley (free) and Alan Dillon dug out scores to keep them in touch. As it transpired, they were invaluable when the dust settled as Mayo did what they had to do to retain their title.

Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor 0-3 (2f, 1 45), A Dillon 0-2, A Moran, E Varley (1f), D Geraghty, B Moran, C Boyle, L Keegan, A O’Shea 0-1 each.

Scorers for Sligo: A Marren (2f), M Breheny (2f) 0-3 each, D Maye 0-2 (1f, 45), D Kelly, A Costello (1f) 0-1 each.

Subs for Mayo: A O’Shea for Geraghty (41), M Conroy for Varley (57), A Freeman for Doherty (61).

Subs for Sligo: E O’Hara for Breheny (46), E Mullen for McManus (60), S Coen for Costello (62), J Davey for McGovern (67), D Rooney for Quinn (70).

Referee: C Reilly (Meath).

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