Wholly inept for the opening half an hour, Mayo were at their intoxicating best upon the change of ends. And they needed to be. Otherwise, there was the very real threat this third round qualifier would run a similar course to that of their extra-time wobble against Derry the weekend previous.
Stephen Rochford’s side go into the bowl for this morning’s fourth round draw without having produced anything close to a 70-minute performance this summer. But if they’re enduring 20-minute barren spells against a mid-table Division Two outfit, can we expect football’s perennial bridesmaids to be able to turn it on as seamlessly as flicking a light switch when they arrive at GAA HQ on the August Bank Holiday weekend, providing they reach a seventh successive All-Ireland quarter-final?
Stephen Coen said afterwards, “we are building”, and while their second-half performance was proof of that assertion, they’re not laying the blocks at any great pace.
The visitors to Ennis operated with five forwards in the opening half. Outside of Andy Moran, none were functioning to any degree of effectiveness. Cillian O’Connor missed his first two dead-ball efforts and also fumbled his first two possessions. Conor Loftus’ pace could have asked real questions of the Banner rearguard had the supply not been so dreadful.
Martin McMahon was the spare Clare defender and it took the Mayo management 35 minutes to realise the small man from Kilmurry Ibrickane needed to be curtailed.
The visitors were fortunate to trail by just 0-8 to 0-6 at the break. They had fallen 0-6 to 0-1 behind after 20 minutes and had David Clarke to thank for keeping out Jamie Malone’s goal effort on the quarter-hour mark. Clarke also repelled a tame Pierce Lillis shot, while Ciarán Russell’s attempt in the same passage was well smothered.
Irrespective, when Gordon Kelly turned over Andy Moran in the far corner of the field during the subsequent action, Colm Collins clinched his fists on the sideline. They smelt an upset.
“We weren’t anywhere near where we wanted to be in the first half, but, thankfully, we only went in at half-time two points down and were probably lucky to only be two points down. We kicked two points between the 30th and 35th minute and they were vital scores,” said Rochford.
Act two was more reminiscent of what we’ve come to expect from Mayo.
Kevin McLoughlin had a white flag raised within 20 seconds of the restart. He followed that with a goal chance which was superbly kept out by Joe Hayes. Clare were being pinned down each time they won the ball. There was a creeping inevitability to it all.
On 42 minutes, the dam burst. Joe Hayes’ free kick in front of goal landed straight into the arms of Conor Loftus. He fisted possession over the head of Kevin Harnett to Cillian O’Connor and the Mayo captain duly obliged. The younger O’Connor, Diarmuid, added a second green flag two minutes later, applying the finishing touch to a move involving Cillian, McLoughlin and Aidan O’Shea.
The hosts had to wait 13 minutes of the second half before David Tubridy (free) added to their account. Moreover, they had to wait 31 minutes of the second half for a score from open play.
“Our half-forward line really stepped up their game in the second half,” Rochford continued. “We pretty much controlled the second half and I don’t think we looked under threat once we got the goals. But we have another couple of gears we need to get to if we want to get past round 4.”
C O’Connor (1-5, 0-5 frees); D O’Connor (1-1); A Moran (0-3) K McLoughlin (0-2); K Higgins, L Keegan, A O’Shea (0-1 each).
D Turbridy (0-4, 0-4 frees); E Cleary (0-3, 0-2 frees); K Sexton (0-2, 0-1 ‘45); G Brennan, J Malone, S Collins, G O’Brien (0-1 each).
D Clarke; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, C Boyle, K Higgins; S O’Shea, A O’Shea; D O’Connor, D Vaughan, K McLoughlin; C Loftus, C O’Connor, A Moran.
S Coen for Vaughan (bc, three mins); E Regan for Loftus (48); J Doherty for Moran (55); T Parsons for S O’Shea (59); F Boland for D O’Connor (65); A Dillon for A O’Shea (67).
J Hayes; D Ryan, K Hartnett, G Kelly; C Russell, M McMahon, C O’Dea; G Brennan, C O’Connor; J Malone, S Collins, P Lillis; E Cleary, D Tubridy, K Sexton.
J Hayes for O’Connor (40, inj); E Collins for Russell (41, bc); G O’Brien for O’Dea (53); S Maloney for Lillis (65); D Nagle for Sexton (bc, 70) Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone).