Mayo 1-13 Down 3-07
Mayo and Down played out a suitably exciting draw in the first floodlit National League match at McHale Park last night, with Andy Moran's sixth point of the night completing the scoring.
Moran got Mayo back on terms in the dying minutes, before his forward colleague Enda Varley missed a chance to kick James Horan's men to victory.
The Clarke brothers, Marty and John, scored 2-04 for Down in an opening half which saw last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists play with an attacking swagger.
Alan Freeman's goal reduced the deficit for Mayo to 2-05 to 1-04 by half-time, and Down's third goal from Peter Fitzpatrick was swamped by a fantastic flurry of Mayo points.
They scored five unanswered points in a 10-minute spell to draw level at 3-06 to 1-12. Down substitute Conor Maginn and Moran swapped closing scores as the sides shared the spoils.
Horan's first league in charge of Mayo got off to a nightmare start. A '45' from Marty Clarke, in the second minute, drifted through a forest of players and straight into the net. Benny Coulter tried to fist it as it dropped in towards the square but missed and Kenneth O'Malley and his defenders were left with egg on their faces.
Clarke popped over a free, which Moran replied to, before O'Malley's goal came under pressure again. The Ballinrobe goalkeeper dropped a long ball in from Mark Poland, but redeemed himself just as Paul McComiskey was about to pull the trigger.
Alan Dillon doubled Mayo's tally in the 11th minute and although the in-form Mark Ronaldson added a third point, there seemed to be no stopping Down's fluid attack. Coulter was showing some nice touches and playmaker Marty Clarke, Daniel Hughes and Poland were sweeping up plenty of ball when dropping deep.
Hughes and Clarke tagged on points before full-forward John Clarke netted after a neat centre from the increasingly influential Coulter. The same players were involved for Down's next points, Coulter watching his shot strike an upright before Clarke fisted over.
Mayo, who have enjoyed a run of victories in the Connacht FBD League, had to react and they did, ending a 12-minute scoreless spell with a goal from Freeman. Space opened up for him and he needed no second invitation, with his low shot deflecting off a Down defender and into the net in the 25th minute.
Marty Clarke took his tally to 1-3 and Ronaldson notched his second point as the first period closed with four points between the sides. Down boss James McCartan would have been annoyed at such a paltry gap given the stylish football his side produced.
But Mayo dug deep to hang onto the visitors' coattails, despite a high number of handling errors and poor shooting. The hosts showed signs of further improvement when, at the start of the second half, they responded to a Marty Clarke score with three of their own.
Ronaldson and Moran clipped over three successives frees, and Ronan McGarrity and Jason Gibbson were certainly beginning to have more of a say in midfield. Horan's charges were rocked by Fitzpatrick's goal which saw Down build from the back, through Marty Clarke again, before Coulter laid off the final pass.
Down seemed to be able to up their game in sudden bursts, but again Mayo kept in the hunt with Moran, Freeman and wing back Kevin McLoughlin adding three more points to their total. The home crowd upped the decibel level as Moran and Varley both pointed to tie up the game with just four minute remaining.
The game was there for the taking and in the end, a draw was a fair result given the effort that both sides put in. Bigger challenges lay ahead, but a solid night's work for both Horan and his opposite number James McCartan to build on.