By Jackie Cahill at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, Longford
Mayo 3-8 Westmeath 1-13
Cora Staunton proved the difference as Mayo had to work desperately hard for victory over Westmeath in this afternoon’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies senior football championship round 2 qualifier.
Staunton’s late free, a contentious award that was hotly-disputed by Westmeath, settled an absorbing tie at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park in Longford.
Westmeath, who trailed by nine points during the first half, fought back to level matters with a brilliant goal by Sarah Dolan four minutes from time.
But with less than two minutes remaining, Johanna Maher was adjudged to have committed a foul and Staunton tapped over the winning point, taking her match tally to 2-6.
Mayo hung on grimly for the win in the final minute and are now safely through to the TG4 All-Ireland quarter-finals.
This was a super effort from Westmeath, who had beaten Clare in their previous outing, but ultimately Mayo held on to atone for their Connacht final defeat to Galway.
At half-time, Mayo were 2-6 to 0-7 clear but a strong final ten minutes from Westmeath reduced the interval deficit to five points, after Mayo had been 2-6 to 0-3 in front by the 18th minute.
And Westmeath, rank outsiders before throw-in, were unlucky to see early efforts from Laura Brennan and Fiona Leavy crash back to safety off the Mayo crossbar.
Mayo, despite registering a total of eleven wides, took the big chances that came their way and in Staunton, they had a proven matchwinner.
The Carnacon star netted in the seventh minute at the second attempt, after Sarah Keegan had saved her initial effort.
And Sarah Rowe struck for Mayo’s second goal in the 14th minute, as the Westerners took control.
But Westmeath were clinging to Mayo’s coattails, due in main to the free-taking of Maud Annie Foley and Fiona Claffey’s class in attack.
And as the second half elapsed, a major upset became a distinct possibility.
Westmeath were dealt a blow in the 43rd minute when full-back Rebecca Dunne was sinbinned for hauling down Staunton.
And when Staunton netted her second goal three minutes later, to put Mayo seven points clear (3-7 to 0-9), the Lake County looked doomed.
But after Claffey sparked the Lake County revival with a point, Mayo lost full-back Helena Lohan and midfielder Sarah Tierney down the home straight to yellow cards.
And when Dolan collected a quick Claffey free to score a quite sensational goal from an acute angle, the sides were level.
But there was still time for Staunton to settle the tie with that late free, as Westmeath argued that Maher had not fouled the lethal Mayo forward.
Referee Farrelly was then forced to blow the full-time whistle to signal the end of the game, after the electronic time clock malfunctioned with over a minute to go.
Scorers for Mayo: C Staunton 2-6 (0-4f), S Rowe 1-1, K Sullivan 0-1.
Scorers for Westmeath: M.A. Foley 0-5f, F Claffey 0-4, S Dolan 1-0, L Kiernan, J Maher, C Blundell & F Leavy 0-1 each.
MAYO: Y Byrne; M Corbett, H Lohan, A Bell; M Naughton, C Connolly, M Carter; N Kelly, S Tierney; K Sullivan, F McHale, D Hughes; A Herbert, S uaRowe, C Staunton.
Subs: D Doherty for Herbert (26), F Doherty for Kelly (40), A Tuohy for Connolly (54).
WESTMEATH: S Keegan; A Martin, R Dunne, T Durkan; L Kiernan, J Rogers, L Brennan; M.A. Foley, R Kearney; L Duncan, J Maher, C Blundell; F Leavy, F Claffey, K Somers.
Subs: K Hegarty for Leavy (43), S Dolan for Somers (50), A Brady for Blundell (52).
Referee: M Farrelly (Cavan).