Where the season will take this Mayo team remains to be seen but they got their journey on the road to redemption off to a winning start against Fermanagh on Saturday evening.
All-Ireland Football Qualifiers Mayo 2-14 Fermanagh 1-12
However, the five-point winning margin does not give a true picture of how tight this game was for Stephen Rochford’s men.
They were six points down at half-time and while they were dominant in the second half, it took a controversial penalty with eight minutes to go to see them hit the front.
It can be argued that Mayo may have won the game in any event — they had the gap down to one point at that stage, had 20 shots to Fermanagh’s seven, and dominated the Fermanagh kick-outs in the second half. But there’s no doubt Joe McQuillan’s decision to award a penalty for what he perceived as a foul on Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea by Che Cullen was a huge turning point in this game.
“That was a dive, absolutely and totally a dive,” Fermanagh boss Pete McGrath said after viewing the replay.
“I’ve every respect for Aidan O’Shea, he’s a marvellous footballer and I’m not saying that maybe we wouldn’t have done the same thing; the referee certainly bought that one hook, line, and sinker.”
Television replays showed minimal contact between O’Shea and Cullen but Mayo manager Stephen Rochford had a different opinion: “From where I saw it I thought there was definitely contact and it’s like this, from what I’ve seen this season, when Aidan O’Shea gets on the ball he’s the attention of three or four guys and if it is a bit of luck he caught, it’s not before time.”
Rochford felt Mayo were going to win the game regardless of the penalty, which Cillian O’Connor expertly converted to put Mayo two clear.
“Once we got inside the three-point margin, we were really going to drive on and we did and we could have won the game by a little bit more,” said Rochford.
After trailing by six points at half-time, Mayo made optimum use of the wind to outscore Fermanagh by 1-10 to 0-2. Veterans Alan Dillon and Barry Moran came off the bench and the former was one of six players to point for Mayo before a converted 45 from O’Connor levelled matters on 59 minutes.
Fermanagh went up the field and their second point of the half from a Tomás Corrigan free put them back in front. The next score would be the penalty and Mayo pushed on from there with subsequent points from Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea, and Alan Dillon to leave the final margin at five points.
Fermanagh’s six-point lead at the break was well deserved, though. In truth they threatened much more than their Division 1 opponents, opening up a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes and responding emphatically to Alan Freeman’s 13th-minute scrambled goal for Mayo. Tomás Corrigan pointed before Seán Quigley hit the Ernesiders’ goal on 16 minutes.
Tomás Corrigan added a point but, again, Mayo asked questions of Fermanagh with two Cillian O’Connor frees bringing the gap to just two points on 26 minutes.
Again the Fermanagh reaction was a fine one. Four unanswered points, including two from outstanding half-back Aidan Breen, left them with a good platform at the break, leading 1-10 to 1-4. The drama was only starting.
Scorers for Mayo:
C O’Connor (1-5, 1-0 pen, 0-3 fs, 0-1 45), A Freeman (1-0), L Keegan, A Dillon, D O’Connor (0-2 each), E Regan (f), C Boyle, A O’Shea (0-1 each).
Scorers for Fermanagh:
S Quigley (1-1), T Corrigan (0-4, 2fs), A Breen (0-3), B Mulrone (0-2), E Donnelly, R Lyons (0-1 each).
D Clarke, B Harrison, K Keane, P Durcan, L Keegan, K McLoughlin, C Boyle, S O’Shea, S Coen, K Higgins, A O’Shea, D O’Connor, E Regan, A Freeman, C O’Connor.
D Vaughan for Durcan (34), A Dillon for Freeman (47), B Moran for Coen (53), A Moran for Regan (61), J Doherty for A O'Shea (71).
C Snow, M O’Brien, B Mulrone, M Jones, C Cullen, A Breen, E Donnelly, R O’Callaghan, D Kelly, R Jones, R Lyons, R Corrigan, S Quigley, T Corrigan.
P McCusker for Lyons (47), J McMahon for O’Brien (57), K Connor for D McCusker (64), C Flaherty for O'Callaghan (66), P McGovern for Breen (72).
J McQuillan (Cavan)
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