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We paid price for a host of wasted chances: Tally

Down 1-11 Mayo 1-16

Big leap: Down’s Conor Poland with Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan of Mayo at Pairc Esler
Big leap: Down’s Conor Poland with Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan of Mayo at Pairc Esler
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Down exited the All-Ireland series after a narrow defeat to Mayo, but at least they have some positives to build on after manager Paddy Tally granted a total of 13 Championship debuts to his young panel.

In the typical nature of his county's Championship games, there was enough in this for Mayo manager James Horan to get his teeth into when the post-match analysis starts in earnest.

After going seven points up 13 minutes into the second half, Mayo allowed Down to get through for a couple of glimpses of goal that, when it comes to playing at a higher altitude, probably would have been converted.

Horan had Lee Keegan to thank for three brilliant second-half points, and Conor Loftus repaid the opportunity given to him on dead ball chances.

They now face into this morning's Round Three qualifier draw.

After the mix-up in the Connacht semi-final loss to Roscommon when captain Diarmuid O'Connor took a late free off Loftus and gave it to Kevin McLoughlin - who missed the chance of taking the game to extra-time - the lesson was absorbed here.

Loftus kicked three tricky frees from the right side of his right foot and missed one.

Down had more scoring chances than Mayo overall, leading to manager Tally thinking in terms of a lost opportunity to claim a scalp in front of a packed house.

"It's a very disappointed changing room there at the moment," said the Tyrone man.

"It's one we will look back on with regret. There was a stage when we were very much in it. We didn't take the opportunities.

"We created some really good goal chances and a goal in a game like that is massive. The goal that Mayo got turned the game in their favour.

"To be honest, it's only when you play against teams like that, that you understand. You can talk about it in terms of coaching and looking at it but until you stand in the middle of it, you don't understand what top-level Championship football is about.

"That's the thing that makes Mayo and these teams in the All-Ireland finals every other year. It's because they are good at it, but that comes with experience too."

In order to embark upon the hard road, Horan had made the decision to recall decorated foot soldiers and multiple All-Stars David Clarke, Colm Boyle and Andy Moran to the starting line-up. Bolstered by the youthful hard running of Loftus and Fionn McDonagh in the half-forward line, they may rediscover the heavy metal football that has worked for them in the past.

It was Down who made the early running, taking advantage of Caolan Mooney's superhuman speed. That tactic brought the game's opening goal when the Rostrevor man skittled through a number of tackles, got lucky with a bounce and potted beyond the reach of David Clarke to go 1-1 to 0-2 up.

In 18 minutes, however, Mayo outscored their hosts by six points to one to create a lead that Down never could retrieve.

Mayo enjoyed a measure of fortune when Kevin McKernan tried to stop a kickout going over the sideline and when Jason Doherty was fouled he released a quick free to Loftus. The Crossmolina man was almost upended by Down goalkeeper Rory Burns but recovered to slot into the empty net.

Mayo had a healthy lead but will be alarmed by a number of long balls that caused havoc in their defence. One such example ended with Donal O'Hare fielding a delivery and while Keith Higgins clawed the ball free, O'Hare had a free swing at it on the floor. Clarke spread himself to block it.

"It was hairy enough in the second half at times," acknowledged Horan. "I thought we were strong enough in the first half, but once we got the goal in the second half we seemed to just step off and gave them quite a few goal chances.

"That wasn't great but we were enough ahead to keep our noses there, we got a score when we needed to through Lee and Ciaran Treacy. We weren't perfect by a long way but we're delighted to be in there."

DOWN: R Burns; D O'Hagan, B McArdle, G Collins; R McAleenan, K McKernan, D Guinness; O McCabe 0-1, C Poland; C Francis, C Mooney 1-1, P Laverty; P Havern 0-1, D O'Hare 0-3, 2f, C Harrison 0-2

Subs: J Guinness for Laverty (42m), J Johnston 0-1, for D Guinness (46m), C Quinn 0-2, for Havern (50m), B O'Hagan for McCabe (55m), P Devlin for D O'Hagan (Black card, 62m)

MAYO: D Clarke; C Barrett 0-1, B Harrison, K Higgins; L Keegan 0-3, C Boyle, P Durcan; D O'Connor 0-1, A O'Shea 0-1; F McDonagh 0-2, C Loftus 1-4, 3f, J Doherty; K McLoughlin 0-1, D Coen, A Moran 0-2

Subs: E Regan for D Coen (Black card, 14m), F Boland for Doherty (53m), M Murray for McDonagh (62m), C Treacy 0-1, for McLoughlin (69m), M Plunkett for Moran (71m), J McCormack for D O'Connor (76m)

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)

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