MAYO cruised into the semi-final of the Connacht Senior Football Championship with a 13-point win over London at a packed Irish TV Grounds in Ruislip on Sunday.
Bidding for a sixth provincial title in a row, the Westerners were slightly rusty with their shooting, hitting 15 wides over the course of the match, but they still ran out 2-16 to 0-9 winners.
Evan Regan was instrumental for the visitors on his Championship debut, hitting seven points (five frees), five of which came in the first-half.
Other than Regan, Mayo manager Stephen Rochford named an experienced side, with nine of his initial XV having started last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Dublin.
Although they were some way off the form they’ll need to be in if they’re to finally end their All-Ireland drought this year, Mayo’s strength in depth was emphasised by the 1-5 they tallied from the bench.
To their credit, London started brightly with a short fist-passing game, retaining possession well from their kick-outs. Indeed, they opened the scoring with a point from a close-range Scott Conroy free.
Mayo were then dealt a blow when captain Cillian O’Connor was black carded for tripping Philip Butler, but his replacement Conor Loftus didn’t take long to announce himself to the game.
The visitors soon recovered from their early struggles and had hit four points without reply when Loftus palmed in from close range with 19 minutes on the clock.
By that stage, Mayo were reacting quicker to London’s short kick-out game, smothering the Exiles with extensive pressure as soon as the ball came back into play.
After the first goal, Mayo settled into their game and Loftus followed up his goal with a point moments later, before Eoin Murray replied for London with a delightful score to earn a round of applause from the sell-out crowd.
However, Mayo were pretty much out of sight on 24 minutes as Aidan O’Shea nicked possession from another short London kick-out, before feeding Jason Doherty, who rounded Exiles keeper Gavin McEvoy and slotted into the empty net.
O’Shea followed that up with his only point of the game but London rallied to hit three unanswered points through Adrian Moyles (two, one free) and Liam Gavaghan, who popped the ball over after collecting a cross-field pass from Mark Gottsche.
Nonetheless, they still went into the break 2-8 to 0-5 down, and they never looked like eating into that nine-point deficit after the restart.
Regan picked up where he left off with the opening score of the second-half, pointing a huge effort from out on the left flank.
Gavaghan’s second point of the game was perhaps the brightest moment of the second period for London, as he charged at the Mayo defence and forced them to back off, before drilling over the bar.
Loftus continued to stamp his authority on the game as he shrugged off the efforts of Mayo native Danny Ryan to send over a close-range point, moving the visitors into a 2-10 to 0-6 lead.
Mark Gottsche’s long-range free was also a nice moment for the hosts, but Mayo were fairly comfortable at this stage, despite London seemingly matching them for fitness if nothing else.
Adrian Moyles then added to London’s tally, but the introduction of Andy Moran proved too much for the Exiles to handle.
In fact, Moran and fellow second-half sub Alan Dillon kept things ticking over with three points from play between them, while Stephen Coen – a late starter in place of Tom Parsons in Mayo’s midfield – also got in on the act.
From there, the Westerners saw out the game relatively unscathed, and they will now meet Galway in the semi-final on June 18, while London await their draw for the qualifiers.
London: G McEvoy; P Butler, C Carty, Ciaran Dunne; Colin Dunne, D Ryan, D McGreevy; J Moran, L Gavaghan (0-2); A Moyles (0-4, 2f), M Gottsche (0-1, 1f), C Coyne; E Murray (0-1), S Conroy (0-1, 1f), P O'Hara.
Subs: L Mulvey on for E Murray (45mins), C Healy on for C Dunne (45m), M Walsh on for C Coyne (63mins), C Og Greene on for S Conroy (63mins), S Hickey on for P O'Hara (67mins), C O'Neill on for Ciaran Dunne (67mins).
Mayo: R Hennelly (0-1, '45); B Harrison, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan; S Coen (0-1), J Gibbons; K McLoughlin (0-1), A O'Shea 0-1, J Doherty (1-0), E Regan (0-7, 5f), C O'Connor, C O'Shea.
Subs: C Loftus (1-2) on for C O'Connor (black card 14mins), S Nally for C Boyle (48mins) A Moran (0-2) for C O'Shea (48mins), C Carolan on for J Doherty (52mins), A Dillon (0-1) on for J Gibbons (58mins), D Drake on for L Keegan (61mins)
Referee: D O'Mahony (Tipperary)
MAN OF THE MATCH
Evan Regan (Mayo). Making his first start in a Championship game for his county, the Ballina Stephenites forward impressed with his seven points. Liam Gavaghan was arguably London’s best performer.