Mayo recorded their seventh Connacht Championship win over Roscommon in succession this afternoon but they were pushed to the very limit by the home side before eventually scraping home at 0-13 to 1-09 in Dr Hyde Park.
A dour and defensive first half ended with Mayo 0-04 to 0-03 ahead but a stunning goal from Ciarán Cafferkey gave Roscommon real belief and threatened to set up a famous upset.
Substitutes Diarmuid Murtagh and Andy Moran each kicked two fantastic points for their respective sides to set up a tense last five minutes, but Seamus O’Shea and Kevin McLoughlin delivered crucial Mayo scores to send the away supporters home happy.
There were no black cards in this tie, even though both Cillian O’Connor and Cathal Shine were lucky to escape that particular sanction, but that didn’t prevent these two teams from serving up some real defensive drudgery.
Roscommon flooded players back in defensive positions and consequently attacking players were heavily outnumbered at both ends of the field, while the lush, wet grass made it difficult for players to move the ball and link up cohesively.
Jason Doherty and Kevin Higgins traded points in the first couple of minutes but that preceded an incredibly dull half an hour of play in which just two points were kicked in total, both close range frees from Cillian O’Connor.
Mayo struggled to find their range and kicked nine first-half wides, while at the other end Roscommon’s inside forward line was left desperately short of support and they turned over possession very easily as a consequence.
Tom Cunniffe and Colm Boyle both swept up plenty of possessions but by the time they worked the ball up the field, Roscommon usually had 12 or 13 players situated inside their own 45m line.
An atypical burst of scores just before half time left John Evans’ men 0-04 to 0-03 adrift at the interval and with the slight breeze set to favour them in the second half, the stage was set for a rope-a-dope upset victory.
That feeling grew even further when Cafferkey scored a stunning goal with his left foot from 20 yards out in the 42nd minute.
Mayo crept back into the tie and took the lead thanks to another string of O’Connor frees, two of which really rose the ire of the home supporters.
John Evans had elected to start without his under-21 players in this tie he gradually brought those players into the fray over the course of the third quarter and Diarmuid Murtagh in particular made a massive impact, swinging over two fantastic points on the turn from almost the same spot just inside the 45m line.
Roscommon led by 1-08 to 0-08 on the hour mark and by now the home crowd’s expectation and excitement was palpable, but Mayo boss James Horan had his own, more experienced trump card on the sideline in the shape of Ballaghaderreen veteran Andy Moran and he stepped up the plate in style, delivered two exquisite points in succession to reduce the deficit to the minimum.
Aidan O’Shea then produced a crucial tackle to deny Kevin Higgins a goal chance on the edge of the large square and his brother and midfield partner Seámus then delivered a stunning long-range strike to draw the sides level.
With momentum on their side, Mayo tacked on further points to lead by two deep into injury time.
Diarmuid Murtagh popped over a free to keep the tension boiling over in the crowd and Roscommon had one last chance to salvage a result when Fintan Cregg charged through the heart of the Mayo defence, but on a day when defenders prevailed generally, he ran into a wall of Mayo backs and coughed up his team’s last possession.
Roscommon: D O’Malley; N Collins, N Carty, S McDermott; R Stack, N Daly, C Cafferkey (1-00); C Shine, K Higgins (0-01); D O’Gara, I Kilbride, C Cregg; S Kilbride (0-03, 0-01 free), D Shine (0-01 free), C Murtagh.
Subs: E Smith for I Kilbride (42), D Murtagh (0-03, 0-01 free) for C Murtagh (46), F Cregg for O’Gara (54), M Nally (0-01) for D Shine (54), M Finneran for S Kilbride (67), D Smith for C Cregg (67).
Mayo: R Hennelly; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, T Cunniffe; L Keegan, C Boyle, D Vaughan; A O’Shea, S O’Shea (0-01); D O’Connor, C O’Shea, J Doherty (0-01); K McLoughlin (0-04, 0-02 frees), A Freeman, C O’Connor (0-05, frees).
Subs: A Moran (0-02) for C O’Shea (44), A Dillon for D O’Connor (53), M Sweeney for Freeman (60), R Feeney for Doherty (70+2)
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)