Supposed underdogs Mayo booked their place in the Bank of Ireland Connacht SFC final with a comprehensive 0-14 to 0-11 victory over Sligo at Markievicz Park on Sunday. John Maughan's men proved their many critics wrong with a superb running display, with Conor Mortimer, James Nallen and James Gill all shining. Mortimer, in particular, proved a constant thorn in the Sligo defence as his menacing runs and accuracy from frees proved the difference between the sides.
In truth, Mayo's margin of victory could have been greater as Sligo failed to produce their heroics of the last two years and must now look to the qualifiers again, while John O'Mahony's Galway await Mayo in the Connacht final on July 6. The Mayo forwards were repeatedly wasteful in good scoring positions and despite a respectable return of 14 points, Maughan will be hoping for a huge improvement next time out.
Sligo, who were one of the teams of last year and took eventual champions Armagh to a replay, entered the game full of optimism with eyes on their first provincial crown since 1975. Manager Peter Ford, a Mayo native, took a gamble on the fitness of All Star Eamonn O'Hara but the gifted midfielder looked a shadow of his former self as he struggled to shake off a troublesome groin problem.
O'Hara's influence was only evident in patches as he and Paul Durcan played second fiddle to a rampant Mayo midfield, and the consequences of Forde's gamble may become even greater as O'Hara limped out of the game clutching his groin late-on.
The first-half started brightly as glorious sunshine matched the endeavour on the pitch. Full forward Dessie Sloyan dropped deep to combine with Michael McNamara and point to give Sligo the lead with just 15 seconds gone, but Mayo's response was immediate with James Gill hitting a fine point after being played in by Trevor Mortimer.
Championship debutant McNamara showed admirable composure to add a second for the hosts, but Conor Mortimer drew the sides level again with a well taken free-kick. Stephen Carolan gave Mayo the lead for the first time on nine minutes after escaping the attention of Philip Gallagher, but Sloyan hit back with his first free minutes later to bring the scores to 0-03 apiece.
The game then lost much of its early impetus and Sligo defender Padraig Doohan showed his side's forwards how it should be done by leaving his traditional wing back berth to slot over right-footed from the 30 metre line. Trevor Mortimer, Sloyan and Mayo's Alan Dillon exchanged scores to level the game at 0-05 each, before two inspired points from captain Fergal Costello, leading by example, gave the visitors a 0-07 to 0-05 half-time advantage.
Sligo started the second-half in similar fashion to the first with Sloyan converting his third free of the game and substitute Gerry McGowan made an immediate impression after replacing the ineffective Paul Taylor by drawing the sides level again at 0-07 apiece, showing a good turn of pace before pointing from an acute angle to restore parity.
Mayo's Declan Sweeney and Sloyan swapped scores before a Conor Mortimer free from the right restored his side's slender advantage. Ger Brady then forced a great save from James Curran but the Sligo goalkeeper could only guide the ball over the bar to push Mayo two points clear. The pace and tenacity of Conor Mortimer was a feature of the game and the Mayo forward put his side three points ahead after earning and converting a free just before the hour as Sligo began to lose their shape in all departments.
Sloyan pointed another free to keep Sligo in touch but Mayo continued to pick off scores at will, this time James Nallen picking out Conor Mortimer's clever run and the corner forward slotted over with his left foot to make it 0-12-0-09. Conor Mortimer added another score from a close range free after Niall Carew had been penalised for a foul on Brian Maloney.
At this stage James Gill was dominating the crucial midfield sector as Mayo closed out for victory, although Padraig Doohan could have pulled Sligo right back into contention but could only point when in a good goal scoring position two minutes into injury-time.
Brady added his second of the game a minute later, fisting over from close range after Sligo substitute Brendan Phillips lost possession, and despite a Sloyan point at the death, Mayo ran out convincing 0-14 to 0-11 winners to advance to the Connacht final.
Filed by Shane Murray