Conor Mortimer came up trumps for Mayo again as his injury-time free forced a 0-15 to 0-15 draw with Laois in a lively All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park.
Mortimer, who dangled over a last-gasp free for victory in last month’s Connacht final, repeated the trick at headquarters as his sixth point of the afternoon levelled the sides for a sixth and final time.
The replay – only the third championship meeting between the counties since 1936 – has been set for next weekend with the day as yet undecided.
With a flurry of goal chances going a-begging, Laois nipped in ahead at the break with a 0-08 to 0-07 lead – Chris Conway (0-04) led the scoring.
Two Mortimer points had Mayo back the front by the fifth-minute of the second half, but Laois fought back with young substitute Donie Brennan landing 0-03, before the nerveless Mortimer had the final say at the Canal End.
Coming in off the back of qualifier wins over Tyrone, Meath and Offaly, Laois were rightly favourites but it was Mickey Moran’s Westerners who got off to the better start, despite going four weeks without a game.
The ageless Kevin O'Neill, making a rare championship start, slipped the ball in for Mortimer to point Mayo in front, and the former All-Star did likewise when dinking a soccer-style pass into the arms of Alan Dillon for a fourth-minute score.
Dillon really should have tested Laois goalkeeper and stand-in captain Fergal Byron, but his shot rose over the crossbar.
The beaten Leinster semi-finalists then took control. They landed four successive points with converted full-forward Noel Garvan, Ross Munnelly (0-02 (1f)) and Conway all firing over. Garvan’s opener was the best of the lot as he barrelled out to the left wing to collect a pass, beat Mayo skipper David Heaney and launched over an inspirational point.
There was a degree of controversy about Conway's 12th-minute score as in the lead-up to it, Mayo playmaker Ciaran McDonald was wrongly adjudged to have brought the ball out over the sideline.
Undeterred, Laois sent over two more points as Mayo's attack was found wanting in front of goal. Another skyscraper from Garvan and a Conway free pushed Laois 0-06 to 0-02 ahead, while a wayward shot from Ger Brady notched up Mayo’' fifth wide.
They hit ten wides, in all, in the first half but a purple patch coming up to the half-hour had Moran’s side right back in the game. Three points in the space of four minutes, from Dillon, O’Neill and McDonald ('45'), cut the deficit to a single point.
Conway then increased his influence with two sweet points – the first saw him outsmart James Nallen and the second was the product of a swift interchange with ‘Beano’ McDonald.
Laois now boasted an 0-08 to 0-06 advantage, but Mayo could so easily have gone in at the interval ahead. The grit and grunt of Billy Joe Padden is widely acclaimed, but the Belmullet attacker’s lack of a cool head in front of goal badly let him down on two occasions late in the half.
Padden fashioned himself a goal chance in the 30th minute, but just when a pass was required, his shot was smothered away by the large figure of Byron.
Mortimer was almost in the same spot, moments later, but went for safety when chipping over the bar. Injury-time saw goalmouth action at both ends as first, Padden danced through again and took the poorer option as he pointed with two men free to his left on the edge of the square.
Then, Laois young midfielder Brendan Quigley, running from deep, had a pot shot and reeled away in agony as his right-footed effort struck the butt of the post.
However, Mortimer helped erase memories of those goal misses for Mayo when pointing just 14 seconds in the second half. With the heat on them, Laois coughed up three chances – McDonald shot wide, Brennan, barely seconds on the field, hit an upright and Conway crept a close range free inches wide.
Mortimer angled over a placed ball to put Mayo in front for the first time since the fifth-minute and the momentum was theirs. Yet some excellent defending from the likes of Darren Rooney and Joe Higgins, who was in Mortimer’s pocket all day, helped Laois move into a dominant spell.
Brennan wasted little time in levelling the teams for a third time, Conway redeemed himself with an easy free and a McDonald point had Laois 0-11 to 0-09 to the good.
In between, they also added to a growing catalogue of goal misses as from a Higgins-initiated break, Mayo 'keeper John Healy was badly caught out under a dropping ball. Healy had vacated his goal and Munnelly only had Aidan Higgins to beat on the line, but somehow, the Charlestown defender managed to block away a ferocious drive.
Laois kept their noses in front though until the 57th-minute when a trio of scores from Aidan Kilcoyne, Heaney and Mortimer rubbed out Brennan’s second point for a 0-12 to 0-12 score line.
It was all to play for at a tension-gripped headquarters – the result swayed in both directions with Andy Moran, teed up by his fellow substitute Kilcoyne, pointing and then Brennan replying for his hat trick.
Conway (free) and Garvan reopened a two-point gap (0-15 to 0-13) for Laois, which they should have held onto. There was still enough time for a Mayo fightback and it duly came with Kilcoyne swinging over a delightful 68th-minute score from the right flank.
Just as the clock hit 70 minutes, the ball was choked free of a Laois hand and DCU student Mortimer, already having one of his best days at the Dublin 3 venue, won a crucial free from Aidan Fennelly, 25 metres out from goal.
The battle of Mickey versus Micko was inevitably going to end in a draw, and there was nobody complaining, not even Messrs Moran and O’Dwyer, as neither team deserved to lose what grew to be a pulsating encounter.
Mortimer duly flashed over the free, taking his championship tally to a whopping 3-89 (3-36 from play) in just 20 games.
Laois: F Byron (capt); A Fennelly, D Rooney, J Higgins; P McDonald, T Kelly, P McMahon; P Clancy, B Quigley; R Munnelly (0-02 (0-01f)), C Conway (0-06 (0-03f)), B McCormack; B McDonald (0-01), N Garvan (0-03), B Sheehan.
Subs used: D Brennan (0-03) for McCormack (half-time), P O'Leary for P McDonald (60), G Kavanagh for B McDonald (62).
Mayo: J Healy; D Geraghty, D Heaney (capt) (0-01), K Higgins; A Higgins, J Nallen, P Gardiner; R McGarrity, P Harte; BJ Padden (0-01), G Brady, A Dillon (0-02); C McDonald (0-01 (0-01 ‘45’), C Mortimer (0-06 (0-02f)), K O'Neill (0-01).
Subs used: B Moran for O’Neill, A Kilcoyne (0-02) for Brady (both 45 mins), A Moran (0-01) for McGarrity (53), T Howley for K Higgins (59), P Kelly for Nallen (63).
Referee: Pat McEnaney (Monaghan).