After a brief staycation in the second tier, Mayo returned to their natural habitat of Division 1 for 2022 but only after a stern challenge from a defiant Clare in Cusack Park, Ennis.
Mayo's homecoming appeared a forgone conclusion after a powerful second quarter, highlighted by goals through Cillian O’Connor and Oisin Mullin, eased the visitors 11 points clear by the break.
However, the result would prove far from inevitable once Clare resumed with a brace of goals of their own from Darren O’Neill and Gavin Cooney by the 46th minute.
And with fresh legs from the Banner bench bolstering the home resistance, Emmet McMahon (3) and Podge Collins ensured a nervy final quarter before Mayo prevailed.
December’s All-Ireland finalists will be most pleased by a spread of 13 different scorers but on the flip side will also concerned by first half injuries sustained by brothers Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor ahead of their provincial opener against Sligo in just a fortnight’s time.
After weathering the early home storm, Mayo quickly moved through the gears with goal sightings for Ryan O’Donoghue and Matthew Ruane sandwiching a timely converted penalty for Cillian O’Connor at 1-07 to 0-05 by the water break.
Mayo’s superior movement and elusive overlapping runs were causing constant headaches for their hosts, with one such counter-attack through Tommy Conroy picking out corner-back Oisin Mullin to find the net on their way to a 2-13 to 0-08 interval cushion.
The David Tubridy and Darren O’Neill combination would spark a home backlash however as first the towering Ennis man flicked a Tubridy delivery over the line before an almost identical scenario was teed up for Gavin Cooney to billow the net from close range at 2-17 to 2-10 by the 46th minute.
Three unanswered points through captain Eoin Cleary (2) and replacement Emmet McMahon lowered the arrears to just five by the turn of the final quarter and the same pair were instrumental in intensifying a late backlash.
However, three points would be as close as the Banner would come to James Horan’s side who finished with a Paddy Durcan insurance point to complete their merited but far from comfortable return to Division 1.
Clare: Stephen Ryan; Ciaran Russell, Cillian Brennan, Eoghan Collins; Cian O’Dea, Sean Collins, Daniel Walsh; Darren O’Neill (1-00), Cathal O’Connor (0-01); Pearse Lillis (0-01), Eoin Cleary (0-08, 0-06f), Darragh Bohannon; Gavin Cooney (1-01), Joe McGann, David Tubridy (0-03).
Subs: Conall Ó hÁiniféin for Walsh (23), Podge Collins (0-01) for McGann (HT), Conor Jordan for E. Collins (HT), Aaron Griffin for Cooney (51), Emmet McMahon (0-03) for O’Connor (51), Cillian Rouine for Ó hÁiniféin (58), Keelan Sexton for Lillis (58)
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Oisin Mullin (1-00), Lee Keegan (0-01), Enda Hession; Rory Brickenden (0-01), Paddy Durcan (0-02), Stephen Coen (0-01); Matthew Ruane (0-02), Diarmuid O'Connor; Kevin McLoughlin (0-01), Aidan O’Shea, Bryan Walsh (0-01); Tommy Conroy (0-03), Cillian O’Connor (1-04, 1-00 Pen, 0-01f, 0-01m), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-02, 0-01f, 0-01m).
Subs: Jordan Flynn for D. O’Connor (11), Paul Towey (0-03, 0-02f) for C. O’Connor (35), Darren McHale (0-01) for O’Donoghue (51), Eoghan O’Donoghue for Hession (53), Conor Loftus for Conroy (62), Conor O’Shea for Brickenden (62)
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)