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statement made Mayo massacre as James Horan's men crush Sligo in 20-point win

Mayo 3-23 Sligo 0-12

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Darren McHale scored 1-5 for Mayo in the win over Sligo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Darren McHale scored 1-5 for Mayo in the win over Sligo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Darren McHale scored 1-5 for Mayo in the win over Sligo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

This was a test of faith and maybe an exercise in futility for Sligo, who missed last year’s championship due to a Covid outbreak.

Another championship was essentially stuffed into a home match at Markievicz Park with no safety net against raging favourites Mayo. Sligo were available at 16/1 and the gulf in class showed with Mayo dominating the first half, scoring three goals and building an unassailable lead.

To be anything other than outsiders against Mayo would be an aberration for Sligo but they have had more hopeful approaches than the current one. Their last championship win in the province outside of London or New York was in 2015 and their last over Mayo came five years earlier, before the dawn of James Horan and a new Mayo surge that has lasted an incredibly long period of time and now sees Horan returned for a second term.

The loss of Cillian O’Connor wasn’t going to be felt here but it has left a sombre cloud over Mayo’s preparations. Last year he scored 5-40 in five matches, 4-13 from play, and had a rare injury-free run until suffering an Achilles tear against Clare a fortnight ago. The promotion play-off win in Ennis saw him leave the field and within days came confirmation that his inter-county year was over.

But this performance will help lighten the mood. In his absence, Darren McHale stood up and scored 1-5 from play in an outstanding performance in what was his first championship start, while Aidan O’Shea was a constant presence and influence and finished with 2-2 to his name. Conor Loftus looked assured in the middle of the field, landing a few tidy scores, and Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue, who took over the frees in O’Connor’s absence, caused Sligo problems with their nippy runs.

But it was a mismatch and any valuation of Mayo needs to be held over for another day. They did what they had to do and will face Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final in a fortnight’s time.

Sligo’s recent form in Division 4 of the league didn’t offer up much grounds for optimism, where they won their opening match against Leitrim and then lost by a point to Antrim before being ten points off Louth in the final round. In the shield final that followed against Wexford, they were 11 points adrift at the finish.

For their manager Tony McEntee, this was unprotected exposure to a team that featured ten of the side which started the All-Ireland final against Dublin last December. Robbie Hennelly returned for the retired David Clarke in goal and Enda Hession, Michael Plunkett, McHale and Jordan Flynn were also moved up to the starting team.

Since the All-Ireland final, the team has been in a process of transition following the retirements of Clarke, Tom Parsons, Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett, Seamus O’Shea and Donal Vaughan. Injury has also left them without the experienced Diarmuid O’Connor. Clare’s comeback in the second half of the league play-off highlighted a difficulty with high balls and Sligo went out with the same intention, going direct in the first half in the hope of unsettling them.

Niall Murphy, who hit five points from play, caused Mayo problems and came close to scoring a goal in the 17th minute when he fielded a delivery from Patrick O’Connor and cracked a shot off the Mayo crossbar. For the most part, though, Hennelly had little to do between the posts and they comprehensively dominated the kick-outs.

Three first half goals, two from O’Shea, were killer blows for the home side, who worked hard throughout the field but paid dearly when they were turned over in possession. Mayo led 0-5 to 0-1 when Sligo conceded the first goal in the 11th minute.

After losing a kick-out, O’Shea used his physical strength to ward off Sligo defenders before planting the ball into the corner of the net. Murphy scored three first-half points for Sligo and Sean Carrabine had two more but they were mostly on the back foot, trying to deal with Mayo’s movement and speed of thought.

After surviving the goal scare, a point by Tommy Conroy had Mayo leading 1-7 to 0-2 at the first water break, with McHale already on three points. By half time that lead had widened to 14 points, 3-13 to 0-8, and Sligo had already wheeled off three of their starting side.

In perfect conditions, Mayo bossed the half and pushed on in the second quarter to effectively kill the match as a contest. Paddy Durcan struck the crossbar with a goal attempt in the 24th minute and 60 seconds later, Donoghue set up O’Shea for his second goal when Sligo lost possession on their own kick out.

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The third goal followed just before the half hour when Conroy went for the jugular and the rebound fell to McHale, who finished to the net. McHale took his haul to 1-4 with a point and 16 points separated the teams, Sligo already thinking of next year.

At the second water break, three points on the trot from Fergal Boland, an impressive Eoghan McLaughlin and O’Donoghue left Mayo 3-18 to 0-10 in the clear. McLaughlin was denied a goal by a brilliant Eamonn Kilgallon save near the final whistle, Sligo having the consolation of not conceding any more goals after the interval. Murphy kept trying in their attack and was Sligo’s best player. Five points from play on a day like this was a fine accomplishment.

Scorers: Mayo - D McHale 1-5; A O’Shea 2-2; R O’Donoghue 0-5 (4fs); T Conroy, E McLaughlin, C Loftus 0-2 each; J Flynn, P Durcan, F Boland, S Coen, J Carr 0-1.

Sligo - N Murphy 0-6 (0-1 f); S Carrabine 0-2; P O’Connor, L Gaughan, K Cawley, M Gordon 0-1.

Mayo: R Hennelly; E Hession, O Mullin, L Keegan; M Plunkett, P Durcan, E McLaughlin; M Ruane, C Loftus; K McLoughlin, D McHale, J Flynn; T Conroy, A O'Shea, R O’Donoghue.

Subs: F Boland for Flynn (46); P O’Hora for Keegan (55); S Coen for Durcan (60); P Towey for O’Donoghue (63); J Carr for McLoughlin (70);

Sligo: E Kilgannon; R Feehily, K McKenna, E McGuinness; P McNamara, P Laffey, N Mullen; P O’Connor, P Kilcoyne; M Gordon, S Carrabine, D Quinn; B Gorman, N Murphy, L Gaughan.

Subs: K Cawley for Gaughan & E Lyons for McKenna (both 30); R Murphy for Gorman (36); C Griffin for Gordon (53); C Lally for Cawley (inj 62).

Referee: P Faloon (Down).

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