It's job done for Mayo but there's room for improvement
Mayo go marching on in Division 2 North of the Allianz National Football League, picking up their second win from two games against Westmeath this afternoon on a scoreline of 0-21 to 2-12.
But if they thought it would just be a case of turning up in TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, for a Saturday afternoon stroll, they came in for a rude awakening.
The game was no more than two minutes old when Westmeath served notice of intent with a goal – the opening score of the game – as Luke Loughlin collected the rebound off the bar from Ronan O'Toole's shot, side-stepped Rob Hennelly in the Mayo goal and tapped the ball into an empty net.
It was a dominant opening few minutes and the home side could have been further ahead had John Heslin not missed two chances, uncharacteristically.
He did find the range with a free on eight minutes to put Westmeath 1-1 to 0-1 ahead, Mayo's opening score coming from Eoghan McLaughlin a little while earlier.
Mayo, in fairness, settled into the game and enjoyed a good degree of possession for much of the rest of the half, but Westmeath were devastating on the counter-attack and it a second goal resulted on 28 minutes as they cut the Mayo defence open. Ronan Wallace, up from defence, was about to pull the trigger until Diarmuid O'Connor's trip, earning the Ballintubber man a black card, and Heslin planted the resultant penalty calmly to the net.
The only question was whether Mayo should have had a penalty earlier on when Ryan O'Donoghue was hauled down. Referee Noel Mooney deemed it no more than a free, one of two Cillian O'Connor slotted over during the half.
There were doubles also for Conor Loftus, who started in place of Kevin McLoughlin, and the impressive Matthew Ruane, with Paddy Durcan, Jordan Flynn and O'Donoghue (mark) also finding the target for Mayo as they went in 0-10 to 2-5 down.
Heslin ensured the home side would take that one-point lead into the new half with an excellent score on the cusp of the break, but he didn't get as many chances to shine after the turnaround. He still managed two points, including one from play, but Mayo tacked on 11 points in that second half, six from Cillian O'Connor (five frees) as experience told in the end.
Mayo manager James Horan was taking no chances for the second period as Colm Boyle, Kevin McLoughlin (making his 80th league appearance) and Bryan Walsh all came on at half-time. By the second water break they were a point ahead, 0-13 to 2-6, and there was always a degree of control, though Westmeath's late charge kept the westerners honest for the duration of the contest.
Two wins from two against Down and Westmeath is probably the least that Mayo would have expected at this stage of the year so in that sense it's job done, even if there's room for improvement in the level of performance. Next up is Meath in Castlebar tomorrow week.
The Mayo team in full was: Rob Hennelly; Ben Doyle, Oisin Mullin, Lee Keegan; Michael Plunkett, Paddy Durcan (0-3), Eoghan McLaughlin (0-1); Matthew Ruane (0-2), Diarmuid O'Connor; Fionn McDonagh, Conor Loftus (0-2), Jordan Flynn (0-1); Tommy Conroy (0-1), Cillian O'Connor (0-8), Ryan O'Donoghue (0-1). Subs used: Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Colm Boyle, Bryan Walsh (0-1), James Carr, Rory Brickenden, Aiden Orme, Jack Carney.
The Westmeath team was: Jason Daly; Sam McCartan, Kevin Maguire, Boidu Sayeh; James Dolan, Ronan Wallace, Jamie Gonoud; Sam Duncan, Ray Connellon (0-1); David Lynch, Denis Corroon, Ger Egan (0-1); Ronan O'Toole (0-1), John Heslin (1-6), Luke Loughlin (1-2). Subs used: Fola Ayorinde, Brandon Kelly, Conor Slevin, Kieran Martin (0-1), Tommy McDaniel.