Mayo create their own bit of history with four-in-a-row
Galway always second best but signs of improvement on show in Castlebar
Mayo’s Lee Keegan hits the back of the net after scoring a goal as Cillian O’Connor celebrates setting him up during the Connacht SFC Final at MacHale Park in Castlebar. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Mayo 3-14 Galway 0-16
Mayo strengthened the ties with the 1951 team by becoming the first team to win four Connacht titles in a row since that gilded generation.
Like last year, they gave their neighbours a consummate performance of power, slickness and experience to win handsomely in front of a crowd of 26,738.
Unlike last summer, however, there was no collapse from Galway here and even when they were left reeling from a succession of cleverly taken goals-from-nothing by Mayo, they kept on plugging away, with big performances from Thomas Flynn, Shane Walsh and Paul Conroy.
Still, there was no disguising the fact that Mayo still firmly hold the balance of power in this old struggle. Second-half goals from Jason Doherty and Barry Moran made Galway’s brave attempts to buck and cause upset redundant.
Both scores had Lee Keegan as chief architect, the Westport man roaming forward at will – and at speed – to unlock the Galway defence. He might well have had a goal in either half himself, denied a penalty claim in the 40th minute and smashing a shot against the crossbar seven minutes later. It skipped over the crossbar and a minute later came Doherty’s goal which left Galway 2-12 to 0-9 ahead.
Bravely, Galway responded with three points in succession without ever suggesting that they could mount a serious comeback. They will take some consolation in that all three Mayo goals came down to the experience and creativity of the home team and a serious breakdown in defensive awareness by Galway. But Alan Mulholland came looking for a performance from his side and for periods at least, he got that.
But this was a learning experience for Galway. From the opening period, they found it difficult to break through the intense Mayo press across the mid-sector. Their cause was made more difficult by the fact that they were playing into a stiff breeze sweeping in over the bacon factory side of the stadium.
From the beginning, they looked to take the Mayo defenders on one-on-one but got precious little joy out of that policy, and as Mayo moved into a four point lead, the Galway men fired three hugely speculative hit-and-hope efforts which were worse than mere wides as they sent out the signal that they were bereft of ideas.
In contrast, the Mayo attackers had multiple options in possession. Keith Higgins orchestrated the first three Mayo scores, moving up and down the left of the field as if on a slide rule and carrying the ball into pockets of space.
The score which silenced the visiting support came in the 24th minute and originated in another long, high and hopeful ball into Danny Cummins which Mayo’s Chris Barrett claimed and set in motion a swift counter attack. Cillian O’Connor carried the ball along the Galway endline before squaring a ball for the in-rushing Keegan to palm home. That left it at 1-6 to 0-2 and an ominous quiet settled over the ground.
It was important that Galway didn’t collapse and they didn’t: a flick pass from Conroy sent Gareth Bradshaw in on goal but his shot crashed off the woodwork and Conroy and Cummins kicked late points to keep the Tribesmen on the outskirts of contention at half-time.
In truth, they were struggling. The talented midfield axis was crowded out and Mayo cleverly varied their kick outs, winning the first half kick-outs by 16-10. A rattling tackle by Colm Boyle on Damien Comer shook the Annaghdown man to the extent that he had to retire before the half was done.
Séamus O’Shea drew the lone black card in the match, dragging Conroy down as the Galway captain charged through on goal. Shane Walsh’s penalty brought a terrific save from Rob Hennelly and then saw his ’65 drift wide.
These things take time: Walsh had a fine afternoon and kept Higgins busy for the second half. At the other end, Cillian O’Connor was in luminous form, economic and easy in his decision making and Kevin McLoughlin chipped in with big scores in the first half. But there was a sense that Mayo’s attack will evolve as they move towards the crucial part of the season and a third attempt to reconcile with Séan Flanagan’s generation of footballers.
MAYO: 1 R Hennelly; 2 C Barrett, 3 G Cafferkey, 4 K Higgins; 5 L Keegan (1-1), 6 C Boyle, 7 D Vaughan; 8 S O’Shea , 9 B Moran (1-0), 10 K McLoughlin (0-3), 11 A O’Shea, 12 J Doherty (1-1); 13 C O’Connor (0-8, five frees), 14 A Moran, 15 A Dillon (0-1).
Substitutes: 24 M Conroy for 15 A Dillon (44 mins), 23 A Freeman for 14 A Moran (52 mins), 19 J Gibbons for S O’Shea (58 mins, black card), 17 K Keane for 6 C Boyle (67 mins), 20 D O’Connor for 12 J Doherty (67 mins), 25 M Sweeney for 11 A O’Shea.
GALWAY: 1 M Breathnach; 17 A Tierney, 3 F Hanley, 2 D O’Neill; 5 G Bradshaw (0-1), 6 G O’Donnell, 7 P Varley; 8 F O’Curraoin, 9 T Flynn; 10 M Lundy (0-1), 11 S Walsh (0- 8, five frees), 12 D Comer; 13 P Conroy (0-4), 14 R Hoare, 15 D Cummins.
Substitutes: 22 J Kavanagh for 12 D Comer (24 mins), 25 S Armstrong (0-2) for D Cummins, 19 D Burke for A Tierney (44 mins), 21 G Higgins for 14 D Hoare (55 mins), 23 J O’Brien for M Lundy (61 mins).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).