Mayo give neighbours something to ponder

 

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION ONE:WE SHOULD have known. When the big two in the west meet, current form and anticipated story lines should be ditched. Galway versus Mayo in St Jarlath’s stadium is a ritual locked into a tradition governed by the strange brotherhood that defines these two border rivals.

Love, hate and the usual point separated them at the end. Mayomen raced for the border pleasantly surprised and the home crowd disappeared into the taverns of Tuam wondering how their team had lost a match that might have been over at half-time.

“The Mayo-Galway games take on a life of their own always,” Mayo manager John O’Mahony said afterwards. If anyone is an authority on that fact, it is the Ballaghderreen man. Not for the first time, he stood by the wooden doors of dressingrooms that have hosted the most fabled names in the game and reflected on a significant victory.

“That was proven again out there today. The last three times we have met, there has been a point in it. I expect Galway to go on to the league final and the way the results went today, we are still not safe. But at least we did all we could about it today.”

It is true that league table calculations deepened the interest of this match but the bumper crowd of 6,041 also reflected the scintillating football that the Galway men have been producing of late.

There is nearly a moral obligation of Galway teams to put on a good show in Tuam Stadium and they certainly started brightly, easing into a 0-7 to 0-1 lead after 25 minutes, with the sight of Michael Meehan landing three fine points from play as good as a nip of whiskey on a damp afternoon. The Caltra man’s sharpness and accuracy have been the story of this league and so there was something of a stunned silence when he directed a 35th-minute penalty wide to David Clarke’s left.

The home team still retreated 0-9 to 0-3 to the good at half-time but the miss gave Mayo some hope.

And the way they flipped the match on its head was stunning. Galway were going to struggle somewhat playing into a stiff wind. But Mayo managed to hold the most prolific attacking team in the competition to four points from play – and two of those were gifts. Paul Conroy and Michael Meehan had tap-over frees after Mayo defenders were whistled for lifting the ball off the ground and, earlier, for not passing the ball far enough on a free-out.

The latter must be the most stupid rule in Gaelic games. It is outrageous to think that a similarly harmless indiscretion could cost a team a point in a championship match, when scores are deadly hard to come by.

What happened to Mayo? Well, they trailed by more than their endeavours merited at the break. They might have had a goal of their own after seven minutes, when Aidan O’Shea set up Kieran Conroy, whose shot was deflected by Adrian Flaherty.

Galway’s Finian Hanley is a strong full back so one shudders to think what O’Shea may do if smaller men are shadowing him later in the year. The big Breaffy teenager is phenomenally strong, he won some sticky ball here, showed quick hands, distributed well and was generally a handful. He caused the Galway back division big trouble.

At the other end, Ger Cafferkey was disciplined and persistent in the nigh-impossible task of shadowing Meehan, Tom Cunniffe is a centre back who believes in making tunnels through that route and Peader Gardiner had the poise to take smart positions which yielded him two quick points in the 63rd minute, when Mayo took control of the game. And Trevor Mortimer, full of industry and heart, was rewarded by kicking what turned out to be the winning point.

But overall, the Mayomen, for the first time all year, seemed to shrug off their self-doubt and apprehension and just trusted their instincts. Also, they attacked everything maroon like wildcats. The Mayo “want” was plain: it pulsed in Liam O’Malley’s late, all-out block, in Mark Ronaldson’s pinging around the middle third of the field and in the driving presence of Ronan McGarrity. They played with healthy desperation.

Perhaps Galway, who have finished several games by half-time this year, were caught unawares. As it was, they responded to Gardiner’s quick combination with a great score from Joe Bergin, levelling the match with two minutes left.

But by then, the Galway rhythm had been smashed. Crucially, the Joyce influence was not so pronounced here: Cunniffe gave the Kilkerrin man no breathing space. Joyce did have a last-second chance to level it but his shot, from a terribly difficult sideline ball, curled narrowly wide. It was Galway’s only wide of the half.

Galway manager Liam Sammon was disappointed but said: “You have to give credit to Mayo. They made it so hard for us to win the ball and put us under so much pressure that we struggled. We will have to beat Kerry fair and square now and that is the way it should be.”

It would be rough justice if Galway do not feature in the final, given their football has been a joy. But they might have known that if there was any stray boot waiting to trip them out, it was likely to have a Made in Mayo stamp on it.

MAYO: D Clarke; L O’Malley, G Cafferkey, K Conroy; P Gardiner (0-2), T Cunniffe, A Moran; P Harte, R McGarrity; M Ronaldson, T Mortimer (0-1), A Dillon (0-1, free), A O’Malley (0-3, two frees), A O’Shea (1-1), M Sweeney. Subs: T Parsons for P Harte (yellow, 32 mins), C Mortimer (0-2 frees) for M Sweeney (half-time), K McLoughlin (0-1) for K Conroy (half-time), BJ Padden for A O’Malley (69 mins).

GALWAY: A Faherty; N Coyne, F Hanley, D Burke; G Brradshaw, D Blake, D Reilly; B Cullinane (0-1), J Bergin (0-2); S Armstrong, P Joyce, D Dunleavy; P Conroy (0-3 , three frees), M Meehan (0-7, three frees), M Clancy. Subs: G Sice for M Clancy (51 mins), F Breathnach for D Dunleavy (56 mins), G O’Donnell for G Armstrong (69 mins).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).