Draws cost Mayo and Galway on dramatic day in the championship

Dublin and Armagh strike late equalisers to secure All-Ireland quarter-final places

Cormac Costello fired over a late equaliser for Dublin against Mayo in Dr Hyde Park on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The weekend’s big matches both ended in draws but the final action on the All-Ireland groups left a distinct sense of winners and losers. In the latter category were Connacht champions Galway and finalists Mayo. Both were chasing top spots in their respective groups and all-important tickets straight to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Last year, the counties lost chances to win their groups in the dying stages of their final match and on Sunday, history repeated itself.

In Hyde Park, Mayo finally got a once-in-a-century chance to play Dublin in an All-Ireland match west of the Shannon.

In an epic encounter, which reinvigorated the game’s defining rivalry of the past decade, the teams traded points all afternoon and with time nearly up, Ryan O’Donoghue won a free and with the wind behind him, landed the point.

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The All-Ireland champions had to win the restart and Ciarán Kilkenny stepped up with an immense catch in the circumstances. The ball was run through Jack McCaffrey and Colm Basquel to create a chance for man of the match Cormac Costello who, despite slipping, popped the equaliser.

“They [Dublin] are a super team,” said Mayo manager Kevin McStay. “To win a kick-out and somehow get the ball out of the scrum and they came up with a point. It’s just disappointing that we go into a prelim but this time it’s at home so there is a completely different vibe about it this year compared to last year.”

That in a nutshell was the prize at stake. Top the group and get a two-week break and avoid the other group winners.

For Mayo, it was a terrific and resilient display. The team lost heavily when they faced Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final and were snagged at the death by Galway in the Connacht final. Captain Paddy Durcan banjaxed his cruciate in the last minute of the group match with Cavan.

Adversity had made a case study of them coming into this match. They had to go to Galway last year – which can’t happen again, as they are both second-placed teams – and the monumental effort required to win undoubtedly cost them a week later against the Dubs.

This year, with home advantage next week, McStay is confident.

“If we play at that level, we are going to have a great chance to get to the quarter-final by the preliminary route, and that’s what I’d be expecting but we have to manage the week carefully. We have a little bit of experience of how to do that now.”

Connacht champions Galway had controlled nearly an hour of football against Armagh. In the past two years, the counties have had memorable contests, one decided on penalties and the other by a point.

This time it looked like a decisive win, as Galway led by five in the 58th minute but a disastrous four minutes ensued and by the 62nd, Armagh were one up, having put up an unanswered 1-3 – 1-1 directly from their opponents’ kick-out, “the first short kick-out goal that we’ve conceded in my five years as manager. It was a killer blow,” reflected a disappointed Padraic Joyce

Galway resisted but having inched ahead deep in injury-time, they couldn’t keep their opponents out for the last minute.

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has been on the sharp end of so many split decisions and he was unequivocally jubilant.

“It’s great to finish top. That’s the big thing. That was what we were looking for. How you do it is irrelevant to me. It’s just a fact. Full stop, Delighted with it. We were very poor in the first half, very static and no energy. Galway kept the ball well and made us work. We did better in the second half and finishing top of the group was a big thing for us – for both teams – and gives us two weeks to get things together.”

His counterpart Pádraic Joyce ended up reliving last year’s disappointment when a failure to get a draw cost his team the quarter-final place.

“It is a bit disappointing that we didn’t get the result we needed. Look, it is what it is. The lads played really well overall. They did a lot of stuff right, just didn’t finish the job at the end with a clinical score.

“Look at the top teams, when they are five or four up you have to go to six or seven. Just kill the game which we didn’t do. Fair play to Armagh. They are a good side. We know that.

“We competed very well – just a bit down that we didn’t win the game by a point.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times