Damien Comer says Galway's strength in depth driving them on
Mayo waiting on further scan results to evaluate injury sustained by Tom Parsons
Tom Flynn of Galway and Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea during Sunday’s Connacht Football Championship quarter-final in MacHale Park, Castlebar. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Sunday in Castlebar in ways replicated last year’s championship meeting between Galway and Mayo in Pearse Stadium: a claustrophobic tight match of incremental scoring on either side, which was decided late and greatly influenced by a sending-off.
A year ago it was Keith Higgins who was lost to Mayo after half an hour; this time Diarmuid O’Connor got his marching orders within minutes of the same time, just before the interval.
For a team that was supposed to be suffering from the size of the mileage on the clock, Mayo competed with 14 men all the way until Johnny Heaney’s goal in injury time.
To an extent the outcome hasn’t greatly advanced what is known about the two teams. In Stephen Rochford’s three years in charge of Mayo they have always started the championship slowly, before building the challenge back up along the qualifier route. Meanwhile, Galway have disappointed more often than not in their performances after knocking their neighbours out of the provincial championship.
Galway can argue that their league campaign has elevated their standing having gone through Division One unbeaten and run Dublin close in the final. Yet this created pressure in the run-up to the championship meeting with the All-Ireland finalists of the past two years.
“After the league campaign there was a sense of expectation about this Galway side,” according to captain Damien Comer, one of their stand-out performers this year. “It is good that we were able to come out on the right side, dig deep for the result. It is not easy coming down here to MacHale Park and coming out with the result. We are delighted.”
It could be suggested that with such an impressive campaign under their belt, Galway might have been expected to win more emphatically in the circumstances of opponents who were slightly undercooked and who then lost a man.
Comer’s predecessor as captain, Gary O’Donnell, makes the point, however, that these matches between the Connacht rivals have always been intensely contested.
“It’s not a secret there’s a big rivalry between Galway and Mayo. Any time we meet there’s usually fireworks or it’s very tight, so we’re just delighted to come out on top. They’d a lad sent off in the first half, but there was never much between the teams. We didn’t really look any further than this game. It’s proven to do us well throughout the league campaign and today was no different.
“They [Mayo] were very resilient, in fairness. Look it, everyone knows how much of a consistent team they’ve been over the years. I alluded to it a few minutes ago, they really set the bar in Connacht in the last five or six years. We needed to up our standards and we did that.
"Like I said, three-in-a-row is a great achievement, but we’re well aware that we’ve had a couple of poor performances over the last couple of years. We need to address that so we’ll move on to the next one.”
His reference to poor performances is maybe understated as the team’s fate after beating Mayo in 2016 and 2017 did a lot to scuff the sheen on the achievement of beating Mayo in the first place.
Inconsistency in 2016 saw a dire draw with Roscommon in Salthill followed by a barnstorming thrashing of them in the replay in Castlebar before succumbing to the seismic shock of getting beaten by Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Last year they lost the provincial title to Roscommon, again after a lack-lustre display at home, followed by a strong showing in beating Donegal and another exit with a whimper in the last eight against Kerry.
“We’ve lost games but very few games. We’ve had a couple of blips in between but at the same time there’s been huge positives in the teams we’ve beaten and the progress we’ve made. We have to focus on that rather than being too critical of ourselves. This year we’ll be judged on how far we go in the championship.”
This year will be different. The new round-robin format at All-Ireland quarter-final stage is acting as a major incentive for counties, who can see the developmental benefits of playing three high-profile matches next July and August. It will demand stronger panels.
“Yeah, big time. Since Kevin’s come in, he’s emphasised that. It’s his fourth year now with us and it’s starting to bear fruit – great players to be coming in off the bench. There’s huge competition for places. It’s taken a few years to get that but we’re getting there.”
Finally, Mayo are waiting on further scan results to evaluate the serious injury sustained by centre-fielder Tom Parsons on Sunday. In answer to a request for an update from the county, The Irish Times was told: “Tom Parsons suffered a dislocated knee joint in yesterday’s [Sunday] game. He is having additional specialist opinion and imaging today [Monday]. All involved with Mayo GAA wish Tom a speedy recover.”