Brave and convincing Galway make statement with Mayo win

Tribesmen show substance behind their style in gripping game at MacHale Park

Galway 1-14 Mayo 0-16

The usual spice. What makes this border rivalry predictable in its enduring fascination is the most basic fact: if one crowd doesn't win it, then the other will. James Horan had enjoyed a perfect record against Galway over the past decade, six from six, but in what was a brave and convincing second half performance, Pádraic Joyce's team demonstrated that they had absorbed a series of bitter truths learned against Mayo. This could be the making of them.

The build-up to this game was subdued given that both counties had all but been handed revised ratings by Moody’s after their league final disappointments. That didn’t stop 24,557 showing up for a game that, while never a classic, settled into a gripping power struggle between the landed gentry of the West.

This was the day when Galway had to prove there was substance behind the glimpses of appealing style that has defined them over the past few years. They did that was anchored by a magisterial afternoon from Paul Conroy and three sublime place kicks from Shane Walsh to establish a commanding 1-14 to 0-11 lead as the game edged into injury time.


Of course, while most reasonable football people believe that games are reaching their end point during injury time, this Mayo football team offers the contrary view that injury time is when they truly begin. After not scoring at all for 22 hapless minutes in the second half, they reeled off five on the trot in six minutes and almost dragged Galway into what would have been a shocking extra-time proposition. Aidan Orme’s left-footed curler held the Mayo faithful spellbound as it travelled in search of an equalising score. It was brave and close but didn’t quite hit the correct trajectory.

“We came out of the blocks and that is something we look to do,” Joyce recalled afterwards. “In fairness, 1-3 to a point up. But then we took the foot of the gas a little bit and let them back in the game. But that is going to happen. Teams are going to get a bit of domination because of the quality they have and to go in at half time level, we were probably a bit lucky.

"Conor Gleeson made a fantastic point blank save off Jason Doherty. We came out after half-time and the plan was that even though we were level, if we can just produce again and go at them hard again, we can get ahead. And we did. But again, we almost got caught at the end. But look it, if we were in that position a couple of years ago we might have lost the game."

His see-sawing summary reflects the nature of the game. The hair-raising finale contributed to wild scenes of celebration afterwards. Galway needed this statement win and it's been a while since they've enjoyed the post-match feel of MacHale Park.

They got off to a dream start here, running up 1-3 on the Mayo defensive bar tab before 10 minutes had passed. A vintage Walsh point seconds after the throw in, a lovely companion piece from Rob Finnerty and then a terrific opportunist goal by Johnny Heaney, who sprinted on to a squared ball from Damien Comer and poached the ball from the covering Aidan O'Shea. Five of Galway's starting forwards scored in the first quarter and Mayo struggled to break down how to play their way through a compact and hungry maroon defence.

The trouble with dream starts against Mayo is that Mayo thrive when confronted with them, They are notoriously slow starters and even as Galway shimmered, flashbacks of last summer in Croke Park surely travelled through the minds of the visiting supporters – and Joyce. Steadily and remorselessly, Mayo set about reshaping the occasion to their liking.

Turnovers are central to their belief system. So it went. From the 11th minute to half time, Mayo outgunned Galway by 0-7 to 0-2. A late turnover by Matthew Ruane set Mayo up with a breakaway goal chance deep into injury time. They got the right finisher on the ball: Jason Doherty thundering through at speed but his shot, through a busy goalmouth, was deflected.

So at half time, all was rosy in the newly manicured garden of MacHale Park. Mayo seemed to have Galway where they wanted them. And maybe they believed that. The day turned through the hugely impressive Galway defensive work-rate and a series of errant decision making – and wides – by the Mayo collective. John Daly and Sean Kelly formed the spine of a hugely industrious defensive effort. Throughout the day, Galway played smarter football and now their summer road has opened up. Mayo will go way, get their injured list sorted, be written off and then show once again that resurrections aren't just for Easter.

Galway: 1 C Gleeson, 2 L Silke, 3 S Kelly, 4 J Glynn; 5 D McHugh, 6 J Daly, 7 K Molloy (0-1); 8 P Conroy (0-3), 9 M Tierney; 10 F O'Laoi, 11 N Daly (0-1), 12 J Heaney (1-1); 13 R Finnerty (0-1), 14 D Comer (0-1), 15 S Walsh (0-5 2 frees, 2 45s). Subs: 21 P Kelly for 11 N Daly (half time), 18 C McDaid (0-1) for 10 F O'Laoi (46 mins), 25 D Conneely for 13 R Finnerty (49 mins), 22 P Kelly for 9 M Tierney (65 mins), 17 J McGrath for 4 J Glynn (66 mins)

Mayo: 1 R Byrne; 2 L Keegan (0-1), 4 P O'Hora, 3 O Mullin; 5 S Coen, 6 M Plunkett, 7 E McLoughlin (0-1); 9 M Ruane, 8 A O'Shea; 25 D O'Connor (0-1), 11 R O'Donoghue (0-4, 1 mark); 12 C Loftus, 13 J Carr (0-2), 14 J Doherty, 15 C O'Connor (0-6 frees). Subs: 17 E Hession for 3 O Mullin (38 mins inj.), 23 A Orme for 14 J Doherty (49 mins), 26 J Carney for 12 C Loftus (57 mins), 10 K McLoughlin (0-1) for 5 S Coen (64 mins), 22 D McHale for 13 J Carr (68 mins).

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times