Galway beat Mayo but they are only setting out on the long road

Galway made it three Connacht championship wins in a row against rivals Mayo

Johnny Heaney of Galway celebrates scoring a goal to beat Mayo. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Johnny Heaney of Galway celebrates scoring a goal to beat Mayo. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Mayo 0-12 Galway 1-12

For the longest time, these two big football counties didn’t know quite know how to take their leave of each other, like neighbours stuck at the kitchen table long after the tea has been drained and the conversation has died away.

Galway, the coming force in the West, looked brighter here but seemed uncertain as to how to kill Mayo off .The home team hung around that another version of their great escapes seemed inevitable until Johnny Heaney, a club-mate of Kevin Walsh’s, turned the day maroon with a thunderbolt of a goal in the 74th minute.

If there was a perceived snatch-and-grab element to the previous two Connacht wins by Galway, this was a more deliberate and colder and significant win. All week, the sounds coming from Mayo was that Stephen Rochford’s dauntless crew were primed for this game: that if they were to challenge for another All-Ireland run, it would be without the touristic distractions of the qualifier route.

Galway came into a wildly and wonderfully partisan MacHale Park with four championship debutantes, weathered the periodic tempests and visibly grew over the eighty minutes of attrition.

Fullback Sean Andy O’Ceallaigh was prominent throughout a series of intense battles for possession on the inside line and although several of Mayo’s 11 wides were eyesores, the visitors’ held Mayo’s starting full-forward line to just 0-2 from play, both scores conjured from nothing by Andy Moran.

Another Galway debutant, Ciarán Duggan, had a hugely influential afternoon at midfield; strong in the air, scoring 0-2 from play and composed in his distribution. Tom Flynn, selected to start after limited league action, had a good day also and made a huge catch in the 77th minute, when Galway effectively needed possession to win the game: he rounded it off by closing the scoring with a fisted point in the next sequence of play.

Damien Comer’s tour de force of breathtaking, powerful football continued during the opening quarter. Chris Barrett, drafted into the team shortly before throw-in, was giving Comer the presidential bodyguard treatment but that didn’t prevent two quick points by the Annaghdown man, the second of which was a stunning strike from the fifty. At the other end, Kevin McLoughlin stabbed a fine point- identical to the late, late score which saved Mayo’s division one skin up in Ballybofey last March. Their inside forwards won enough frees to keep the score board ticking through Conor Loftus.

It was 0-7 to 0-5 at the break but level at eight points each in the 42nd minute when Tom Parsons and Shane Walsh exchanged points that made it clear that neither team was going to run away with this. A long break for medical attention in the 46th minute following a terrible injury suffered by Parsons - who badly dislocated his knee after getting tangled up with Eoghan Kerin - ensured that a match fitful settled into a nervy and gripping end game. It became a matter of who would blink first.

Losing the Charlestown man was a blow Mayo couldn’t sustain, having already had Diarmuid O’Connor sent off in the 33rd minute on a straight red card. That incident left Paul Conroy, who was met with an apparently raised elbow when he came to challenge O’Connor, bloodied and unable to continue with a suspected concussion. Facing Galway’s array of speedsters was a difficult proposition with a full compliment: with 14 men, the odds became steeper for Mayo.

But isn’t that the environment in which Mayo thrive? Adversity multiplied by impossibility seems to embolden this group. It felt like they were kind of biding their time here, edging the game towards the final few minutes before striking.

The game was reduced to prolonged periods of caginess, where not making an error or spilling possession followed by score and instant reply. When Duggan thumped a big point in the 62nd minute, Cillian O’Connor - not long onto the stage - instantly responded at the other end. Sean Kelly, also fresh to the day, broke away to edge Galway ahead again and then McLoughlin stepped up for another of his worth-their-weight-in-gold type points.

But Mayo were dependent on those precision strikes. Galway’s defensive shape - a highly organised switch-and-go system all but spoiled Mayo’s patented running game, despite the best efforts of Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins. Even Moran found it hard to buy space inside and anyhow, with 14 men, Mayo were busy soaking up pressure at the other end.

Corofin’s Ian Burke, in his first appearance of the year in maroon, had the genius hands and touch to keep the ball moving through Mayo’s dense defence in the last quarter and it was no surprise his fingerprints were on the ball that led to Heaney’s emphatic strike. Seconds before that goal, nobody had picked up Adrian Varley, just on the pitch and armed with an explicit order from the sideline to collect the ball deep and make ground along the right wing. He did just that, found Burke and Mayo’s goose was cooked.

The strange thing about Mayo is that despite their image as a kind of grizzled commando unit, there has always been a highly-strung thoroughbred dimension to their play. Unless all the parts are functioning perfectly, Mayo doesn’t flow. So it went on Sunday. The odds on them continuing their role as the most absurdly exciting life force in Irish sport had lengthened by tea time here. But you see the stubborn look in Stephen Rochford’s eyes as the home crowd moved down to Linenhall street for a review and you just know that they were already just re-booting their mindset for a different road back.

Galway shoot on, in fine fettle, even if it was a slight reality check for them to consider that after all the adrenaline rush of this occasion, they are only setting out on the long road.

GALWAY: 1 R Lavelle, 2 D Kyne, 3 SA O’Ceallaigh, 4 E Kerin; 5 G O’Donnell, 6 G Bradshaw, 7 C Sweeney; 11 P Conroy, 9 C Duggan (0-2); 8 T Flynn (0-1), 10 S Walsh (0-3, 1 free), 12 J Heaney (1-0); 13 S Armstrong (0-1), 14 D Comer (0-2), 15 B McHugh (0-2 frees).

Substitutes: 20 P Cooke for 11 P Conroy (33 mins inj.), 17 E Brannigan for 2 D Kyne (50 mins), 19 I Burke for 13 S Armstrong (58 mins), 22 S Kelly (0-1) for 8 T Flynn (62 mins), 21J Duane for 6 G Bradshaw (70 mins), 24 A Varley for 15 B McHugh (74 mins).

MAYO: 1 D Clarke, 2 E O’Donoghue, 18 C Barrett, 4 K Higgins (0-1), 5 P Durcan, 6 C Boyle, 7 S Coen; 8 S O’Shea, 9 T Parsons (0-1), 10 K McLoughlin (0-2), 11 A O’Shea, 12 D O’Connor (0-1); 13 C Loftus (0-3 frees), 23 J Doherty, 15 A Moran (0-2).

Substitutes: 14 C O’Connor (0-2, 1 free)for 9 T Parsons (48 mins inj), 19 D Drake for 13 C Loftus (60 mins), 26 J Durcan for 23 J Doherty (61 mins), 22 C Hanley for 8 S O’Shea (69 mins), 20 D Vaughan for 15 A Moran (71 mins), 17 B Harrison for 2 E O’Donoghue (72 mins).

Referee: C Lane (Cork).

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