Galway 1-13 Mayo 0-11
Just how valuable are these weeks for Galway? After a long absence, the maroon team are setting the standard in Division One. Reducing Mayo to a rabble on a sleety day in Salthill can only deepen the satisfaction as they extend their perfect winning record to three.
This one finished in a procession of scores and two red cards - out of a total of eighteen cards shown over the 80 minutes of play - for the O’Connor brothers of Mayo. The more serious penalty of a straight red was issued to Cillian O’Connor for a reckless challenge on Eoghan Kerin, leaving him absent as Mayo once again find themselves in the choppier waters of the league. Galway’s Paul Conroy was also sent off (on a second yellow) after 10 minutes of outright mayhem when neither team bothered disguising the fact that that they don’t like each other all that much.
That’s understandable. Kevin Walsh is assembling a young team bidding to seriously challenge the front-rank sides to which Mayo belong. Safeguarding a home league win was important to them. They are developing a template which is tough to break down: a heavily defensive rearguard, relentless work rate and a punchy counter attack fronted by Damien Comer and Shane Walsh. The manager’s decision to include Barry McHugh as a late change was rewarded with 1-3.
Galway started more sharply and maintained a pace and aggression which Mayo, on an icy day in Connacht, simply couldn’t match. The last 10 minutes were just about players reminding each other that they’d be seeing each other down the road, when the snowmen have melted.
“You’ve seen that more than I have, being down on the sideline I didn’t see anything,” said Walsh of the pulling and dragging when the contest was effectively over.
“I haven’t a lot to say on it other than we don’t like to see too much of that going on. I’m still very conscious that every player who gets to wear a county jersey is going to fight for his jersey. Look, whatever happened, when the handbags started, you saw a lot more than me.”
Mayo have reached their Robert Mitchum after-a-three-day-bender stage of the season when it’s tempting to conclude their star will never rise again. That would be foolish. Wait until you see the finished movie. For the past three years, Mayo haven’t looked like themselves in the league because they have no real need or wish to be flying in March. Still, Stephen Rochford sounded hoarse when he expressed his disappointment and he didn’t shy away from labelling a sub-standard show for what it was.
“We weren’t at the pitch of it in any shape, way or form. The (end row) was borne out of frustration more than anything else. We lost our discipline and that. . . it’s something we have to look at. Even if we’d won today . . . four points would have left a certain level of pressure . . . we found ourselves in this type of position before. There’s no way back except through hard work. We know that.”
But that’s all the league means to Mayo. They have nothing to prove to anyone at this time of year, least of all themselves and have at least half a dozen senior players to come back into the ranks. Getting fleeced by Galway in February won’t leave them best pleased. But it won’t cause sleepless nights either.
No, the day was about another brave step forward for Galway. Damien Comer maintained his streak of lightening opening minutes, tearing past Caolan Crowe in the opening seconds only to spill the ball as he was eyeing up David Clarke’s goal in his sightline. He struck two crisp points from play and a slip by Ger Cafferkey allowed Barry McHugh to turn onto Paul Conroy’s nicely weighted inside pass to fire a right footed goal in the 19th minute.
Galway were living high on the hog during this period; Shane Walsh exhibited that menacing speed and ball-carrying smoothness on several occasions and elected to hit a flamboyant point-on-the turn (which curled wide) even as Mayo’s centre parted before him. Still, Galway’s nimble guerrilla attack paid dividends in that first half and there were several eye-catching breakaway scores in the second period, including a brilliant burst from Johnny Heaney and three smooth scores from Eamon Branigan, who is enjoying this spring.
Galway’s defensive organisation left no player exposed and they smothered Mayo’s build-ups repeatedly with eight men drifting across the fifty and either one or two forwards manning the front line. Best of all, they were impressively efficient, with just five wides in the game and their shot-selection was based on high percentage returns. So much of their attack revolves around Comer, who can win frees, lay off ball, burst through the tackle and, of course an accomplished score taker.
Galway are in rude health with a fortnight’s break -before they head south to face Kerry. The hill just gets steeper.
GALWAY: 1 R Lavelle, 2 D Kyne, 3 SA O'Ceallaigh, 4 E Kerin; 13 P Sweeney; 5 C Sweeney, 6, G Bradshaw, 7 J Heaney (0-1); 10 S Kelly, 8 P Conroy (0-2), 9 P Cooke, 11 S Walsh (0-2 1 free), 12 E Branigan (0-3), 14 D Comer (0-2), 24 B McHugh (1-3, 2 frees).
Substitutes: 17 S Armstrong for 13 P Sweeney (half time), 23 T Flynn for 9 P Cooke ( 60 mins), 15 A Varley for 24 B McHugh 70 mins), 25 G O’Donnel for 10 S Kelly (76 mins), 19 C D’arcy for 14 D Comer (80 mins), 20 J Duane for 6 G Bradshaw ( 80 mins)
MAYO: 1 D Clarke; 19 C Crowe, 3 G Cafferkey, 4 E O'Donoghue (0-1 free); 20 M Hall, 5 C Boyle (0-1), 7 P Durcan (0-1); 8 J Gibbons, 11 A O'Shea, 6 S Coen, 10 K McLoughlin (0-1 free), 12 D O'Connor (0-1); 22 C O'Connor (0-6 frees), 14 J Doherty (0-1 frees), 15 C Loftus.
Substitutes: 25 A Gallagher for 15 C Loftus (58 mins), 24 F Boland for 10 K McLoughlin (58 mins), ), 18 G McDonagh for 8 J Gibbons ( 62 mins), M 17 J Stretton for 5 C Boyle ( 63 mins).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).