Galway survive the tempest to leave Mayo becalmed
Connacht champions reinforce superiority over the neighbours as Higgins sees red
Galway’s Damien Comer celebrates after winning a free during the final moments in Salthill. Photograph: Inpho
In metaphorical terms for Galway, a ferocious squally afternoon in Salthill gave way to sunshine but only after periods of high pressure.
A nail biting six minutes of injury-time failed to yield a single score and so Mayo, trailing by one when the 70 minutes were up, plummeted out of the Connacht championship for the second semi-final running at the hands of their neighbours.
This was an intense affair, before 23,046 in Pearse Stadium with the stakes unseasonably high for June.
There were a number of big moments but it’s hard to look past the 27th minute red-card dismissal of Mayo’s Keith Higgins, for an ill-tempered strike at Damien Comer, as the hinge on which the outcome turned.
But Galway dictated the terms of the match sufficiently to trail for only less than two minutes, after Kevin McLaughlin’s sixth-minute goal overturned a strong start by the home team.
Despite having to make do with 14 for well over half the match, Mayo pressed hard throughout the second period and were it not for a couple of crucial 65th-minute interventions by Johnny Heaney, blocking a shot by replacement Danny Kirby and getting to take Diarmuid O’Connor’s follow-up strike off the line, they may well have avoided defeat and have at least a replay to look forward to. Rather than that, another summer on whatever roads lead through the qualifiers now awaits.
Cillian O’Connor was also whistled up for a thrown pass that set up Aidan O’Shea, on as a replacement, for a point in the 64th minute. He sent a free wide in injury-time having driven over a monster effort from similar distance minutes earlier.
Their decision to play into the wind in the first half was a surprise given the ferocity of the elements, but it made surprisingly little difference to Galway, who were oddly reluctant to harness the gale howling off the sea.
The centre of the pitch was so crowded that a child could get lost but the Connacht champions left too much space in front of their full-back line, allowing Mayo’s full forwards threaten any time the ball came in.
The goal came after Lee Keegan’s attempt at a point came back of the post – one of three times that Mayo struck the woodwork – and McLoughlin was quick to react to the rebound and finished well.
In this quarter the Mayo full forwards were tormenting their markers, with Declan Kyne especially under pressure, but the scoreboard didn’t reflect this. Cillian O’Connor hit the post having left the Galway full back in his wake.
Galway were content to leave the threatening Comer isolated and although he was lively, coping with two markers and slow support play, limited the full forward’s influence when he won the ball.
Despite playing with the wind, Galway fell into a tit-for-tat scoring pattern that left them just a point ahead at half-time, 0-9 to 1-5. Seán Armstrong, back in the panel this year after reconsidering retirement, took advantage of the wind to land four first-half points, two 45s and two frees. Even more impressively, he added another 45 the second half, into the elements.
The team sustained their own disciplinary setback when Tom Flynn was black carded for checking Cillian O’Connor off the ball in the 30th minute.
Galway resumed, showing more attacking ambition against the wind and Comer was tripped for an early free. Then half-time replacement Eamonn Brannigan rampaged through for another point shortly afterwards.
Galway launched some decent movements through the middle as well, with Paul Conroy prominent – one move in particular being halted only by fouling him and allowing Gary Sice, who had come in for Flynn, to kick the point. Within a minute, he had another and that was the high-water mark of the home team’s fortunes, leading by four – 0-15 to 1-8 – in the 59th minute.
That would be the host’s last score however, and they were beginning to come under pressure at centrefield where Aidan O’Shea had been introduced and was making his presence felt.
Anyone who had felt that there was something anti-entertainment about Galway’s defensive caution got their answer as in the final quarter they created thrills galore for their supporters with a dogged policy of short kick-outs and hand passes across the goal, that Mayo came within fingertips of intercepting.
It actually happened in the 65th minute and but for Heaney’s double intervention there would have been a heavier price tag. In recognition of what could have been, Ruairí Lavelle in the Galway goal went long with his next couple of kicks and it seemed a less high-wire routine.
A couple of frees and a point from play by Cillian O’Connor threw the match into the hazard.
In a charged finale Galway weathered Mayo’s frantic efforts and had a great chance of an insurance score for Danny Cummins thwarted by Patrick Durcan’s great covering tackle.
Mayo’s last two chances fell to Evan Regan, who shot a little too ambitiously on each occasion to leave Galway celebrating another milestone on what has been a memorable 12-month journey.
They will contest the Connacht final against Leitrim or Roscommon on July 9th. Mayo await the next qualifier draw.
GALWAY: 1. Ruairi Lavelle; 2. Cathal Sweeney, 3. Declan Kyne, 7. David Wynne; 6. Gary O’Donnell (capt.), 5. Gareth Bradshaw (0-1), 4. Liam Silke; 9. Fiontán ó Curraoin, 11. Paul Conroy; 8. Tom Flynn, 13. Michael Daly (0-1), 10. Johnny Heaney (0-1); 12. Shane Walsh (0-1), 14. Damien Comer (0-2), 15. Seán Armstrong (0-6, three frees, three 45s).
Subs: 21. Gary Sice (0-2, frees) for Flynn (black card, 32 mins), 22. Eamonn Brannigan (0-1) for Wynne (half-time), 23. Danny Cummins for Daly (70 mins), 24. Michael Lundy for Sice (72 mins).
MAYO: 1. David Clarke; 2. Chris Barrett, 3. Ger Cafferkey, 4. Keith Higgins; 18. Donal Vaughan, 6. Lee Keegan, 7. Patrick Durcan (0-1); 8. Séamus O’Shea, 9. Tom Parsons; 10. Fergal Boland (0-1), 11. Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), 22. Stephen Coen; 13. Kevin McLoughlin (1-1); 15. Andy Moran (0-1), 14. Cillian O’Connor (capt. 0-6, five frees).
Subs: 23. Aidan O’Shea for O’Shea (48 mins), 24. Danny Kirby for Moran (48 mins), 12. Jason Doherty for McLoughlin (59 mins), 25. Evan Regan for Boland (61 mins). 5. Colm Boyle for Vaughan (69 mins), 19. David Drake for D O’Connor (73 mins).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).