Mayo might just take Galway setback as good omen
All-Ireland football championship has had its first heavyweight bout of the summer
Final whistle: Galway’s Eoghan Kerin celebrates his side’s victory over Mayo. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Mayo 0-12 Galway 1-12
It was never a match that could equal the vast hopes and passions of the occasion, with the fault lines along the Mayo-Galway border rumbling in anticipation for weeks. But, still, the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship has had its first heavyweight bout of the long summer.
Galway, eye-catching bolters throughout the wet spring, displayed the toughness to go with their style and ambition in this unforgiving theatre. Johnny Heaney’s goal, deep in a nail-biting eight minutes of injury time, turned the sky maroon. It finished 1-12 to 0-12 to Galway, and Kevin Walsh’s young team look a genuine threat. Mayo are back in the situation they know best: the heroes huddled in the cockpit of a Spitfire out over the sea with a storm raging, the engine sputtering, the fuel line leaking and the windscreen cracked. It’s the only way they know how to fly.
A gruesome injury to the Mayo midfielder Tom Parsons in the 48th minute took some of the hot air out of a day that had been inflated with so much of the grand tradition and romance of the old Galway-Mayo rivalry, along with the salt and edge of the more recent versions. Forget about the All-Ireland: Mayo loathed the thought of losing this one. Castlebar was manic busy from noon, and the old ground was, officially, a sell-out. Few provincial finals have generated as much electricity.
Some maroon cineaste had the chops to erect three billboards outside Breaffy late on Saturday night for the endless line of cars heading up the N17 to enjoy on Sunday morning. The first read: “67 Years Trying”. Two telephone poles later: “Still NO All-Irelands”. Two more telephone poles down the road: “How come, Mayo?”
It was impudent and provocative, a bit like the Galway team this season. When Galway move the ball they remain true in style to the dashing maroon tradition of the mid-1960s and the 1998 bunch. But resilience and mental toughness have been their calling cards this season. The central column here, from Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh to Gareth Bradshaw at centre back to the first-season midfielder Ciáran Duggan through to Damien Comer up front, was solid from the get-go.
Mayo never fully settled, and the difficulty of their task deepened when they lost Diarmuid O’Connor to a straight red card after 33 minutes. Any hopes the home crowd had of a performance of fire and brimstone dissipated in the heavy afternoon. Galway weren’t going to melt or blink. If anything they seem to enjoy these tight games of tough tackling and absolute concentration.
“Extremely disappointed,” Stephen Rochford said flatly as the Galway supporters celebrated on the field. “We put a lot into that game. We expected to win with the effort that we put in and the focus and attitude of the group over the last couple of weeks. But we just weren’t good enough on the day. Put it down to six minutes’ injury time and they score a goal. Put it down to a couple of good scoring opportunities we didn’t execute. The sending-off. In such a tight margin of a game you can look for multiple reasons, but they will only be excuses this evening. We didn’t win, and we now prepare for the month of June.”
He knows what the world is thinking: that Mayo have the heart but not the legs for the chase any more. That this was their Becher’s Brook and they took a tumble. But they lacked nothing for energy with 14 men here and still have high-summer stars like Donal Vaughan and Lee Keegan to return.You’d be crazy to think they will just lie down.
“For whatever reason people will make out about legs,” Rochford said. “There are a lot of teams going out the same length of time as those players, but we will take it one game at a time and see what we can manage in the qualifiers.”
That’s their destiny. They won’t shirk it and will probably nurse the thought of another crack at their neighbours somewhere down the crazy river.
Afterwards the Galway crowd found themselves relieved more than delighted. Nothing has been won yet. Kevin Walsh is in the game far too long to get carried away by a first-round championship win.
“It was tough going. We’ll have to see it again on Tuesday night. It looked pedestrian at times, I suppose, with the way the teams were set up. At other times it looked explosive, so it was one of those types of games. It was about minimising the mistakes and being able to recover from them when they’re made. The shooting boots wouldn’t have been on as you’d like, but overall it was a tough game for both sides.”
The victors would have made it back to Salthill in plenty of time to hear Ed Sheeran’s encore. Sunday night would have been quieter around Castlebar and the other Mayo strongholds as the faithful wondered if this is indeed the beginning of the end of a team that has given them the days of their lives.
Or Mayo could just choose to take this setback as a good omen. After all, anytime they get beaten by Galway they seem to reappear as All-Ireland finalists.