MAYO 1-15 GALWAY 2-8
It was tighter and better contested than recent instalments of the rivalry but in the end this Connacht football semi-final in Pearse Stadium went as expected. Mayo were at times under pressure but when threatened, always appeared to have the extra gear to scoot clear of trouble.
Much went right for Galway along the way. The sun beat down on Salthill and a decent championship crowd of over 20,000 was in attendance.
They weren’t overwhelmed either physically – Damien Comer at one stage planted Séamus O’Shea with a shoulder so forceful it might have triggered a tsunami out in Galway Bay – or on the scoreboard as in previous matches against Mayo but they still couldn’t stop the champions emulating a 109-year old benchmark by recording a fifth, successive championship win against their neighbours.
They lost a couple of forwards along the way. Andy Moran had to leave the field after kicking two points from play – the first that appeared to defy geometry out in the right corner – and his replacement Alan Dillon lasted just seven minutes before a hamstring tweak forced his departure.
The core of the problem for Galway was that they were unable to deal adequately with Aidan O’Shea’s rampaging contributions at full forward and as in the quarter-final against Leitrim they conceded frees liberally and were duly punished by Cillian O’Connor, who kicked eight from nine.
This all crystallised in a calamitous few minutes after half-time.
By way of prelude, Galway had done well in the first half. The match had occasionally looked to be slipping beyond their grasp but their forwards gradually got into the match. Damien Comer drew the teams level at 0-5 each, creating a point scoring chance for Danny Cummins in the 21st minute and kicking one himself in the 22nd.
A roof-raising goal by Gary Sice, who gave the slip – literally – to Tom Parsons and banged the ball past David Clarke from about 20 metres gave them the lead for the only time in the 35th minute and although O'Connor's late free equalised, the match looked in the melting pot.
Four minutes into the second half however it was effectively all over and in that short time O’Shea made a good case for the Man of the Match award he would receive. He won the restart, placed a great ball into Kevin McLaughlin, who rotated into full forward with him and Cillian O’Connor, and the resulting free put Mayo in front.
Within a minute O’Shea had barnstormed through the defence and although he lost possession, Galway goalkeeper Manus Breathnach tried to lash the ball into Row Z and instead hit his full back Finian Hanley off whom the ball rebounded into the net.
O’Shea added a point after another free from O’Connor, making it was 1-11 to 1-5 and not yet the 40th minute.
Galway were facing the abyss and their game became ragged over the following 10 minutes with attacks that lacked composure and vulnerability to Mayo counters. To their credit they recovered in the final quarter.
Paul Conroy unwittingly started it by pulling down Colm Boyle and getting a black card. His replacement Peadar Ó Gríofa led the charge, taking on the ball from a surging counter-attack by Cathal Sweeney and flicking it across the goal for Cummins to fist to the net in the 53rd minute.
A free from Sice cut the margin to two, 2-7 to 1-12 but that would be the high point of Galway's recovery. Mayo showed their steel however and quelled the uprising. Replacements Donal Vaughan and Mark Ronaldson combined for an immediate reply and as the closing 15 minutes ticked by, Galway's threat receded whereas Séamus O'Shea ran through their defence for a point and O'Connor added another free after an incident that had seen Hanley sent off – the consequence of having been shown a black card after a yellow earlier in the match.
Sice managed a reply from a free in injury-time and although the home crowd bayed hopefully when four additional minutes were signalled, much of the time was taken up with a brawl that broke out on the sideline, prompting some questions from the Galway camp.
Mayo's Lee Keegan was yellow-carded for the second time in the match and received his marching orders.
It wasn’t the only fracas and although disagreements at Salvation Army Christmas parties have probably exuded greater menace the outbreaks were still ugly and ill-disciplined.
That aside, there was something positive for both sides. Mayo’s new management of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly had got their first championship encounter out of the way without ill-effect whereas Kevin Walsh had seen a battling performance to take into the qualifiers.
MAYO: 1. David Clarke; 6. Tom Cunniffe, 4. Keith Higgins (capt.), 3. Kevin Keane; 2. Chris Barrett, 5. Lee Keegan, 7. Colm Boyle; 8. Séamus O'Shea (0-1), 9. Tom Parsons; 10. Diarmuid O'Connor, 11. Aidan O'Shea (0-1), 12. Kevin McLoughlin; 13. Andy Moran (0-2), 14. Cillian O'Connor (0-9, eight frees), 15. Jason Doherty (0-1). Finian Hanley (1-0 – own goal). Subs: 23. Alan Dillon for Moran (34 mins), 24. Mark Ronaldson (0-1) for Dillon (41 mins), 21. Donal Vaughan for Boyle (52 mins), 17. Ger Cafferkey for Keane (56 mins), 22. Barry Moran for Parsons (66 mins).
GALWAY 1. Manus Breathnach; 4. Cathal Sweeney, 3. Finian Hanley, 2. Johnny Duane; 5. Liam Silke, 6. Gary O'Donnell, 7. Seán Denvir; 8. Fiontán Ó Curraoin, 12. Tom Flynn; 10. Gary Sice (1-3, two points frees), 9. Paul Conroy (capt.; 0-3, all frees), 15. Michael Lundy; 11. Patrick Sweeney, 13. Danny Cummins (1-1), 14. Damien Comer (0-1). Subs: 22. Peadar Ó Gríofa for Conroy (black card, 51 mins), 20. Eddie Hoare for Flynn (62 mins), 17. Gareth Bradshaw for Silke (62 mins), 25. Adrian Varley for Sweeney (70 mins).
Yellow cards – Mayo: Keegan (1 and 74 mins), Boyle (11 mins), Keane (55 mins). Galway: Lundy (1 mins), Sice (11 mins), Cummins (12 mins), Hanley (32 mins), Duane (68 mins), Comer (74 mins).
Black cards – Mayo: none. Galway: Conroy (51 mins), Hanley (68 mins)
Red cards – Mayo: Keegan (74 mins. Galway: Hanley (68 mins)
Referee: Pádraig Hughes (Armagh).