Mayo tear up the script and add another page to their Connacht roll of honour

James Horan’s side claim 48th JJ Nestor Cup after turning things around against Galway

Mayo’s Lee Keegan celebrates with his daughter Lile in the JJ Nestor Cup after the win over Galway in the Connacht SFC Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Mayo’s Lee Keegan celebrates with his daughter Lile in the JJ Nestor Cup after the win over Galway in the Connacht SFC Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Mayo 2-14 Galway 2-8

An old story told in a different style still came to a familiar conclusion at Croke Park with James Horan’s latest championship win over Galway – his sixth without defeat – in a match that swung remarkably after half-time to land Mayo back-to-back Connacht titles for the first time since 2015.

Although the scoreboard didn’t reflect the reality of the situation until the exceptional Matthew Ruane slalomed through the Galway defence in the 67th minute and slid the ball into the net to put the match out of reach at 2-12 to 2-7, there was hardly any juncture of the second half where Mayo didn’t look like winning once Ryan O’Donoghue, providing the full Cillian O’Connor experience, had cracked home a penalty within seconds of the restart.

Maybe the tunnel fracas, as the teams left the pitch at the break, fired up Mayo but they were a different proposition when play resumed. The bench played a role and the introduction of Eoghan McLaughlin and veteran Kevin McLoughlin greatly improved the champions’ performance.

By that stage, many of us had it figured. Galway’s harder season between Division One setbacks and a tricky provincial semi-final in Roscommon had prepared them far better for the big day than Mayo jogging through Division Two and swatting Sligo and Leitrim in the championship.

Instead it was Mayo who picked up the pace of the match and having made the necessary readjustment, went to work on dismantling the deficit and handing Galway a championship exit very much in keeping with the sorrows of their league campaign – the frequently observed brittleness again emerging to haunt them.

Mayo’s Matthew Ruane scores a late goal during the Connacht SFC Final against Galway at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Mayo’s Matthew Ruane scores a late goal during the Connacht SFC Final against Galway at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Galway led 2-5 to 0-6 and were by then dictating the terms of engagement. Their slow, at times ponderous approach to possession, moving the ball back and forth looking for an opening had paid increasing dividends as the match progressed.

Mayo, on the other hand, were quicker in their attacks but struggling to turn them into any account.

The goals had been crucial in establishing the superiority – firstly a decent attempt at a point from the prominent Paul Conroy which drifted on to the post in the 19th minute came back for Shane Walsh to react quickest and ram the ball into the net for a 1-3 to 0-4 lead just after the first water break.

Eight minutes later, Walsh intervened again. He took on Aidan O’Shea, who had deftly dispossessed him a few minutes previously, and made sure he didn’t cough up the ball on this occasion, skinned Patrick Durcan and popped a pass to Damien Comer, whose shot nearly blew a hole in the net.

It was peak Galway and they maintained the lead until the break. By then Walsh had been injured in a clash with Pádraig O’Hora much to the unhappiness of manager Pádraic Joyce in his comments afterwards.

Galway had already lost Robert Finnerty and Seán Kelly to knee and hamstring problems.

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea in action against Paul Conroy of Galway during the Connacht SFC Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea in action against Paul Conroy of Galway during the Connacht SFC Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Walsh’s plight wasn’t helped by the switch of Oisín Mullin as his marker and the challengers suffered, although the former did guide a dropping ball into Comer and his fisted connection hit the bar and bounced out harmlessly when the teams were level.

Maybe the opening wide from Matthew Tierney was an omen but almost immediately, Mayo went direct to O’Shea, now at full forward and as usual a handful in there, and he won the ball cleanly, popped it to the incoming Ruane who was taken down for a penalty.

O’Donoghue only had two frees to take all afternoon but looked assured in doing so. His penalty was perfect and the comeback was on.

We kept waiting for Galway to reassert themselves and resume holding the ball a bit more and picking out chances. But the trend was setting. They were outscored 1-4 to zero in the third quarter and trailed by two, 2-5 to 1-10. Symmetrically they also conceded 1-4 in the final quarter.

That meant a second-half concession of 2-8 to which they mustered a response of just three points, all from frees.

The dismal metrics included one-third of Connor Gleeson’s kick-outs (nine out of 25) getting picked off whereas Mayo lost just one (out of 21) and their first score after the break not arriving until the 62nd minute when Tierney pointed a free. Four minutes later he added another and bizarrely there was just a two-point margin between the teams, 1-12 to 2-7.

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea lifts the trophy as Mayo are crowned Connacht champions at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea lifts the trophy as Mayo are crowned Connacht champions at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Ruane’s goal put a stop to that. There was a lengthy delay to allow treatment for O’Hora, who had to go to hospital after being stretchered off. Michael Farragher was yellow-carded for the incident and picked up a second in injury-time to leave Galway reduced to 14.

The one-way traffic of the second half could even have been harder on Galway. Conor Loftus picked out O’Donoghue in the 64th minute but the latter was penalised for a push in the back of a defender – a decision hotly disputed and not immediately verifiable on replay.

James Carr scored the last point of the game when one-on-one with the goalkeeper and he either contented – or severely discontented – himself by kicking it over the bar.

Mayo move top of the Connacht roll of honour with a 48th title and will play the winners of next week’s Dublin-Kildare match in next month’s All-Ireland semi-final.

MAYO: 1 R Hennelly (0-1, 45); 2 L Keegan, 3 P O’Hora, 4 M Plunkett; 5 P Durcan (0-1), 6 O Mullen, 7 S Coen; 8 M Ruane (1-2), 9 C Loftus (0-2); 10 B Walsh, 11 A O’Shea (capt), 12 D O’Connor; 13 T Conroy (0-2), 14 D McHale (0-1), 15 R O’Donoghue (1-3, goal, penalty and two frees).

Subs: 18 E McLaughlin for McHale, 25 K McLoughlin (0-1) for B Walsh (both half-time), 22 R Brickenden for O’Hora (61 mins), 19 E Hession for Plunkett (65 mins), 26 J Carr (0-1) for O’Shea (68 mins), 20 C O’Shea for O’Connor (76 mins).

GALWAY: 1 C Gleeson; 3 S Mulkerrin, 6 D McHugh, 4 L Silke; 5 K Molloy, 2 S Kelly, 7 J Heaney; 8 P Conroy (0-2), 9 M Tierney (0-4, three frees); 10 D Comer (1-0), 11 P Cooke, 12 C Sweeney (0-1); 13 R Finnerty, 14 S Walsh (capt; 1-1), 15 P Kelly.

Subs: 22 F Ó Laoi for Finnerty (17 mins), 18 J Glynn for S Kelly (26 mins), 24 M Farragher for Sweeney (51 mins), 23 E Brannigan for P Kelly (57 mins), 17 J Duane for Walsh (72 mins).

Referee: C Lane (Cork).

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