Gardiner's final say enough for gutsy Mayo

 

CONNACHT SFC FINAL Mayo 2-12 Galway 1-14: THE MAYO men are coming. When Peader Gardiner delivered what will go down as one of those immortal Connacht championship scores, a familiar rush of optimism and delight – a sense that anything is possible – seemed to grip the green-and-red faithful once more.

After a commanding performance, Mayo narrowly avoided the nightmarish implosion through a fabulous Michael Meehan goal in the 71st minute, but 60 seconds later the last-gasp escape was all that mattered.

This was a famous win. All afternoon there was a confidence and conviction about Mayo’s approach and it did not leave them during the critical seconds following the Caltra man’s audacious strike, when Pearse Stadium surrendered to a state of pandemonium that seemed certain to be broken by John Bannon’s full-time whistle.

This was a strange, frenzied close to a match that had been slow-burning and lacklustre for long periods. Mayo, having run up a handsome 1-9 from play in the first half, looked to have done enough to keep the home team at bay throughout the second.

But, as Galway rattled off four quick points in the last 10 minutes, Mayo found themselves fighting to hold on to the one-goal advantage, and they were spectacularly punished for playing keep-ball out around their 50 as Galway struck for the equalising score.

Meehan’s goal seemed to guarantee Galway at least a replay, and they were still regrouping when Andy Moran, after grafting for a free some 60 metres out, played a smart ball to Gardiner, who had galloped into maroon country unobserved, and he dispatched the ball over the bar and that was that.Mayo whoops split the Salthill sky.

The score brought Mayo their first summer win in this stadium since 1967, but, more importantly, it pushed John O’Mahony’s team into the All-Ireland quarter-finals and brought the Nestor Cup back to Mayo for the first time since 2006. And it set up scenes familiar to supporters from both counties: O’Mahony chaired off the field in Pearse Stadium and the familiar massing of green and red on to a field, hope rampant and the long dream travelling eastward again.

O’Mahony noted that this represented a small but significant reward for the progress his team has made, but he probably knows that this victory – and in particular the marvellously dramatic close – will fuel local speculation that this, could, after all be The Year.

Mayo have an appealing balance about them. They have found a natural home for Andy Moran at left half back and are using Trevor Mortimer, a low-key, line-busting player, to great effect.

All six forwards scored from play in the first half and the height and power of the Moran-O’Shea axis yielded a first-half goal for Moran and, even if the big Breaffy man was largely held in check by the Galway backs, he is a handful.

They kicked some wonderful scores – a gem from Ronan McGarrity and a cleverly taken, 61st-minute goal delivered by frere Mortimer. The two Shrule men are a perfect evocation of light and dark. Trevor gets on with business with the minimum of fuss – his speech from the stands was a study in modesty. Conor, the brother, came in at half-time, scored a vital 1-2 and showed that he has lost none of the flamboyance. He celebrated his goal with a tribute to Michael Jackson that is bound to have piqued the interest of whatever dark-art defenders that await the Shrule man.

Mortimer lifted his Mayo shirt above his head to reveal an RIP Michael Jackson written on his shirt – he had a similar tribute stitched into his boots.

Galway found the traditional avenues through the Mayo defence were cut off. Donal Vaughan and Mark Ronaldson bolstered a resolute defensive effort and this crew does not appear to mind collecting yellow cards. Galway were forced into a hurried, hustled kind of game, and only Nickey Joyce seemed to pick holes in the Mayo rearguard with ease.

Joyce’s return to grace was spectacular: five of his eight points were from play and he might have had a couple of goals too: Padraic set him up with a perfect hand pass and also spotted him with one of those deep, laser frees of his.

Had those chances gone in, who knows – but then Mayo can point to Pat Harte’s chance grazing the crossbar and Kilcoyne blasting a decent chance wide in the first half.

It was a faltering Galway display, demanding significant positional switches. Only the Meehans and Joe Bergin will feel that they tapped into their A games here.

Mortimer’s goal left Galway with the stark choice of disappearing or making a run and, almost inevitably, they came back into contention. Meehan drew a brilliant save from Kenneth O’Malley after 65 minutes, the ball deflected over the bar, and when Seán Armstrong kicked his first point two minutes later there was just a goal between them.

Meehan’s clinically-taken goal left the teams locked together for the first time since the 16th minute. Gardiner’s memorable punt for glory ensured the final scoreboard read as it had done in Castlebar a year ago – except that this time Mayo were the victors.