This Galway group might have felt it was already fact with their win in Castlebar last year but it’s official now – the hierarchy of Connacht is no longer what it once was.
Connacht SFC semi-final
Mayo 1-11 Galway 0-15
Regardless of Galway’s fate in the July 2 provincial final, Mayo’s dominance has well and truly come to an end and whether they now have it in them to run the gauntlet of the qualifiers once more will come under intense scrutiny.
It will be queried because this encounter had been billed as their opportunity to reassert their authority in their local environs.
Instead, largely due to a rash moment by Keith Higgins in the first half they chased ultimately in vain for a score in the closing stages that never came.
Galway are still improving but what they produced here was once again good enough.
With the exciting forward line they have, it will be strenuously argued that they could be making life much more easier for themselves but perhaps their cautiousness is founded on that painful Tipperary lesson of last July.
Twice, they developed four-point leads in the second half but were ultimately clinging on for dear life as green goalkeeper Ruairí Lavelle and his full-back line hiccupped in trying to clear their lines.
Leading by three points in the 65th minute, Johnny Heaney was called on twice in quick succession to stop Danny Kirby and Diarmuid O’Connor from scoring a goal.
On other occasions, Galway supporters in the 23,000-plus crowd had their hearts in their mouths as Lavelle opted to kick short.
He had little choice when Aidan O’Shea’s introduction to the Mayo midfield had strengthened it and then the gale would have helped make up his mind for him too but there were far too many hairy moments for the home following’s liking.
Two O’Connor points followed that double let-off to bring Mayo to within a whisker but they couldn’t advance on it. With the wind at his back, Evan Regan measured up two long-range shots but failed on each occasion.
“The feeling in the dressing room is of extreme disappointment and I don’t think anybody would be surprised by that because to put in a lot of effort and remain in that game and create the opportunities to draw or even win it shows the huge spirit in the group,” explained Stephen Rochford.
“It just wasn’t enough on the day.”
The loss of Higgins for hitting out at Damien Comer in the 27th minute didn’t have an immediate negative effect. In fact, Mayo outscored Galway two points to one for the remainder of the half and but for the defender’s dismissal they would have been satisfied to trail by just one point, 0-9 to 1-5, having faced the elements.
Galway could have punished them so much more than they did but were content on keeping more men behind the ball.
They did threaten to hurt Mayo in the latter stages of the half when they drove ball into the full-forward line but when they were committing sufficient bodies to their attacks the odds on success were short.
The home side had developed a 0-3 to no score lead after three minutes, the opening two points coming in the first 34 seconds.
The wind encouraged a shot-on-sight strategy – Mayo had chosen to face it from the outset – but Galway found themselves behind a point behind after six minutes.
Kevin McLoughlin had sent over a point before he was quickest in reacting to a Lee Keegan point attempt that hit the post and his marker Liam Silke and Lavelle were left floundering.
Michael Daly soon had Galway on level terms and the teams were equal again in the 23rd minute as O’Connor followed a Heaney point with a free.
Then a couple of Seán Armstrong placed balls, one a free, the other a 45, gave Galway some breathing space and when Higgins was ordered off everything seemed to be coming up clover for them.
Only, Thomas Flynn was then black carded having been adjudged to have taken Cillian O’Connor out of the play and Mayo were able to reach the half-time break in relatively good shape.
Facing gusts that at times rivalled the indiscipline that upset this match as a spectacle, Galway kicked two unanswered points before and then after a Diarmuid O’Connor point, Armstrong showing prowess in converting 45s into the wind.
The extra man was being used well at that point with overlaps down their right wing and Gary O’Donnell exposed that chink only to see his shot scuppered by a David Clarke save.
Points from Andy Moran and Patrick Durcan cut Galway’s lead in half but a couple of Gary Sice frees had Galway four to the good once more prior to an uneasy run-in when Aidan O’Shea had a point disallowed and Heaney’s goal-line heroics.
It wasn’t such a convincing finale from Galway but in a derby little usually is.
“This is the strongest panel that we have ever had,” enthused an undeterred Comer.
“I suppose looking back over even picking the team Kevin (Walsh) said it was the toughest he’s ever had to pick. It was one of the strongest panels. Our A versus B games have really upped a notch. Hopefully, it’s good coming forward. The younger lads are pushing on. Everyone is fighting for spots and that’s the way you want it.”
Scorers for Galway:
S Armstrong (0-6, 3 frees, 3 45s); D Comer, G Sice (frees) (0-2 each); G Bradshaw, M Daly, S Walsh, J Heaney, E Brannigan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Mayo:
C O’Connor (0-6, 0-5 frees); K McLoughlin (1-1); F Boland, D O’Connor, A Moran, P Durcan (0-1 each).
R Lavelle 6; C Sweeney 7, D Kyne 6, L Silke 5; G Bradshaw 7, G O’Donnell (c) 6, D Wynne 5; P Conroy 7, F Ó Curraoin 6; T Flynn 6, M Daly 6, J Heaney 8; S Walsh 7, D Comer 8, S Armstrong 8.
Subs for Galway:
G Sice 6 for T Flynn (black, 30); E Brannigan 7 for D Wynne (yellow, h-t); D Cummins (no rating) for M Daly (70); M Lundy (no rating) for G Sice (70+2).
D Clarke 7; C Barrett 6, G Cafferkey 6; K Higgins 5; L Keegan 6, P Durcan 7, D Vaughan 6; S O’Shea 6, T Parsons 7, S Coen 6; D O’Connor 6, F Boland 6; A Moran 6, K McLoughlin 7, C O’Connor (c) 7.
Subs for Mayo:
A O’Shea 7 for S O’Shea, D Kirby 7 for A Moran (both 48); J Doherty 6 for K McLoughlin (58); E Regan 5 for F Boland (61); C Boyle (no rating) for D Vaughan (68); D Drake (no rating) for D O’Connor (inj, 70+3).
K Higgins (straight, 27).
P Hughes (Armagh).
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