Many had envisaged this Connacht championship quarter-final to adopt a similar vein to events up the road at Wembley on Saturday night — a men against boys affair. How wrong they were. London never trailed during the 70 minutes of normal time and but for a 69th-minute equaliser from Kevin McLoughlin, would have recorded an astonishing victory, their first in the province since 1977.
But Mayo managed to pull clear in extra-time, their higher energy levels saving their bacon with what was an abysmal performance.
However, that shouldn’t take away the efforts of the home side, who battled until the death. The mass emigration from Ireland to the English capital has bolstered London’s county teams. From Dr Crokes duo Michael Moloney and Shane Doolan — both outstanding in defence — to Sean McVeigh and Paul Geraghty, London looked a much stronger outfit yesterday.
“Disappointment is my first thought, to be honest with you,” said London manager Paul Coggins afterwards.
“As I said all along, you only get certain days to do things, but I’m real, real proud also. There is big pride in me for what them boys did today and for the way we were written off. The lads have trained extremely hard which they showed today — that’s why they could perform they way they did.
“And even though I’m disappointed I’m also extremely proud I hope the Gaels of London are proud of us. We wanted to win the game — that’s what we wanted to do. Maybe no one else expected that, but that’s what we were trying to do.”
It was former Galway panellist Geraghty who gave Mayo the most problems. He was immaculate in the air, his fielding of high balls a joy to watch. The visitors couldn’t handle his physicality and he also popped up in the right place to knock home London’s opening goal.
Aidan Campbell’s missed spot kick on 12 minutes was only the beginning of a frustrating day for the Westerners. By the final whistle they had gone through seven different free-takers, kicked as many wides as scores and two late misses in front of the goal forced the game into extra-time.
Geraghty’s goal was all that separated the sides after 35 minutes. It came midway through the half and was the result of severe London pressure around midfield. Mayo lost possession, Mark Gottsche fed flying half-back Doolan, and although his shot was parried by Robert Hennelly, Geraghty was on hand to stroke home the rebound.
Trailing 1-4 to 0-4 at the break, Mayo started the second half brightly, using the strong breeze on their backs to launch a flurry of attacks. However, the end product was lacking, and within three minutes of the restart they had already amassed four wides.
London were much more economical. The roaming Barry Comer — playing as a third midfielder — knocked over two sumptuous efforts and when Geraghty and Killian Phair pointed within a minute of each other late in the half, a monumental shock looked on the cards.
Substitutes Trevor Mortimer and Kevin McLoughlin restored parity for Mayo, who should have won the game in normal time when they were awarded two late frees.
In extra-time, Mayo’s fitness pulled them through. Despite Cathal O’Sullivan punching a high ball to the net in the final moments of the first period, Andy Moran was now finding more room to manoeuvre and fired four points in those added periods to secure the win.
“I’m glad we put up a bit of a show for ourselves and for the doubters,” said centre-forward Geraghty, who top scored for London with 1-1.
“Step by step, slowly but surely, it’s taking place for London. I knew this performance was in London, they’re a great bunch of lads. This means so much to every guy here. To come out and get the support of all the big GAA people in London, it’s just a pity we couldn’t get the result, hopefully it’s coming. Hopefully it’s not too far away.
“We felt Mayo were vulnerable and we hoped for a performance on the day. To get them to extra-time was a privilege for us and to hold them to three points in extra time is a good result for us.
“The hunger is getting there. When I came here first, London was taking a beating, but it’s been getting better. But it’s come on a lot in the last few years and hopefully we just keep building on it.”
Scorers for Mayo: A Moran 0-7 (2f), A Dillon 0-4, K McLoughlin 0-2, J Doherty, T Mortimer, J Kilcullen, C O’Connor, A Freeman, R Hennelly (45) 0-1 each.
Scorers for London: P Geraghty 1-1, C O’Sullivan 1-0, E O’Neill (2f), B Comer, K Phair (1f) 0-2 each; M Gottsche, J Collins, S McVeigh 0-1 each.
Subs for Mayo: A O’Shea for Gibbons (43), K McLoughlin for Campbell (43), C O’Connor for Howley (60), P Gardiner for Dillon (60), T Mortimer for Barrett (67), A Dillon for Doherty (83).
Subs for London: S Kelly for McCallion (31), K Phair for McGoldrick (53), J Collins for O’Neill (55), C O’Sullivan for Hagan (59), N Tuohy for Scanlon (60), C Conneely for Comer (76), M McCoy for Comer (80), L Gavaghan for Kelly (83).
Referee: M Collins (Cork)