Mayo were well aware what Galway would bring to the table and still, they find themselves facing into a most relentless schedule of games, via the backdoor, if they’re to get back to September.
To reach the Super 8s, Rochford’s charges must now win four qualifier games in five weeks. To reach an All-Ireland semi-final, they’ll need to survive seven games in nine weeks.
At this stage in their life cycle, attempting to successfully negotiate such an arduous programme will be incredibly difficult, if not beyond them. They’re very much on the brink.
Moreover, they’re likely to head down the qualifier path without Tom Parsons. The knee injury which led to the midfielder being stretchered off 47 minutes into this
Connacht quarter-final had a season-ending look to it.
Lee Keegan, too, remains sidelined for the foreseeable future. Diarmuid O’Connor, sent off here for elbowing Paul Conroy in the face on the half-hour mark, misses their first-round qualifier through suspension.
Their back-up, as was laid bare yesterday, is not sufficiently strong. Cillian O’Connor, as we expected, brought fresh impetus to the Mayo attack when introduced midway through the second half.
Following him into the action were David Drake, Cian Hanley, and James Durcan. None had any material impact.
Now, compare this with the men Kevin Walsh called down from the stand.
Eamonn Brannigan won the free which allowed Shane Walsh put Galway back in front, 0-9 to 0-8, on 55 minutes. Andy Moran levelled proceedings, played out in front of 29,449 patrons, before sub Seán Kelly played through Ciarán Duggan. Galway’s lead restored.
A beauty from Cillian O’Connor tied matters for the sixth occasion before Kelly again assisted Duggan for the midfielder’s second. In the subsequent action, Kelly, on his first championship appearance, cut out a Paddy Durcan pass close to his own 20-metre line.
Scoring opportunities were far more frequent up the other end, but Galway’s bid to make their numerical advantage stick floundered as Brannigan, sub Peter Cooke, and Gary O’Donnell kicked wides.
Eight minutes of stoppages were announced and when Kevin McLoughlin left the scoreboard reading 0-11 apiece, extra-time was a distinct possibility.
Then, on 74 minutes, Johnny Heaney strengthened Galway’s bid for as prosperous a summer as they had spring.
Two subs, Adrian Varley and Kelly, sent him clear of the last Mayo defender and the Killanin man duly obliged in hammering the ball into the roof of David Clarke’s goal.
The win leaves Galway with a far more straightforward route to the Super 8s. Equally pleasing is they ground out a third consecutive championship win over last year’s
All-Ireland finalists without motoring particularly well and with their commander-in-chief, Damien Comer, largely subdued throughout a desperately poor second half of football.
Their shooting was dreadfully inconsistent, with six shots dropping short of the target. The league finalists also showed elements of complacency after O’Connor’s dismissal. There was an almost collective expectation on the part of Galway that life would become easier now they had a man extra. Their tempo noticeably dropped.
What resulted from this is Mayo kicked three of the next four scores to go from 0-6 to 0-5 down to 0-8 to 0-7 in front early in the second half.
Starting with 11 of the team which came up short to Dublin last September, Mayo, although playing into the wind, opened sprightlier. Mind you, they shot themselves in the foot by wasting several chances — the home outfit clocked four wides inside 10 minutes, as well as a Kevin McLoughlin free which came back down from the post.
Four-in-a-row from Galway — Comer, Armstrong and two huge frees from championship debutant Barry McHugh — settled the Tribesmen. A second from Comer, despite Chris Barrett on his toe, moved the visitors 0-5 to 0-2 in front and suggested Mayo were in for a long afternoon.
Mayo’s first from play didn’t arrive until the 19th minute and while two Loftus frees and a McLoughlin effort had them back square, O’Connor’s sending off confronted them with a challenge they could have done without.
So, the same scoreline as their 2016 Connacht championship meeting and the same narrative as 12 months ago when Keith Higgins was the Mayo player sent off in the first half. All three provided the same end result.
Galway’s latest win brings them level with Mayo — 41 each — in the championship head-to-head. Worrying for Mayo is they’ve yet to win a competitive fixture at home in 2018. Looking very much like this will be the first summer since 2011 where Galway outlast their great rivals.
J Heaney (1-0); S Walsh (0-3, 0-1 free); B McHugh (0-2 frees), C Duggan, D Comer (0-2 each); T Flynn, S Kelly, S Armstrong (0-1 each).
C Loftus (0-3, 0-3 frees); C O’Connor (0-1 free), K McLoughlin A Moran (0-2 each); D Connor, K Higgins, T Parsons (0-1 each).
R Lavelle; E Kerin, D Kyne, SA Ó Ceallaigh; G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw, C Sweeney; T Flynn, C Duggan; J Heaney, P Conroy, B McHugh; S Walsh, D Comer, S Armstrong.
P Cooke for Conroy (30 mins, blood); E Brannigan for Kyne (50); I Burke for Armstrong (58); S Kelly for T Flynn (62); J Duane for Bradshaw (68); A Varley for McHugh (73); T Flynn for Cooke (bc, 75).
D Clarke; E O’Donoghue, C Barrett, P Durcan; S Coen, C Boyle, K Higgins; S O’Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, D O’Connor; J Doherty, A Moran, C Loftus.
C O’Connor for Parsons (47 mins, inj); D Drake for Loftus (60); J Durcan for Doherty (62); C Hanley for S O’Shea (67); D Vaughan for Moran (71); B Harrison for O’Donoghue (72).
C Lane (Cork).
Johnny Heaney’s green flag in the 74th minute. Level five times throughout the second-half, the sides were deadlocked at 0-11 apiece when the Galway forward condemned Mayo to another summer travelling the backroads.
Another clean sheet for the Galway defence. Nine games played in 2018, one goal conceded. Fair going.
The Tribesmen. A third successive championship win over Mayo for the first time since 1987.
Diarmuid O’Connor. His afternoon was done after half an hour, the 23-year old picking up a red card to go with the one he received at the end of Mayo’s league defeat to Galway back in February.
Forward Eamonn Brannigan coming in for corner-back Declan Kyne after 50 minutes was a real statement of intent from the Galway management that they were going after this victory. Galway, through Adrian Varley, Ian Burke, Seán Kelly and Brannigan, got a decent return off the bench. The same cannot be said for Mayo.
Rochford mentioned a dislocated knee with regard to Tom Parsons, but didn’t give a timeline as to how long he will be sidelined for.
Looked very much like a season-ending injury.
Keith Higgins, not for the first time, stood out as one of Mayo’s top players. For Galway, Ciarán Duggan can be pretty satisfied with his championship debut. The midfielder kicked two second-half points. Such was the poor quality of fare, man of the match contenders were few and far between.
Conor Lane had had four yellows (three to Galway and one to Mayo) shown by the 26th minute. Correct decision to show Diarmuid O’Connor a straight red card for elbowing Paul Conroy in the face. Eight cards handed out in total. Three yellow and one black to Galway, three yellow and one red to Mayo.
Mayo once again head for the qualifiers. They’ll begin that journey on June 9. Galway welcome Sligo to Pearse Stadium on June 3.