From the moment that Cillian O’Connor struck his second point of the day to give Mayo their first lead after just eight minutes of this Connacht senior championship final at Elverys McHale Park in Castlebar, James Horan’s men looked long odds on to wrap up a fourth provincial title in succession at the expense of their traditional rivals from Galway.
The champions dominated the battle for primary possession under the kickout, where Aidan O’Shea demonstrated his versatility by hovering up breaks instead of lording the skies. They moved the ball well with their half back line showing all the mobility and class that we’ve come to expect and up front old stereotypes were turned on their head as Mayo were clinical and accurate in front of the posts, while Galway will rue twelve wides and a string of missed goal chances.
Twice in the second half the Tribesmen scored three times in succession but on each occasion their efforts were quickly cancelled out by a Mayo goal and they must now regroup for a fourth round qualifier tie with Tipperary, who will be in confident form after recording an excellent victory over Laois yesterday afternoon.
After trying out several of his younger players in their semi-final meeting with Mayo at Dr Hyde Park, James Horan reverted to type here, starting Andy Moran and pushing Kevin McLoughlin back to his customary berth on the right wing. Both switches worked really well as Kevin McLoughlin kicked three excellent points from play in the first half while Andy Moran was at the heart of much of their best attacking play.
No-one stood out more than Cillian O’Connor however, as the Ballintubber player must surely now have eradicated the notion that there are no elite forwards in Mayo. He kicked great scores from both frees and play, but was also excellent in leading the line and played a huge part in two of Mayo’s goals.
The home side led by 0-6 to 0-2 when he drove hard along the end line, beating one tackler and opening up the gap to play in Lee Keegan for a fisted goal, and both he and McLoughlin tacked on outstanding points from play to make it 1-9 to 0-5 at half time.
With both Danny Cummins and Eddie Hoare badly off form – the two inside forwards kicked seven wides between them – it was left to Paul Conroy and Shane Walsh to carry the bulk of the attacking workload for Galway and both of these men undertook their work manfully, each coming within inches of scoring goals at the start of the second half. Shane Walsh thundered a shot against the Mayo crossbar after only ten seconds and Paul Conroy was only fractionally higher with his effort from a tight angle moments later, both coming at the end of powerful runs right at the heart of the Mayo defence.
Despite leaving Hennelly’s net unbreached, at 1-9 to 0-8 and with the breeze at their backs Galway looked well poised to make a real push.
It wasn’t to be however as Mayo produced two great goal chances, the first of which was blasted off the crossbar and over by Lee Keegan, before Jason Doherty showed a cool forward’s instinct with a neat low finish under Manus Breathnach with the second.
Three scores in a row helped Galway back to a manageable deficit at 2-12 to 0-12, but after Doherty and Seán Armstrong traded points, they were dealt a final, critical blow.
Appropriately, Cillian O’Connor was once again central to the move and he showed great power to collect Michael Conroy’s diagonal pass and lay the ball off to Barry Moran. A quick one two with Lee Keegan ended in Moran punching the ball to the Galway net for the game’s final and decisive goal.
Some elegant points from Shane Walsh and Seán Armstrong kept Galway’s deficit down to a respectable level and they could have got even closer when they were awarded a penalty for Barry Moran’s tackle on Paul Conroy, only for Shane Walsh to be denied by a stunning full length diving save by Robert Hennelly, giving the Mayo crowd a penultimate cause for celebration in advance of Rory Hickey’s final whistle.
Mayo: R Hennelly; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan (1-1), C Boyle, D Vaughan; B Moran (1-0), S O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-3), A O’Shea, J Doherty (1-1); C O’Connor (0-8, 0-5f), A Moran, A Dillon (0-1).
Subs: M Conroy for Dillon (44), A Freeman for A Moran (52), J Gibbons for B Moran (58 – B/C), K Keane for Boyle (69), D O’Connor for Doherty (69), M Sweeney for A O’Shea (70).
Galway: M Breathnach; A Tierney, F Hanley, D O’Neill; G Bradshaw (0-1), G O’Donnell, P Varley; T Flynn, F Ó’Curraoín; M Lundy (0-1), D Comer, S Walsh (0-7, 0-5f); P Conroy (0-4), E Hoare, D Cummins (0-1).
Subs: J Kavanagh for Comer (23), T Burke for Tierney (44), S Armstrong (0-2) for Cummins (44), G Higgins for Hoare (55), J O’Brien for Lundy (58)
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)