So Mayo now have an idea of what success in a Championship final at Croke Park looks like.
And on the strength of their rumbustious second-half display, holding a previously impressive Galway scoreless from play, it may not be long either until they replace Nestor Cup success there with a Sam Maguire breakthrough.
This was Mayo at their very best, cavalier and ultra-intense, their craft, big-game experience and sheer athleticism all coming to the fore to burn their greatest rivals.
Matthew Ruane, Ryan O’Donoghue, Aidan O’Shea and Conor Loftus were central to the second-half onslaught, O’Donoghue converting a 37th-minute penalty that began a thrilling revival, and Ruane capping it with their second goal late on.
Or, of course, you could judge Mayo on their first-half showing, when they managed to register just six points, butchered a hatful of scoring opportunities, and let Galway in for two sloppy goals and conclude that if they face Dublin, as expected, in the All-Ireland semi-finals on August 14/15, they’re unlikely to win.
That would be a harsh assessment of a Mayo performance that admittedly simmered initially, but then bubbled and came spectacularly to the boil, earning them a 48th Connacht title.
As James Horan noted afterwards, “we were about 52% from attacks” in the first half, a statistic summed up by two separate episodes in the 21st and 23rd minutes.
Firstly, O’Shea forced a terrific turnover on Shane Walsh and kicked a precise pass to Tommy Conroy, but he was bottled up and was pulled for overcarrying. Then Stephen Coen claimed an advanced mark in a central position. He’d split the posts from there eight times out of 10, but sliced his kick badly wide. On both occasions, the Galway support went wild.
At the other end, Walsh and Damien Comer sniped Galway goals that were easily preventable. Walsh’s 20th-minute major came after a Paul Conroy shot off the post bounced three times before the captain collected it and slammed it to the net. Walsh then somehow escaped a clutch of players on the right before playing in Comer for the second goal.
Trailing by 2-5 to 0-6 at half-time, Horan figured that they were only five points down despite doing very little right. The glass being half full, all they needed to do was improve.
“There wasn’t any panic at half time,” said Horan. “We had a lot of possession in the first half, we just wasted a lot of it, particularly up front. We knew we weren’t a million miles off at half time. We just sat down and went through a few things and made a few changes.”
The key changes were the introductions of Eoghan McLaughlin and Kevin McLoughlin who brought industry and craft respectively to the provincial decider. Ex-boxer McLaughlin punched holes all over the Galway rearguard and Tommy Conroy, who could easily have been benched, suddenly came alive and kicked two points.
O’Shea, who’d earlier made a great catch close to goal, only to turn and clash heads with Sean Mulkerrin, engineered the penalty with a skyscraping fetch and lay-off to Ruane, who was fouled by Matthew Tierney.
O’Donoghue, Mayo’s best forward, picking up the slack in both open play and on the frees from the injured Cillian O’Connor, nailed the spot kick.
Suddenly the floodgates opened, and Mayo outscored Galway by 1-4 to no score in the third quarter. They had a second O’Donoghue goal chalked off for an apparent foul on Jack Glynn in the build-up before Ruane eventually landed their second major, slaloming through Galway’s defence for a brilliant solo goal. At the back, Padraig O’Hora was a rock before going off with a worrying shoulder injury. Galway, meanwhile, could only add three more points, all from frees.
“I can’t remember a Galway team doing that for a long, long time, not scoring from play in the second half, especially in Croke Park,” said Galway manager Padraic Joyce who has won just two of his nine games since the pandemic. Will we see him again on the sideline with Galway?
“I will assess it,” he said. “I have a two-year term, so I’ll have to go and see do they want to keep me, or see do I want to stay. I’ll have to check that out.”
Mayo were a different team in the second half but a clear turning point arrived in the 49th minute. Mayo had just fought back to level terms when Galway, through Damien Comer, hit the bar. Padraig O'Hora cleared and Mayo began a move that ended in a Kevin McLoughlin point. Mayo didn't look back.
Few teams have reason to curse the pandemic quite like Galway. Before the first lockdown, they won four of their five league games under Padraic Joyce. Since then, they've played nine league and Championship games and won just two, both against Roscommon.
That's two finals now that Mayo have won at Croke Park in three seasons. The big one could be just around the corner.
A musical fanfare once again greeted the return of the second team to the pitch after half-time. It was Dublin a week earlier, causing some offence to Meath fans, while it was Galway that got the fanfare treatment on Sunday, to Mayo's dismay. It seems a little unfair and, more to the point, unnecessary.
Galway lost Sean Kelly and Rob Finnerty to early injuries. Shane Walsh picked up a shoulder injury in the first half but battled on. Mayo lost Padraig O'Hora to a shoulder injury later on.
Moving Aidan O'Shea to full-forward for the second half, allied to the introduction of Kevin McLoughlin and Eoghan McLaughlin, helped revive Mayo.
Matthew Ruane had a remarkable game for Mayo. Aside from the 1-2 he scored, he won the penalty that Ryan O'Donoghue converted and set up both of Conor Loftus' points.
Conor Lane was spot on with his penalty call for Mayo. And he was decisive with an early call to rule out the Ryan O'Donoghue goal, even if it seemed a dubious call.
Mayo will return to Croke Park on August 14/15 for an All-Ireland semi-final against the Leinster champions. Galway's season is over.
R O'Donoghue (1-3, 1-0 pen, 1 free), M Ruane (1-2); T Conroy & C Loftus 0-2 each); P Durcan, D McHale, K McLoughlin, R Hennelly (1 free) & J Carr (0-1 each).
S Walsh (1-1); M Tierney (0-4, 3 frees); D Comer (1-0); P Conroy (0-2); C Sweeney (0-1).
R Hennelly; L Keegan, P O'Hora, M Plunkett; P Durcan, O Mullen, S Coen; M Ruane, C Loftus; B Walsh, A O'Shea, D O'Connor; T Conroy, D McHale, R O'Donoghue.
E McLaughlin for Walsh (h/t), K McLoughlin for McHale (h/t), J Flynn for Loftus (45-51); R Brickenden for O'Hora (57-f/t, blood), E Hession for Plunkett (64); J Carr for A O'Shea (68), C O'Shea for O'Connor (76).
C Gleeson; S Mulkerrin, D McHugh, L Silke; K Molloy, S Kelly, J Heaney; P Conroy, M Tierney; P Cooke, C Sweeney, P Kelly; R Finnerty, D Comer, S Walsh.
F O Laoi for Finnerty (17); J Glynn for Sean Kelly (26); M Farragher for Sweeney (51); E Brannigan for Paul Kelly (57), J Duane for Walsh (72).
C Lane (Cork).