Like many other pundits and indeed Galway supporters - if they are prepared to admit it after the event - I travelled to Castlebar last Sunday expecting a very close game, but I felt that Mayo would just sneak over the end line in the closing stages.
I was wrong and happy to be proven incorrect in my pre-match prediction. My forecast was based on the assumption that Mayo would come out and play for the full 70 minutes and not allow Galway into a seven point lead before they decided to have a cut at winning the Connacht final.
Let us be honest here, after 26 minutes Galway led by 2-4 to 0-3 and Mayo’s chance of success appeared to be in tatters. They rallied well and deserve credit for that - but it has to be said that much of their early turmoil was of Mayo’s own making.
Mayo’s early defensive match-ups with key Galway players defied belief. I will just pick one example; however for me it was one of the most obvious mis-matches.
In 2004 James Nallen who has been a magnificent player for Mayo over the past 14 seasons found Kerry’s Declan O’Sullivan’s pace too much to handle.
Two years later in the 2006 All-Ireland final he only lasted about 10 minutes on the same player before he was withdrawn from centre-back by Mickey Moran. Despite such irrefutable evidence that his pace has diminished hugely he was still given the unenviable and unfair task of trying to track Matt Clancy who is a real “nifter-shifter” at wing-back.
That was a crazy match-up and Clancy’s pace and zest were key factors in Galway’s early scoring bonanza. Nallen should never have been put in a direct one-on-one with Clancy as the Crossmolina former all-star was never going to win that battle in open country.
There were other significant blunders made by the Mayo management team and they also have to take some timber for not moving Austin O’Malley off Finian Hanley much earlier than his substitution after 39 minutes.
The Westport man made zero headway at any stage against Hanley and surely Andy Moran could have been switched into the edge of the square for a few minutes to break up the Galway man’s dominance. It was worth a gamble.
Moran’s pace and low centre of gravity would have presented the Salthill man with a different type of challenge and might have allowed O’ Malley play himself into the game to some degree in the corner. When a team is getting no return from their man on the edge of the square it makes it difficult to have any real penetration around him.
It was definitely not one of John O’ Mahony’s best days in a bainisteoir bib and even the introduction of Mark Ronaldson after 70 minutes showed signs of desperation. What was the Shrule/Glencorrib man expected to do in that time-frame?
On the other side of the dice Liam Sammon and his selectors had a very productive day in the maroon office.
The recalled Diarmuid Blake had a fine game and all Sammon’s substitutions worked well. Kieran Fitzgerald came on in the first half and got on some good ball and up front Seán Armstrong and Paul Conroy both scored and made an impact, while Moycullen’s Mark Lydon also came on at a vital stage and won some critical possession.
Another positive is that Galway had some top-class performances apart from the magnificence of Padraig Joyce.
Gareth Bradshaw gave a storming display all through. The NUIG student drove out with some great ball and also hit a fine point after a good lay-off from Fiachra Breathnach. Speaking of the Leitir Mór man, who has his critics, he had a good game
last weekend and linked up play very well.
He may not be a prolific scorer, but every team needs grafters and Breathnach more than justified his selection for the final as he was involved in quite a few of Galway’s scores and he was in the right place at the right time to take the pass from Meehan for his own major.
Cormac Bane is a genuine marksman and his three points from play were top quality. Matt Clancy too was doing very well until his substitution at half-time and he will be a key player for Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Two men who deserve a lot of credit for their displays are Damien Burke and Finian Hanley. Both were under a lot of scrutiny after their displays against Roscommon and Leitrim.
But both gave sterling performances. Burke’s high catch over Mortimer in the last quarter was a key moment in the game and considering the pressure he was under to perform, it showed tremendous character and belief. Well done to him.
The confidence that the whole team get from this title and the manner of the win will serve them well for the big tests that lie ahead.
Another major positives for Galway is that Declan Meehan, Joe Bergin, and perhaps Damien Dunleavy have some time to get themselves back to full-fitness before the All-Ireland quarter-final.
With the race for the All-Ireland wide open now - the Galway players and their management will start to believe that they can be a challenge to anyone. Their priority will be to try to reach an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 2001.