Mayo left Salthill with even more questions to answer than when they were turned over by Galway at the same stage of the competition last year. Last years win by the Tribesmen in MacHale Park - was seen as a smash and grab raid by the visitors, one that Mayo would learn from. This result was something else entirely, the decision by Stephen Rochford to drop Colm Boyle from the starting line-up was something that had everyone talking in the build up to throw in.
Galway meant business right from the off, but that was no surprise - as when they can feel the wind at their backs Galway fear no-one and love nothing more than beating Mayo and knocking them down a peg or two. The first half had everything you could want for in a championship game - if you're not from Mayo. A sending off, a black card, a few melees and some football breaking out at times.
Galway were clinging on at the end of this one and Evan Regan twice went for scores from speculative angles that flew wide of the target in the dying embers of injury time, but it was Galway who stoked the ashes for longer when needed and got the flames of their challenge burning brighter for longer over the 70 odd minutes.
Chris Barrett tussles with Damien Comer. Photo: Sportsfile
With less than 30 seconds gone, Galway were two points in the lead Damien Comer who gave Ger Cafferkey a terrible afternoon kicked over the first right from the throw in - that was followed up right after by a Gareth Bradshaw point after Mayo miscued a short restart. Two minutes later and Sean Armstrong stroked over the first of his six points of the day. The Salthill-Knocknacara mans placed ball kicking was top class in the first 50 minutes, striking the ball with accuracy and little effort into and with the breeze behind his back.
With five minutes gone on the clock Mayo hit the first and only goal of the game when Kevin McLoughlin reacted quickest to a Lee Keegan effort that came back off the bar and stuck the ball low to Ruairi Lavelle’s net. Michael Daly tied the game up with a score from downtown two minutes later and Mayo could have found the back of the net for a second time not long after, when Cillian O’Connor’s effort on the turn came back off the bar.
Galway edged back into the lead thanks to points from Shane Walsh and Johnny Heaney which were replied to by a duo of O’Connor frees. Armstrong drove over two from placed balls himself in reply for the home-side, but the big turning point of the game came just after those scores, when Kieth Higgins was shown a straight red card for an off the ball incident, that raised little in protest from the Mayo players to say he didn’t deserve it. Another incident out on the near sideline saw Cillian O’Connor get a yellow card - which could also seen him receive a harsher sanction.
The next incident in the game had supporters up in arms again, when Thomas Flynn was shown a black card for a late hit on Cillian O’Connor, the Mayo faithful wanted red - but ref Joe McQuillian decided that black was right decision. O’Connor converted the resulting free and Fergal Boland added on one - to sign off an very industrious half of football from the Aghamore man, with Armstrong kicking his third of the half to send Galway in leading 0-9 to 1-5 at the break.
Mayo were playing with the aid of a huge wind in the second half, but were down to 14 men and it was going to be 35 minutes where they would have to dig deep and show all the resolve that they had demonstrated in recent years, when put to the pin of their collar.
Donal Vaughan looks to break through the Galway defence. Photo: Sportsfile.
But it was the Tribesmen who struck first with Armstrong kicking over a free after Comer was hauled down by Ger Cafferkey. Galway followed that up with a score from the resulting kick-out through Eamon Brannigan and Mayo’s task was getting harder and harder.
Cillian O’Connor had the chance to replicate Armstrong with a 45 on 40 minutes, but his effort tailed to the left and came back off the post and was cleared by Galway. Two minutes later, Diarmuid O’Connor who had a very ineffectual first half, kicked a monster of a point to get Mayo’s comeback moving on the scoreboard.
A minute later Galway captain Gary O’Donnell burst through the Mayo defence and shot for goal, forcing David Clarke into a good save to keep Mayo in the contest. Armstrong converted the resulting 45’ and put Galway three to the good and they won the ball back from the kick-out to go four clear and the pressure was now really on Mayo to get a foothold back in the game.
Andy Moran who had been winning his battle all day, brought Mayo back to within a major of their opponents with a fine score 12 minutes into the second half and then surprisingly was called ashore as part of a double change that saw Danny Kirby and Aidan O’Shea enter the fray - with the Castlebar man going into the full forward line and O’Shea replacing his brother in the middle of the park.
Patrick Durcan launched over a long range point to cut the gap back to two with 17 to go, but Galway responded again with Gary Sice slotting over two frees the second one coming on 58 minutes which was Galway’s last score of the game putting them into a 0-15 to 1-8 lead.
It was all Mayo from here on in, Aidan O’Shea had a point ruled out for a thrown ball close in on goal, O’ Connor kicked a close range free and neat one form play. In between those scores Mayo had a great goal chance, when first Danny Kirby saw his effort cleared off the line by Johnny Heaney and the Galway number ten showed great reflexes to also block Diarmuid O’Connor’s effort from the rebound on the line.
Three minutes from the end of normal time, O’Connor drove over a massive free from at least 55 meters out and bring the game back to a one point contest, but try as the might Mayo couldn’t get the point they needed to level up the game, with an O’Connor free dropping short and two efforts from Regan sailing wide of the target in injury time.
For Mayo the crossroads of the qualifiers awaits them, where it will take them and do they have what it takes in them for another long road to Croke Park waits to be seen. But for Galway, they can see a second Connacht title in a row just in front of them and will be full of confidence of making a dent in the championship come later summer.
Mayo: C O’Connor (0-6, 5f ), K McLoughlin (1-1 ), A Moran (0-1 ), F Boland (0-1 ), P Durcan (0-1 ), D O’Connor (0-1 )
Galway: S Armstrong (0-6, 3f 3 45’ ), D Comer (0-2 ), G Sice (0-2, 2f ), G Bradshaw (0-1 ), J Heaney (0-1 ), S Walsh (0-1 ), M Daly (0-1 ), E Brannigan (0-1 )
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; D Vaughan, L Keegan, P Durcan; S O’Shea, T Parsons; F Boland, D O’Connor, S Coen; K McLoughlin, C O’Connor, A Moran. Subs: A O’Shea, D Kirby, J Doherty, E Regan, C Boyle, D Drake.
Galway: R Lavelle; C Sweeney, D Kyne, L Silke; G Bradshaw, G O’Donnell, D Wynne; T Flynn, F O’Curraoin; S Walsh, P Conroy, S Walsh; M Daly, D Comer, S Armstrong. Subs: E Brannigan, G Sice, D Cummins, M Lundy.
Ref: J McQuillian (Cavan )