There has been a seismic shift in football power in Connacht in the last four years. After Mayo's 17 point drubbing of Galway in Salthill in 2013 it looked like it would take the Tribesmen light years to make up the ground. After slowly narrowing the gap in 2014 (seven point Mayo victory ) and 2015 (four point Mayo victory ) they have now caught and surpassed us, beating us twice on the spin in crucial Connacht championship semi-finals.
The Nestor Cup that we once owned seems like a distant memory. Let's not fool ourselves, given their tradition Galway were never going to be away for too long. However last years shock win for them in Castlebar caught everybody by surprise and Mayo's big game experience had me fully convinced Mayo would win this game. This defeat hurts, far more than last year because there was no surprise factor this time around and Mayo knew what they were up against.
The heavy showers before the game did not deter from what was a spectacular occasion. The intensity on the pitch was frantic even before the throw in as players collided and jostled for superiority, it continued right until the bitter end when Joe McQuillan blew the final whistle. Galway celebrated like they had won Sam Maguire, what they really celebrated was they had beaten their biggest rivals again to prove last year was not a flash in the pan. In their eyes it was a big statement, they'll have put another nail in the Mayo coffin while also confirming their superiority over their western rivals. I cannot imagine they will celebrate as passionately when they win the Connacht title.
Lots to chew over after
The game had talking points aplenty but the most confusing aspect for me was the inability of either team to dominate the scoreboard when playing with the very strong breeze, although Mayo did have 14 men when they had the elements at their backs in the second half, their poor six point return worrying to say the least when a 45 metre score was very much achievable from any angle.
In the first half Galway came out of the blocks flying and raced into a three point lead before Mayo got to grips with a fortuitous goal when Lee Keegan's attempt at a point rebounded off a post only for Kevin McLoughlin to react fastest to fire brilliantly to the Galway net. Mayo seemed to take control thereafter and looked comfortable and capable of dealing with anything Galway had to offer, although full forward Damien Comer was causing all sorts of problems despite being left on his own in the full forward line. A tactic confusing to most in attendance as to why Galway played a mass defence with only one full forward with the strong wind in their favour.
Higgins' headrush cost us
There is no question Keith Higgins' red card turned the tide massively in Galway’s favour. Higgins had been placed in front of his full back line to come out and meet any Galway runners, which he did quite effectively. He will not need me or anyone else to tell him what he did was not part of the plan. Comer provoked him, he reacted, and got his marching orders, rightfully I have to say. It is so uncharacteristic for him with all his experience to react in such a manner, that is why we are bewildered.
There were chances for Mayo
Mayo should have and could have nicked a draw in this game. The Galway keeper did his best to help us out with some calamitous goalkeeping. You felt our luck was not in when both Danny Kirby and Diarmuid O'Connor had goal bound attempts cleared off the line by Galway's extra man at the back Johnny Heaney, while their keeper went walkabout. Mayo's pursuit of an equaliser had everyone gasping in the stands, it was like being in a cauldron, the atmosphere as intense as I have ever experienced. Evan Regan had two poor attempts late on when he surely would have been better off trying to get the ball to team captain Cillian O'Connor who was desperately trying to shake off his markers to get the last shot off.
Time to keep the faith
Although now deflated we know not to give up on this team. There will need to be a bit of soul searching within the camp. The senior players of which there are many will need to lift the group. A kind draw would ease us back into things to get the bandwagon going again. We need to remember we lost by a single point playing very poorly with 14 men for 52 minutes of the game. Mayo's all round performance reflected in the fact that none of our guys made the GAA.ie team of the week, The first time ever after Mayo played a game I imagine. Galway deserved their victory. Mayo are not going away just yet. Watch this space.