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They don’t make it easy on the faithful, but the Mayo congregation will head to church at least once more this summer after a dramatic draw with near neighbours Roscommon on Sunday in Croke Park. There were more than a few decades of the Rosary said by the traveling worshipers down the final few minutes of injury time as Mayo created and fluffed a few chances to win the game and the devotions were dedicated to the full time whistle blowing when Roscommon looked to steal it right at the end.
Sunday was a good day for Galway football. Not only did Kevin Walsh's charges fully deserve to win the division Two league title for 2017, beating Kildare by 0-18 to 0-16, but it was also the county's first senior football victory at Croke Park for far too long.
Westport are the All-Ireland intermediate football champions after a pulsating win over St Colmcille's of Meath. It was hearts in mouths stuff at the bitter end as a Colmcille's player lofted a ball towards the Westport goal mouth only for stand in keeper Aaron Dunne to calmly clear his lines. The final whistle was blown immediately afterwards.
They survived the loss of their inspirational full back Kevin Keane after just ten minutes, then lost their goalkeeper Patrick O’Malley to a black card with six minutes to go and conceded a penalty, which was converted and saw their lead pared back to three points, then two points and then one point as six agonising minutes of injury time seemed to take an age to tick by, but when the full time whistle was blown, the warriors from Westport were All Ireland intermediate champions.
It’s the fine margins that win games at the top level and big calls have to be made, for Mayo the fine margins are once again something they fell just short of in Croke Park on Saturday night. The big call made by the management also didn’t work out for them in the end, but there wasn’t an ounce of effort not put into trying to bridge that small gap. Just like 20 years ago, there was point just in it at the end and a penalty for the opposition helped them along the way.
And breathe. There is no word in the English dictionary to describe what went on last Sunday. Mayo produced their gutsiest performance ever to snatch a draw against raging hot favourites and current champions Dublin in Croke Park in the All-Ireland final. The tone was set long before throw-in as the teams entered the field. I happened to be on the sideline doing a piece with Radio 1 as I watched Stephen Cluxton lead his team out to a deafening roar. I was left stunned to see Cillian O'Connor burst out the tunnel through the Dublin players, followed closely by Aidan O'Shea and the rest of his team mates. Misinformed initially, I was told Mayo lay in wait for Dublin to ruffle their feathers. The reason for this coming together was the fact that Dublin were meant to enter the field at 2.56 and Mayo at 2.58. This clash occurred at 3.02.
When Mayo needed a man to show the leadership in a clutch situation, their star man came good right at the death. Cillian O’Connor showed why he was picked by Stephen Rochford as his captain, when he created the space he needed to shimmy inside and drill the ball through the drizzle over the bar and electrify the Mayo faithful in Croke Park to haul his side level at the death.