Sport is the great entertainment of the masses and Gaelic Football is the one that whets the appetite like no other on the west coast.
Nobody entertains like Mayo. It might not be good for the heart, but it is far from boring when it comes to a do-or-die championship fixture.
For the first time in two decades Mayo and Galway met with it all on the line - no second chance to the vanquished. And in a repeat of Tuam Stadium in 1999, Mayo went home with the glittering prize – this time a place in the Super 8s starting next Sunday in Killarney.
Even when it looked like it was done and dusted and Galway were down to 13 men (they finished with 12 ), Mayo still managed to find a way to throw the potential outcome of this game in a different direction.
With Mayo leading by six, Galway were awarded a free on the Mayo 21 metre line. Shane Walsh stood over it, and while most would have blasted with as much power as they could at the target, the Galway number 11 drove it hard and true to the bottom corner of the net catching the Mayo rearguard out.
Mayo should have won this game by more than three points.They did have a major wobble in the middle third when they seemed to forget their lines and let Galway back into it, and then appeared to have recovered from that tricky patch before conceding a late goal.
There were plenty of performances that deserve praise. Colm Boyle swept up in front of his last line of defence in an all action performance like no other can deliver. Cillian O’Connor returned to his leading role and kicked half a dozen points. Darren Coen continued his impressive return to the main stage, and James Carr laid down his credentials for best newcomer when scoring two first-half goals to set up the win.
The big news before the game was that Lee Keegan was fit enough to take his place on the bench, and he played a major role in the closing few minutes of the contest despite limping out against Armagh last week.
James Horan also made two changes to the team announced on Friday night with Donal Vaughan and James Carr coming into the starting side in place of Michael Plunkett and Ciaran Treacy, and the Ardagh man took his chance with more than a bit of style.
Cillian O’Connor got the scoreboard moving inside a minute when he flicked over a free after Darren Coen was fouled, Kevin McLoughlin put Mayo two clear a minute later.
With six minutes gone, Mayo hit the first fatal blow in Galway’s challenge when a Coen effort dropped short and was spilled by Bernard Power. Carr was lurking and he reacted quickest to drive it to the back of the net.
Galway responded through points from Gary O’Donnell and Peter Cooke, but just before the 10th minute, Carr slalomed past three Galway defenders and hammered the ball past Power to put Mayo 2-2 to 0-2 ahead.
O’Connor kicked three more points with Cooke hitting one in response for Kevin Walsh’s side as Mayo were eight clear 10 minutes before the break. Galway did close the gap back to six by the interval with Cillian McDaid, Cooke and Shane Walsh raising the white flag, but the final act of the half was left to Darren Coen who found his radar to help Mayo into a 2-7 to 0-7 at the short whistle.
Coen repeated the trick with the first score of the second half that had started with a major cheer from the Galway faithful after Damien Comer was introduced for his first appearance in maroon and white since last year’s All Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin.
Stephen Coen put Mayo eight clear again with a well-executed finish after some neat interplay in the build up before Shane Walsh drove over a free from beyond the 45 metre line to get Galway’s first score of the half on 40 minutes. Jason Doherty kicked Mayo’s 10th point of the day on the three-quarter of an hour mark which put Mayo 2-10 to 0-8 ahead and looking good to drive on from there.
Brief purple patch
But Galway hit a purple patch to keep themselves in with a chance. Michael Daly landed a point, then Ian Burke was upended by Chris Barrett after he collected a ball flicked down to him by Comer, and Galway were awarded a spot kick.
Liam Silke stepped up to take it, but David Clarke put it out for a 45 which was converted by Walsh. Eamonn Brannigan kicked his second of the day not long after and there was just four between the teams, and when Kieran Molloy pointed after making his appearance, the gap was just three points. Mayo fans were on the edge of their seats, Galway's ever hopeful.
Darren Coen calmed Mayo with his third of the day from the next play, O’Connor slotted over a free, and Donal Vaughan hooked one over the bar. But there was still time for another twist as Walsh narrowed the gap.
However Mayo held on to take their place in the Super 8s and at least three more outings for the Mayo faithful. Little joy for Galway.
Mayo scorers: C O’Connor (0-6, 5f ), J Carr (2-0 ), D Coen (0-3 ), J Doherty (0-1 ), S Coen (0-1 ), K McLoughlin (0-1 ), D Vaughan (0-1 )
Galway scorers: S Walsh (1-3, 1-2f, 1 45’ ), P Cooke (0-4 ) E Brannigan (0-2 ), G O’Donnell (0-1 ), C McDaid (0-1 ), K Molloy (0-1 )
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; P Durcan, C Boyle, S Coen; A O’Shea, D Vaughan; F McDonagh, J Doherty, K McLoughlin; C O’Connor, D Coen, J Carr. Subs:C Treacy, E Regan, L Keegan, M Plunkett, E O’Donoghue, S O’Shea
Galway: B Power; E Kerrin, E Brannigan, L Silke; G O’Donnell, C McDaid, J Daly; S Kelly, M Daly; P Cooke, S Walsh, J Heaney; D Kyne, M Farragher, I Burke. Subs: S A O’Ceallaigh, D Comer, A O’Laoi, T Flynn, A Varley, K Molloy