The 14-year drought for Galway is finally over. For the first time since 2005, Galway ladies will contest the All-Ireland championship senior final after edging neighbours Mayo in Sunday's semi-final.
The 2-10 to 2-9 victory ensures Galway return to headquarters to face Dublin on September 15 after the current champions saw off National League title holders Cork to keep their dreams of a three-in-a-row alive.
It has been a long journey for Galway, during which time they have suffered five defeats in National League finals, including this year to Cork.
Understandably current manager Tim Rabbitt was delighted to prevail in a close encounter.
"There was nothing between the two teams. It just fell our way at the end,” said Rabbitt. "We did a lot of good things in that first half, but we let them back into the game, and it was touch and go."
Rabbitt, who took over from Stephen Glennon this season, praised his team's never-say-die attitude and their progress achieved over the last three years.
“The girls kept battling. Things went against us at different times. We hit the post and crossbar, different stuff like that," he said.
"This is our year to get to an All-Ireland final, but it is after about three years’ work. It is a combination of about three years’ work. People in the background like Mike Comer, Noel Kelly and Stephen Glennon, the previous manager, who have done massive work to get this team to an All-Ireland final.
“There is a lot of work being done in Galway Ladies football. There is a lot of really good people involved in it. We have got to make sure that it is a regular kind of thing now, that it is not once every 15 years or so. There has to be a bit of continuity to it."
Sunday's semi-final was always going to be a lively battle between two teams that know each other well, having already met three times this season, with Galway prevailing twice. And in the end, despite two first-half goals from Mairéad Seoighe, it took a late free from Róisín Leonard to book Galway's place in the TG4 All-Ireland Championship senior final.
Mayo were made to pay early on for missing three point-scoring opportunities before Galway pounced. In a super move, Olivia Divilly combined with Megan Glynn who created the opening before Louise Ward spotted Seoighe in space. The Clonbur forward finished emphatically for a third minute boost.
Mayo, however, kept up the pressure, and after missing another point, Kearns fisted a Grace Kelly delivery towards goal forcing a super save from goalkeeper Lisa Murphy.
It was nine minute before Peter Leahy's women posted their first score, but Sinead Cafferty's point was cancelled quickly by a first of four from Róisín Leonard. And when Sarah Conneally opted for a point, Galway were 1-2 to 0-1 ahead and in control.
It was an opening goal in the 12th minute from Rachel Kearns that put Mayo right back into the game. Kearns found the net after a super pass from Eilis Roynane, but Galway responded almost immediately when Mairead Seoighe blasted to the net again.
Kelly kept Mayo in the game with a second free, but points from Seoighe, Tracey Leonard (free ) and Róisín Leonard put Galway into a 2-5 to 1-3 lead. A third Grace Kelly point was followed up by efforts from Kearns and Niamh Kelly to reduce the deficit to 2-5 to 1-6 at half-time.
Galway, however, started the second half with a Conneally point after a pin-point pass from Róisín Leonard, but still Mayo did not lie down. When Mayo captain Niamh Kelly burst through a gap and side-stepped the challenges from Sinéad Burke and Shauna Molloy to finish to the net, it brought the sides level after 34 minutes, 2-6 to 2-6.
Murphy was called on soon after to make a point-blank save from Sinéad Cafferky, while at the other end Róisín Leonard set up Megan Glynn, whose low shot hit the post.
Mayo's Sarah Rowe scored a free to break a 14-minute lull in scoring, putting Mayo in the lead for the first time, and a tit-for-tat sequence followed. Glynn drew the sides level, but Kearns replied for Mayo, while Róisín Leonard’s third point for Galway was cancelled by substitute Natasha Gaughan to see Mayo with the noses in front again.
Both sides then spurned chances - Róisín Leonard had a goal disallowed for over-carrying, while Clodagh McManamon was wide for Mayo before Galway substitute Leanne Coen equalised in the 58th minute. The winning score came two minutes later from Róisín Leonard, and although Mayo had an opportunity seconds before the final whistle, Galway were awarded a free out after a Rachel Kearns double hop to ensure it was Galway who booked their place in the TG4 All-Ireland Championship senior final.
Scorers: Galway: M Seoighe 2-1, R Leonard 0-4 (1f ), S Conneally 0-2, T Leonard 0-1 (1f ), M Glynn 0-1, L Coen 0-1
Mayo: R Kearns 1-2, N Kelly 1-1, G Kelly 0-3 (2f ), S Rowe 0-1 (1f ), N Gaughan 0-1 (1f ), S Cafferky 0-1.
Galway: L Murphy; S Burke, N Ward, S Lynch; O Murphy, B Hannon, S Molloy; L Ward, Á McDonagh; O Divilly, T Leonard, M Seoighe; R Leonard, M Glynn, S Conneally. Subs: L Coen for McDonagh (39 ), L Hannon for Conneally (46 ), M Coyne for B Hannon (57 ).
Mayo: A Tarpey; É Roynane, D Caldwell, Ciara McManamon; K Sullivan, D Finn, C Whyte; Clodagh McManamon, A Gilroy; S Cafferky, N Kelly, S Rowe; F Doherty, R Kearns, G Kelly. Subs: L Cafferky for Doherty (37 ), E Needham for Sullivan (41 ), N Gaughan for Rowe (49 ), A Duffy for Clodagh McManamon (56 ), N Moran for Whyte (59 ).Ref: Seamus Mulvihill (Kerry ).