Dónal Ó’Fatharta’s U20 footballers have booked a Connacht semi-final date with Leitrim next Saturday at 2pm in Carrick-on-Shannon after overcoming Mayo’s stiff challenge on penalties.
The game finished Galway 1-11 to Mayo’s 0-14 after extra time.
It was an epic contest between two teams of players who were very evenly matched. And it was remarkable that such an enthralling game was on show considering the atrocious conditions Storm Ciara delivered at McHale Park. Such conditions made execution of the most basic skills a lot trickier, yet there were still some superb scores on show.
Mayo played the first half with the gale at their backs and it told as they raced into an early lead. Centre-forward Frank Irwin from Ballina opened the scoring for Mayo, which was quickly followed by a beauty by corner forward Paul Towey.
Galway responded with a point from corner-forward Nathan Grainger of Claregalway to get his side off the mark. However, a prolonged period of Mayo dominance followed and they extended their lead through long-range points from Towey and wing-forward Paddy Goldrick, a James Jennings mark, and a Frank Irwin free.
Galway were struggling to get to grips with their own kickout at midfield as the Mayo onslaught continued. Tony Gill showed excellent leadership to drive forward from centre back for the Tribesmen to keep them within range of their opponents as half-time neared. Two more brilliant Towey scores made it eight points to two at the break, and Galway could consider themselves lucky the margin was only six as Mayo were wasteful at times, missing a goal chance and a hatful of simple point chances.
Galway re-emerged after the break with an energy that was not seen in the first half. The magnificent Gill started a flurry of four consecutive Galway scores, which also included points from corner-forwards Tomo Culhane, Matthew Cooley and a monster free from Matthew Tierney.
Towey kept Mayo ticking with two more scores as the Galway backs struggled to contain the Charlestown starlet, who was also a menace for the Galway U20 backs of 2019 in last year's Connacht final.
Galway reduced the deficit to two as substitute Ryan Monaghan and a Matthew Tierney free kept them within touching distance as additional time neared. The Mayo rearguard was creaking as the inspirational Gill kicked a huge score from distance in added time, his third from play from centre back to put the minimum between the sides only a minute remaining. The equaliser came in the final minute when Cathal Sweeney of Salthill-Knocknacarra popped up from wing-back to send the game to extra time at 10 points apiece.
With the weather in Castlebar worsening and the pitch was suffering as a result, both sides began extra time tentatively as Towey and Ryan Monaghan both notched points for their sides - both teams eager not to make a fatal error. However, a huge moment soon followed when Matthew Tierney, who was kept quiet by the Mayo defence throughout, was found by Paul Kelly inside and made no mistake in slotting the ball into the net past Kiltimagh’s Jamie McNicholas to put Galway a goal up. Ciaran Gavin pulled one back for Mayo before the standout player on the pitch, Paul Towey, scored his eighth and ninth points of the game to send this epic encounter to penalties.
Matthew Tierney, Tony Gill and Ryan Monaghan were all successful from the spot for the Tribesmen. The decisive kick of the shootout fell to Mayo senior and Kilmaine’s Oisín Mullin, who was denied by goalkeeper Conor Flaherty of Claregalway to send Galway through to the semi-final.