Galway bowed out of the Connacht and All-Ireland Championship of 2020 at the hands of their bitter rivals by 0-14 to 0-13 in Pearse Stadium on Sunday.
In a year which promised so much for Galway football, it was a disappointing conclusion, particularly when this game was there for the taking.
Manager Padraic Joyce and his backroom team will reflect on the season before they get back to the training pitch soon for pre-season competition. A feeling shared by many Galway football supporters is that the panel needs an injection of youth, similar to that which has been done in Mayo, in order to revitalise this Galway team which has not looked the same this Covid-19 season.
Joyce’s charges began the brightest on Sunday afternoon with debutant and Moycullen’s county final hero Dessie Conneely slotting the opening score.
A prolonged period of sloppy play from Galway allowed Mayo to take control of the opening half. Tommy Conroy proved a handful for the Galway defence as they struggled with his pace and directness. A brace from Conroy, a point apiece for the O’Connor brothers, and a Paddy Durcan boomer accounted for Mayo’s first five scores - most resulting from Galway handling errors and silly turnovers of possession.
However, Galway started to feel their way back into the game. Dessie Conneely did well to earn his side a free which captain Shane Walsh converted for his first score of the day before Mayo struck back with another two scores from Ryan O’Donoghue and their midfield engine Matthew Ruane.
Walsh kept Galway in the match with another placed ball and a sweetly struck left foot effort from outside the D. Cillian O’Connor then notched his second from a free before the industrious Paul Kelly tapped over a point to leave three between them at the interval 0-08 to 0-05.
It was a position which Joyce and Galway could be satisfied with given they had the wind at their backs for the second half. And it started well. Wing-back Gary O’Donnell kicked a trademark score from the right wing, but it did not last. Tommy Conroy, Ruane and substitute Brian Walsh added to the Mayo scoreboard swinging the momentum back in their favour as Galway continued to make too many mistakes which Mayo gratefully punished.
Yet, Galway kept themselves in contention, thanks to the individual brilliance of Shane Walsh. He produced the score of the game, taking off on a solo run down the sideline from inside his own ’45, turned Lee Keegan inside out, and slotted a beauty from the wing. Paul Conroy also tapped over a point from the ’21, along with a screamer from the sideline, before Walsh added another almost identical point.
With Cillian O’Connor’s frees keepng Mayo just in front, Galway looked to turn the screw. With time running out and Galway just a point behind, a crucial moment occurred when Gary Sice was dispossessed by the brilliant Eoghan McLaughlin, who burst forward to set up Brian Walsh for his second point of the game.
McLaughlin was soon black carded for a cynical challenge on the marauding Seán Kelly who was through on goal, and Walsh scored the resulting free to put the minimum between the teams.
Controversy followed. From David Clarke’s restart, which was kicked out for a sideline, Gary Sice quickly picked out Michael Daly with a clever pass. Daly appeared to have space for a shot at goal only for referee Sean Hurson to call it back a few yards and the opportunity was lost. It was not Hurson’s only controversial decision of the day.
Galway’s best performers were Bernard Power in goal, Seán Kelly and Shane Walsh. Power made two brilliant one-on-one saves which kept Galway in the game. Seán Kelly was relentless with his runs forward. The brilliance of captain Shane Walsh, despite two missed frees towards the end, was one of the highlights on an overall grim day.
Joyce and co will dust themselves off and prepare this team to go again for the season 2021.
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, P Durcan (0-01 ), O Mullin; S Coen, L Keegan, E McLaughlin; C Loftus, M Ruane (0-02 ); K McLaughlin, R O’Donoghue (0-01 ), D O’Connor (0-01 ); T Conroy (0-03 ), A O’Shea, C O’Connor (0-04,0-02f ). Subs used: B Walsh (0-02 ) for O’Donoghue h-t, J Flynn for Loftus 58, M Moran for Conroy 60, K Higgins for K McLoughlin 64.
Galway: B Power; L Silke, S Mulkerrin, C McDaid; G O’Donnell (0-01 ), J Duane, J Heaney; S Kelly, P Conroy (0-03 ); P Kelly (0-01 ), M Daly, C D’Arcy; I Burke, D Conneely (0-01 ), S Walsh (0-07, 0-04f ). Subs used: R Steede for D’Arcy 23, G Bradshaw for Duane 27, K Molloy for O’Donnell 45, D Comer for Burke 50, G Sice for P Kelly 63.
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone ).