Travelling down the Curragh line on Sunday morning to McHale Park for the Connacht minor final, it was difficult to anticipate anything except a Mayo victory. Their third in a row since Galway’s last win back in 2007.
Galway had been impressive enough in dispatching Sligo in the semi-final, but the subsequent injuries to both first-choice midfielders, Eanna Ó hEochaidh and Thomas Flynn, left most supporters with a feeling that the gods were not going to smile on Gerry Fahy’s charges.
Another hammer blow was the loss during the week of tenacious corner back Colm MacDonnacha from Leitirmór. With those injuries it was going to take a really special performance to collect silverware. It did not happen.
To be fair, Galway tried valiantly and went in level at half time, thanks to a fortuitous Paul Varley goal and a few good points from Niall Quinn and Shane Maughan, but in a five-minute blitz in the second half when Mayo rattled in three goals, the steam went out of Galway’s challenge.
A goaled penalty by Danny Kirby was followed quickly by two goals by Mayo full-forward Darren Coen and Mayo were on their way. They were never going to let Galway back into it after that and they just closed up shop and left Galway with no scope for victory.
Ironically Galway were leading by 1-05 to 0-7 before they were blitzed. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the home side were 3-07 and Galway looked out on their feet. To their credit, they rallied, with the likes of Peadar Ó Griofa, who was very impressive on his introduction, Niall Quinn, Paul Varley, Fionntán Ó Curraoin, Eoghan Cummins, Conor Rabbitte and Shane Maughan fighting tooth and nail to the finish, but they had left themselves too much of a mountain to climb.
Galway can have no complaints though. Over the hour Mayo did look the more accomplished side. Galway’s cause was not helped by the loss through injury at half-time of big full-back James Shaughnessy, who had been doing very well, and it is doubtful if Coen would have scored so easily if the Ballinasloe man was still on the field of play.
Galway seemed to get muddled at the back in the second half and it was difficult to assess what Galway defender was playing where. Centre-back Marcus Kelly had been substituted in the first half, Mark Loughnane and the injured Shaughnessy also went off, and the defence looked to be at sixes and sevens for the third quarter of the game.
Fiach Ó Bearra, who normally plays wing-forward for the minors and with Micheál Breathnachs, had to be drafted in as an emergency wing-back. He worked hard, but the balance of the defence looked all wrong and the fact that Mayo scored a few majors was not a big surprise.
Where to now? Gerry Fahy and his management team will have to pick up their troops, lift the morale, and try to refocus for the back door game with Leinster champions Longford. It will not be easy and they definitely cannot afford any more injuries to key players.
Some changes may be needed if they are to defeat Longford, with Ó Curraoin relocated to midfield from the start and perhaps Shane Maughan drafted out to centre-forward to have him more involved. Peadar Ó Griofa will start and some of the extended panel who did not tog the last day will surely also push for inclusion the next day out.
All is not lost, but there will have to be a much more fluid, polished and penetrating performance from midfield up, while the defence will have to be much more solid and streetwise if an All-Ireland semi-final is to be reached this season.