Mayo head to the byroads while Galway take the direct route

GAA: Connacht Senior Football Championship

Heading for the backdoor: Lee Keegan looks to get past Patrick Kelly last Sunday in Castlebar. Photo: Sportsfile

Heading for the backdoor: Lee Keegan looks to get past Patrick Kelly last Sunday in Castlebar. Photo: Sportsfile

On paper and in the hours before the build-up, this game seemed to have it all. Two sides with a storied rivalry going back before the foundation of the state; both with much to prove after their last outings up in the big city, now meeting on a sun-splashed day that looked like July even if it still had the nip of Spring in the air when a cloud circled overhead and 25,000 partisan fanatics packed in to watch battle on the freshly laid turf in the old colosseum on MacHale Road.

When all was said and done, it was the Tribesmen who wrestled the victory to march on down the road towards their next target. For Mayo, it's a long wait in the scrub while they see who they'll get a crack at in five weeks time to try and get their own plans of domination back up and running - but it will be a tough few weeks looking in from the fringes until they are allowed to rejoin the action.

Mayo could have forced it to extra time right at the death, Aiden Orme took on a go at sending the game to the next level - but he missed the target. But it is far from that one miss that cost Mayo.

On a day where Galway looked and felt like the better side, Mayo were the ones who created far more scoring chances during the contest, but were far less efficient with those chances compared to Galway. That is the crux of the matter when all is said and done, Mayo didn't hit the high notes they can, but still only fell short by the bare minimum - even after going 22 minutes without a score in the second half.

This point of view was acknowledged by James Horan afterwards, who said: "We went five points down very early and we looked to be off it but we grinded it back by half-time but for 15 minutes of the second half we went flat again, so you can't do that against a good team like Galway and hope to win it. Having said that, we had 17 chances in the second half and we kicked seven, you're not going to win anything with that either so we got what we deserved."

Galway might be seen as the great traditionalists and entertainers on the field, but they drew on a different train of thought to win last Sunday, taking their cue from others who have bettered Mayo in the recent past. The nagging itch of Mayo struggling to break down teams who pull the blanket across their defensive lines and stop them imposing their own brand of high octane running and powerful breaks from deep, has been a trademark of teams who have had success against Mayo - and Galway weren't afraid to throw away tradition for the day.

Padraic Joyce was one of the greatest of greats when it came to attacking play in his days on the field, but he was pragmatic enough to see that to beat Mayo, he needed to do something a little bit different, a deviation from the norm and by pulling extra bodies into his half back line, he choked up Mayo's preferred attacking routes and the template worked.

It was well flagged before the game that Mayo were going into it under strength, with Paddy Durcan and Rob Hennelly not fit to make it back for that game, while long term injuries for Tommy Conroy, Brendan Harrison and Jordan Flynn meant there were always going to be absentees from the cauldron in Castlebar - but one positive beforehand was that both Diarmuid O'Connor and Oisin Mullin were fit to start. However, the loss of Mullin early in the second half dented Mayo's chances and it will be a race against time over the next number of weeks to see will the Kilmaine man be back when Mayo head back out on the road.

The injury toll is something that Mayo just have to deal with, according to their manager. "It’s far from ideal. We have a lot of players who have very little done in the last three weeks or so, just getting them back to a level where they can compete. So, yes, it is far from ideal and we have a lot of modified sessions. But we have a strong panel and we gave a lot of fellas during the league game-time and for that reason there is always going to be an attrition rate in Gaelic football, particularly with the bit of travel and everything we had this year. It is what it is but it’s not ideal."

The loss or Mullin in particular did seem to take the wind out of Mayo's sails for a while after they had done plenty of heavy lifting to get back into the game before the half time break, Horan assessed in the aftermath of the game.

"It definitely did, it went a bit flat and we were struggling to generate anything during that period. Lee kicked a point to get going and it took off again but these are the things that we are trying to cut out of the game regardless of what happens, trying to keep going at a certain level. We just didn't do that for long enough and got the result unfortunately."

For Horan it was his first time losing to Galway in the championship during either of his two stints in charge of the side, but it's like any defeat it hurts no matter what, "Any defeat is tough and the manner of defeat too can be tough but it’s done and we will take what we can from it and try to figure stuff out. We need to move on straight away, that’s the way it is," said Horan.

With the lengthy break coming up now, Mayo have the time to rebuild and regroup ahead of whatever comes next and Horan hopes that it will allow his side time to reflect and get back ready for the next challenge.

"In previous years we mightn't have had the chance that we'll have this year so we could afford six weeks, we'll stick together and be strong and work hard to be in better shape for the next game. We have a lot of guys who have very little done from injuries etc. It will be a great chance to get a lot of guys up to the level that they can get to, so we will use that wisely. We will just take a break and reflect a little bit on today and meet up again next Friday."

Mayo are still alive and by the quirk of this year's championship, still only have to win the same amount of games as Galway do to reach the All Ireland quarter final stages. But this year it's a very different kind of a bear pit they will be entering into in the qualifiers, with no teams from division three or four for next year allowed enter the action unless they reach the provincial final - there will be very few "handy draws" available for Mayo to get back up and running. But the road off Broadway still has a few left turns back onto the bright lights they can take in the weeks ahead.


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