O’Connor sends champions crashing out

Leader of men: Cillian O’Connor was in top form for the Mayo u21 side who saw off Galway after extra time in Wednesday nights Connacht preliminary round match. Photo: Sportsfile.

Leader of men: Cillian O’Connor was in top form for the Mayo u21 side who saw off Galway after extra time in Wednesday nights Connacht preliminary round match. Photo: Sportsfile.

The 3,000 or so who paid into McHale Park on Wednesday evening got more than their money’s worth from this clash between the hosts and last year’s All Ireland champions. Extra time was needed by Mayo to send them into next weekend’s semi-final against Roscommon, but even getting to extra time was something that looked to be beyond Mayo in the early stages of the second half, as Galway had a number of chances to pull well ahead of Mayo, but a stream of wides from the Tribesmen eventually came back to haunt them.

Mayo hit the ground running with Mícheál Forde and Cillian O’Connor kicking early points, before Mayo plundered the solitary goal of the contest five minutes in. A long ball was played in from midfield, O’Connor won the ball and laid it off to Conor O’Shea who was breaking from the left hand side. O’Shea drove with purpose towards goal and let fly a thunderbolt shot which flew into the top corner of Manus Breathnach’s goal. But it would be another 25 minutes before Mayo scored again as Galway took control of the contest and reeled off seven unanswered points in a row with Peadar Ó Griofa and Eric Monaghan leading the charge. That duo along with full forward Patrick Sweeney were causing the Mayo full back line all manner of problems. The Tribesmen were dealt a major blow when Patrick Sweeney was forced off injured with an arm injury five minutes before the break, Galway were already undermined when Fiontán Ó Curraoin was forced to cry off injured before throw in after he failed to overcome an injury he picked up in the Sigerson Cup recently.

O’Connor’s second point from a free cut the gap back to a single point on 30 minutes, but three minutes later a huge point from Monaghan ensured that the visitors went in leading by two points at the break.

Galway were further hindered when centre half back Cathal Sweeney failed to emerge after the break, with Alan Molloy replacing him at the change around. However they were still quickest out of the traps with Niall Walsh and Peadar Ó’Griofa kicking a point each early on. Galway would then go on to kick five early wides in this half which cost them severely at the end. Darren Coen hit Mayo’s first point of the half with a huge effort from out the country, which was quickly followed by an Evan Regan free, leaving two points between the sides, the Galway men were still on top in general play but failing to take their chances, with Ó Griofa’s point on 44 minutes scant reward for their efforts. With 14 minutes left on the clock, O’Connor pointed a free won by Danny Kirby, five minute later he kicked another point from a free before Darren Coen hit a monster point to pull the game level with eight minutes left on the clock. That man O’Connor put Mayo back into the lead with five minutes to go. The ball was worked from the Mayo full back line down the field where it was launched in towards Danny Kirby. The big Castlebar man won the ball on the end line. He did well to find the space to lay off a pass, but he looked to have played it too far behind the inrushing O’Connor. However the young Ballintubber man did very well to collect the ball and find the room to slot it over the bar from close range. Galway were not giving up the ghost and Conor Rabbitte hauled his side back level shortly afterwards. With a minute left on the clock O’Connor won the ball out on the McHale Road side of the field and Galway looked to have him well covered, but some over eager tackling from Conor Halloran saw him foul O’Connor. It looked to be a tricky pressure kick for O’Connor, but he hit true and with purpose between the posts, he had even started to make his way back to his position on the half forward line before the ball had cleared the bar, such was his confidence in his effort. All Mayo had to do was win the ball from the kick out and victory was surely theirs. But they failed to do so, and Brian Flaherty claimed the ball in midfield and broke towards goal. Sub Adrian Varley showed calmness and composure to put the ball over the bar on the run to level it all up again at the death.

The early stages of the first half of extra time failed to produce a score as both sides kicked a few wides each. Seven minutes in Mayo were presented with a glorious chance to bag their second goal on the game, twice in a number of seconds. First Evan Regan collected a ball over the heads of the Galway full back line, he was clean through on goal with only Breathnach to beat. He shot low and hard, but the An Spideal man did very well to get down low and save it. The rebound fell to Danny Geraghty who had an open goal, and nobody and what looked like nothing to stop him scoring, but he somehow managed to toe poke the ball the wrong side of the post from five yards out. O’Connor finally broke the deadlock in the half with a point a minute later to put Mayo in the lead by 1-11 to 0-13 at the break. Regan and Ó Griofa swapped points just after the resumption, and Eric Monaghan levelled the contest up three minutes later as the outcome of the game balanced on a knife edge. With four minutes left, Michael Walsh found himself well upfield from his corner back position and had a chance to fist the ball over the bar, but he fluffed his lines. But luck was to be on Mayo’s side as ref Michael Duffy adjudged that Gary Sweeney had fouled the ball as he cleared it, giving Mayo a free 21 yards out. O’Connor did what was needed and pushed Mayo into the lead once again, and the same man again slotted the final point of the contest a couple of minutes later to send Mayo to Kiltoom next Wednesday night and a meeting with Roscommon.

Mayo: P Mannion; M Walsh, N Freeman, D Gavin; C Crowe, S McDermott, M Forde (0-1 ); D Kirby, D Geraghty; A Farrell, A Walsh, C O’Shea; E Regan (0-2 (two frees ), C O’Connor (0-9, seven frees ), D Coen (0-2 ). Subs: J Shaughnessy for Farrell (39 mins ), B Harrison for D Gavin (45 mins ), C McDonagh for G Sweeney (53 mins ), C Walsh for Coen (60 mins ), A O’Toole for Shaughnessy (77 mins ).

Galway: M Breathnach; G Sweeney, J Duane, J Shaughnessy; C Costello (0-1 ), C Sweeney, C Halloran; B Flaherty, P Cunningham (0-2 ); C Rabbitte (0-1 ), T Flynn, S Maughan; P Ó Griofa (0-4, two frees ), P Sweeney, E Monahan (0-4, two frees ). Subs: N Walsh (0-1 ) for P Sweeney (inj, 22 mins ), A Molly for C Sweeney (half-time ), A Varley (0-1 ) for S Maughan (39 mins ), P Moran for Cunningham (51 mins ), S Maughan for McDonagh (75 mins ).

Referee: M Duffy (Sligo ).

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