If you want to know why Mayo ran out 13 point winners over Galway in the Connacht Ladies Football Final in MacHale Park on Sunday evening, Mayo manger Frank Browne spelt it out as clear as could be after the full time whistle. “Character always wins in sport and we’d often say that. Martha Carter broke her hand in the first ten minutes and that’s character, that’s fight and that’s exactly what you need and that’s what they all gave, so we said at half time, when your legs are tired just look at Martha, her hand is broken what you’re doing is only minor.”
Despite breaking a bone in her hand, Carter stayed on the field for the duration of the game and helped Mayo stop Galway claiming a fifth Connacht senior title in a row and booked Mayo’s spot in the All Ireland quarter-finals. Cora Staunton will once again take most of the plaudits from many for her brilliant display that saw her kick 2-14 over the hour, but this was no one woman show. From Yvonne Byrne in goal, who pulled off a brilliant save Roisin Leonard just after Mayo had hit their first goal ten minutes into the second half to create some clear distance between the sides, through to Aileen Gilroy who put in a powerhouse of a performance in the middle of the park and the likes of Carter, Sarah Tierney, Fiona McHale and more. This was a win based on team spirt, team heart and sheer desire to win.
Last year when these sides met in the Connacht final, Galway edged home by a single point after an epic encounter, but Mayo weren’t going to let that happen this time and they stamped their authority on this game in the middle third. Up to that stage the sides had been tit for tat on the scoreboard, with the deadly Roisin Leonard keeping things ticking over for the visitors and Staunton doing likewise for the home side.
Mayo went into an early two point lead thanks to a pointed free from Staunton, Gilroy added the second after she spotted a big hole in the Galway defence and charged right through the heart of it before slotting over the bar. Leonard responded with a nice point for Galway and they tied it up shortly through an Edel Concannon point. Both sides continued to feel each other out for the next 15 minutes and kicked five points a piece with Staunton kicking three more for Mayo and Niamh Kelly and Gilroy adding the others. Leonard kicked three for her side with Concannon and Louise Ward also finding the target with 20 odd minutes gone on the clock.
Between then and the break Mayo really found their groove, with Staunton kicking one of the finest points seen on the field in Castlebar in a long time to put Mayo into an 0-8 to 0-7 lead, that was responded to by a Concannon effort, but from then on to the end of the half Mayo really cut loose. Staunton cut inside the defensive line and made a burst for goal, but with the angle narrowing she opted to fist it over the bar. Then she fired over a close in free after Gilroy was fouled as she tried to cut a hole in the Galway defence. She added another from play from 35 meters out and just on the hooter for half time she slung another sublime effort over the bar to put Mayo into an 0-12 to 0-8 lead at the short whistle.
Galway though weren’t going to roll over that easy and they came out and hit the first three points on the bounce in the second half all from Leonard to cut the gap to the bare minimum five minutes in. But that was as good as it got for them as Mayo were just about to cut loose once more. Clodagh McManamon kicked their first point of the half and thaw was quickly followed by a Grace Kelly point to push the gap back out to three and when Staunton hit a monster of point from way out the park on the MacHale Road side of the ground Mayo could taste the victory on their lips.
Just before the 40 minute mark Niamh Kelly was in on goal and was hauled to the ground by Galway’s Sarah Gormally just before she pulled the trigger. Gormally was shown a yellow card for her troubles and Mayo were given a penalty. Up stepped Staunton who drilled it down the middle of the goal, by Johanna Connolly held her ground and bet away the effort. But the Carnacon ace was the quickest to react and she sent the rebound to the back of the net to put Mayo 1-15 to 0-11 in the clear. Galway almost instantly responded with a goal of their own only for Byrne to pull off a great save from Leonard, the resulting 45 went over the bar to cut the gap back a bit, but Mayo were ready to drive on and that’s what they did. Staunton added another point, before she stuck the back of the net for a second time. Kelly picked her out with an inch perfect pass and she had the time to round the keeper, before rolling it to the back of the net to put any doubts Mayo had to bed as they hit their victory lap.
Mayo added on another four points as time ticked on and Niamh Kelly was in the right place at the right time to finish to the net for their third goal of the day to round off an emphatic and well deserved victory for Mayo. It’s been a great year for Mayo so far, reaching a league final and now capturing a Connacht title. But their eyes will be moving towards a much bigger prize later on down the line.
Mayo: C Staunton (2-14,5f ), A Gilroy (0-2 ), N Kelly 1-1, G Kelly (0-1 ), C McManamon (0-1 ), F McHale (0-1 )
Galway: R Leonard (0-9,5f ), E Concannon (0-4 1f, 1 45’ ) G O’Connor (0-1 ), M Seoige (0-1 ), L Ward (0-1 )
Mayo: Y Byrne; N O’Malley, S Tierney, L Ryder; O Conlon, M Carter, M Corbett; C McManamon, F McHale; D Hughes, A Gilroy, C Hegarty; N Kelly, C Staunton, S Rowe. Subs: G Kelly for S Rowe, D Caldwell for G Kelly, S Rowe for D Hughes, C McManamon for L Ryder, S Howley for O Conlon.
Galway: J Connolly; S Gormally, N Connolly, S Hynes; F Cooney, N Ward, L Ward; O Divilly, P Gleeson, L Gannon; R Leonard, M Glynn, E Concannon. Subs: G O’Connor for O Divilly, M Seogie for P Gleeson, C Cooney for L Gannon, D Brennan for M Glynn.
Ref: J Niland (Sligo )