This one was close, too close in reality. The U21 grade can be unpredictable with little lead in time and meaningful competition to judge your opponents and yourself before the swell of championship football engulfs the side. The whirlwind whips through the country and is over in seven weeks for another year. Mayo scraped through by a point against Galway in Charlestown on Saturday afternoon, the Tribesmen came with a good reputation and under the guidance of Liam Sammon who has had the voodoo sign over Mayo at the senior grade since he was installed as the manager of our southern neighbors. Only three of the Galway side haven't tasted senior inter-county football of some competitive variety, while Mayo went with a number of players in key positions in their spine who are barley out of the minor ranks. But there is one thing that the Pat Holmes -Noel Connelly axis have shown over the past three years, and that's that they are a shrewd jude of blossoming footballers, three Connacht titles and and an All Ireland in the bag since they took charge is all the evidence you need to back that up. But the cost of not having a recognized free taker could have cost Mayo dearly in east Mayo, a fact Holmes recoginsed after the game. Mayo kicked eleven wides over the course of the sixty minutes, four of them inside the first five minutes, three of which came from very scoreable positions an issue that haunted them at other junctures in the game.
On the field of play Mayo were brisk and adventurous, neat interchanging hand passes, mixed it up with route one football at time. And when they led by 2-5 to 0-6 with 13 minutes left on the clock it should have been the signal for them to gallop down the finishing straight, but they failed to kill off Galway as they groped for support on the ropes as Mayo struggled to find the knock out blow that was there waiting to be delivered. There minutes into injury time Donal Vaughan, who had galloped forward all afternoon in support of his attack, sometimes with out due care to his defensive duties almost committed hari-kari for his side when he played soft ball to no mans land which was claimed by Galway substitute Eoin Concannon whose purposeful shot drifted just wide to the relief of the Mayo side and their supporters.
Not that it was all bad, Mayo in general dominated play with Tom Parsons a towering presence in midfield, wining plenty of clean and broken ball, while Aidan O'Shea showed his quick hands and football brain on a number of occasions setting up attacking chances for his colleagues. Kevin McLoughlin carried on from where he left off last weekend with the Mayo seniors to claim the man of the match award. Cathal Freeman was the epitome of endeveour with a hectic hours work, while Mikey Sweeny was a willing worker in the full forward line.
Right from the off Mayo could have bagged a goal when Tom Parson's long ball into the full forward line tested the alertness of the Galway full back line, which had momentarily lapsed allowing Jason Doherty to get away and slip past Adrian Faherty in the Galway goal, but the ball getting caught in his feet and the tight angle saw the goal chance go missing. Mayo went on to dominate the opening ten minutes of the encounter but it was the visitors who took the lead through a Paul Conroy free from 25 yards out and just to the left of the posts. Frank Burke replied from Mayo when the Kilmaine man drove over from distance after some neat build up work by Cathal Freeman. The advantage was doubled by O'Shea with a sweetly struck free on the quarter of an hour mark after Neill Douglas was fouled as he tried to break on to a through ball. Things were ticking along nicely for Mayo at this stage and the lead was stretched out to two, when Vaughan did very well to spot that Galway were looking to take a quick free and he nipped in to intercept the ball and set up Cathal Freeman who swung the ball over the bar from 25 yards out. Galway though showed the were still alive in the contest and Stephen Kavangh scored his sides second point on 17 minutes as he arched a run across the 21 yard line from left to right to create the space he needed to get his shot off.
Shortly after Mayo had the ball in the back of the Galway net for the fist time in the afternoon, Parsons launched a long effort which dropped just short and was claimed by Faherty under his bar, Aidan O'Shea was loitering with intent only to see his punched effort be ruled out for fouling the keeper inside the small rectangle, but the goal wasn't going to stay intact to much longer. With eight minutes left in the half Jason Doherty won a long ball pumped into the forward line. He off loaded it at pace to the breaking O'Shea who looked to have a goal on his mind only for him to slip it wide to the unmarked Mikey Sweeney who slotted it low to the net to register the fist major of the game. Vaughan could have grabbed Mayo's second goal in the game only to be denied by a fine save from Faherty in the Galway goal. Vaughan set off on a galloping run, swapping passes with O'Shea whose return set him clear. The Ballinrobe man tried to plant it low to the left hand corner only to see Faherty get a strong hand on the ball and deflect it away from danger. As the half drew to a close Parsons and Stephen Kavangh exchanged points to leave the score 1-4 to 0-4 at the break.
The game was slow to get started after the turn around and it took nine minutes for the first score to be put on the board by Galway through Conor Healy. It took Mayo three more minutes and when it came it should have signaled the end of the Tribesmen resistance. Cathal Carolan played a quick ball into Mikey Sweeny who off loaded at speed to Neill Douglas. The Castlebar Mitchels man much like O'Shea in the first half had the goal at his mercy but chose the right option of playing in another forward this time Jason Doherty who had the easy task of finishing to an empty net putting Mayo five clear with 18 minutes to go. But Galway weren't done yet and Michael Martin cut the gap back to four just after the goal. The game was becoming a bit ragged and detached with Kevin McLoughlin and Donal Vaughan were popping up in attacking positions as often as their half forwards for Mayo. And McLoughlin was rewarded with a point 13 minutes from time when he was set up by Freeman. Ferdi Breathnach and Eoin Concannon who were both introduced by Sammon to try and turn the game both slotted over points to close the gap t three with ten minutes on the board, a Donal Vaughan point on 52 minutes looked to have steadied the nerves for Mayo and keep the gap at four. It was to be the last time Mayo caused the scoreboard to change digits for them, but Galway were intent on changing their digits and points from Martin twice and Kavanagh closed the gap to the bare minimum an minute into injury time and with two to go, but Mayo hung on. Next up for Mayo is Roscommon in the semi-final in the same venue next Saturday.
Mayo: Robert Hennelly; Michael Gallagher, Kevin Keane, John Broderick; Donal Vaughan, Lee Keegan, Kevin McLoughlin; Tom Parsons, Cathal Carolan; Frank Burke, Aidan O'Shea, Cathal Freeman; Michael Sweeney, Neill Douglas, Jason Doherty. Subs: Ray Geraghty for Michael Sweeney (69 mins )
Galway: Adrian Faherty; Damien O'Reilly, David Finnegan, David Reilly; Colman Hands, Gary O'Donnell, Dirarmuid Lee; Paul Conroy, Michael O'Brien; Michael Martin, JJ Greaney, Conor Healy; Jonathan Ryan, Stephen Kavanagh, Martin Coady, Subs: Eoin Concannon for JJ Greaney (20 mins ), Ferdi Breathnach for Martin Coady (36 mins ), Keith Kelly for Damien O'Reilly (47 ), Declan Rattigan for Colman Hands (48 mins ).
Referee: Declan Hunt (Roscommon )