FBD CONNACHT LEAGUE
THERE weren't a whole pile of big lessons to be learned from this rain-soaked and wind-lashed local derby on Friday night in Castlebar, but everyone in the crowd of 2,679 left MacHale Park sure of one thing.
The countdown has started to May 13!
In four months Mayo and Galway will return to Castlebar for a Connacht championship quarter-final that will go a long way towards shaping their respective summers.
By then this war of attrition will be long forgotten, but there was no mistaking the spring in Galway supporters’ steps as they ran to their cars and headed into the stormy night.
Any away win over Mayo is to be enjoyed and savoured, especially with two more big derbies still to come in the months ahead.
The story of this FBD Connacht League shadow-boxing game is fairly easily told.
Mayo played with the aid of the gale-force wind and persistent sheets of rain in the opening half, and deservedly led by 0-8 to 0-6 with Brian Reape (3, two frees), Kevin McLoughlin (3) and Shane Nally doing the scoring.
Then, four minutes after the restart, Knockmore’s Peter Naughton took a pass from Brian Reape and cracked an unstoppable shot to the Galway net.
His finish was reminiscent of a young Brogan, Dempsey or O’Neill, and propelled a makeshift Mayo XV into a comfortable five point lead.
On a wretched night for football, we wondered would Galway stick or twist.
They gave their answer emphatically.
Kevin Walsh’s experimental outfit produced a big third quarter with Galway Utd star Padraic Cunningham landing a couple of brilliant scores to get the show on the road.
But it was a deflected goal from Patrick Sweeney that turned the tide and levelled the scores (1-8 apiece) on 50 minutes.
Points from Barry McHugh (free) and substitute Damien Comer then edged the Tribesmen ahead as an inexperienced Mayo lost their way in the wintry conditions and heavy field.
The fact that Galway had three men sent off in the final 20 minutes added a slightly surreal twist to a match that was only saved as a spectacle by both teams’ willingness to get stuck in.
Damien Comer was shown a straight red card by referee Paddy Neilan on 50 minutes for reacting badly to a Mayo challenge.
Young defenders Seán Mulkerrins and Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh also left the stage ahead of schedule after receiving black cards to go with earlier yellow cards — leading to reds!
But despite this numerical disadvantage, Galway still managed to hold Mayo to just a single point in the last 35 minutes of play — a free from Brian Reape in the dying moments.
The final whistle doubled as an act of mercy in many ways for both sets of players as they headed for the warmth and sanctuary of the dressing-rooms.
But it will be a brief respite with Mayo heading for Roscommon on Sunday, and Galway taking on Leitrim in Clonbur on the same day.
And we won’t feel it until Sunday, February 11 and round three of the National League when Mayo visit Salthill.
With the date of May 13 looming large all the while in the background.
The countdown has begun.
R Lavelle; E Kerin, SA Ó Ceallaigh, S Mulkerrin; C Sweeney, S Kelly, J Duane; P Conroy (0-2), K Duggan; E Brannigan (0-1), P Cooke, S Walsh; B McHugh (0-3, 3fs), P Sweeney (1-1), P Cunningham (0-2).
Subs: D Comer (0-1) for Duggan; C Darcy for Cunningham (inj); G Bradshaw for C Sweeney; J Heaney for Cooke; F Burke for McHugh; D Wynne for P Sweeney.
D Clarke; S Duffy, K Keane, J Oates; M Plunkett, M Hall, S Akram; M Ruane, J Gibbons; S Nally (0-2), K McLoughlin (0-3, 1f), A Gallagher; R O’Donoghue, B Reape (0-4, 3fs), P Naughton (1-0).
Subs: D O’Connor for Nally; G McDonagh for Ruane; J Stretton for Akram; F McDonagh for Gallagher.
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)