YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor (12), Colm Boyle (6) and Aidan O’Shea (right) react as referee Conor Lane shows O’Connor a red card during last Sunday’s Connact SFC quarter-final. Pic: Ray Ryan
THE scenario felt all too familiar for Mayo supporters when the final whistle sounded at MacHale Park last Sunday evening.
There would surely have been a feeling of déjà vu among the Mayo players and management team too.
A third successive Connacht championship defeat to Galway means that Mayo won’t play in the provincial final for the third year in a row. The last time that happened was 40 years ago.
How times have changed in the west.
This time around it took a goal from Galway’s versatile Johnny Heaney four minutes into injury-time to decide a tense and tight quarter-final that never sparked to life.
The teams had been deadlocked for the seventh time as extra-time loomed, but Galway managed to prise open Mayo’s defence with a neat attacking move and substitutes Ian Burke and Seán Kelly combined to set Heaney up for an emphatic finish past David Clarke.
Mayo did respond with a free from Cillian O’Connor (who hadn’t been fit to start), but Tom Flynn burst through to fist the insurance score for the Tribesmen seven minutes into added-time.
This was Galway’s fifth successive victory over Mayo in all competitions in the last two years, and they timed their late run to perfection again here in front of 29,449 patrons.
However, Mayo will wonder how things might have been different had they not played for more than 50 minutes with only 14 men.
Diarmuid O’Connor was shown a red card by referee Conor Lane in the 29th minute after he caught Galway’s Paul Conroy with an elbow to the face, while O’Connor was in possession of the ball.
Stephen Rochford did re-organise his Mayo team at half-time, and the homeside gave as good as they got throughout a slow-paced and extremely cagey second half.
But Galway finally made their extra man count in those dramatic closing stages with substitutes Eamonn Brannigan, Seán Kelly and Ian Burke all playing pivotal roles.
A serious knee injury to Tom Parsons 12 minutes into the second half also deprived Mayo of one of their talismen for the last 30 minutes, and cast a long shadow over the rest of the match.
The visitors had come into the game as outsiders with the bookmakers, but they came flying out of the blocks to lead by 0-5 to 0-2 after 19 minutes.
Playing with the aid of the strong wind, Kevin Walsh’s charges weren’t long in settling into their counter-attacking rhythm as Seán Armstrong, Damien Comer (2) and Barry McHugh (2 frees) all hit the target with style from distance.
Mayo’s opening scores came via a Conor Loftus free and a spectacular solo effort from Diarmuid O’Connor, but a string of wides during those early stages would prove costly later in the day.
At the other end of the field they had deployed Keith Higgins as a sweeper in front of Galway’s dangerman, Damien Comer, who was also being tightly marked by Chris Barrett.
This tactic seemed to be paying off when Mayo put some early wayward shooting behind them to reel off three unanswered points from Conor Loftus (a brace of frees) and Kevin McLoughlin to tie the match up for the second time after 25 minutes.
Seconds later though Galway eased ahead again through Shane Walsh as they demonstrated their deadly counter-attacking capabilities.
Soon after came the first watershed moment when Diarmuid O’Connor was sent off for crashing into Galway’s Paul Conroy, who also left the field injured.
The teams traded points before the interval through outstanding Galway midfielder Ciaran Duggan and Mayo’s one-man band in the full-forward line, Andy Moran.
But it was Galway who held the numerical advantage as well as the lead (0-7 to 0-6) at the change of ends.
The second half was an extremely tactical and slow-burning affair as both sides waited for the other to blink.
Mayo started with a lot of energy and hit the front after Keith Higgins and Tom Parsons picked off points inside the opening five minutes.
Shane Walsh then levelled the game again with a neat point from play as things started to take shape.
But a serious knee injury for Parsons minutes later was another big blow to his team’s ambitions.
The Mayo midfielder was stretchered from the field after dislocating his knee in a collision with Eoghan Kerin.
Things weren’t quite the same after that for Mayo with Parsons conspicuous by his absence around the middle, and reinforcements slow in arriving for his tiring colleagues.
The sides traded points three times as the status quo remained heading into stoppage time and extra-time loomed large.
In fact, it seemed likely when Kevin McLoughlin steered over another equaliser in the 71st minute.
But any thoughts of another 20 minutes were dispelled when Johnny Heaney burst through to bury the decisive goal.
This win sets Galway up for a shot at Sligo in the Connacht SFC semi-final on Sunday, June 3 while Mayo must face into the unknown of the All-Ireland Qualifiers again, beginning on Saturday, June 9.
Here we go again.
R Lavelle; D Kyne, SA Ó Ceallaigh, E Kerin; G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw, C Sweeney; T Flynn (0-1), C Duggan (0-2); S Walsh (0-3, 1f), P Conroy, J Heaney (1-0); S Armstrong (0-1), D Comer (0-2), B McHugh (0-2, 2fs).
Subs used: P Cooke for Conroy (inj); E Brannigan for Kyne; I Burke for Armstrong; S Kelly (0-1) for Flynn; J Duane for Bradshaw; A Varley for McHugh; T Flynn for Cooke (black card).
D Clarke; E O’Donoghue, C Barrett, K Higgins (0-1); C Boyle, S Coen, P Durcan; T Parsons (0-1), S O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-2), A O’Shea, D O’Connor (0-1); C Loftus (0-3, 3fs), A Moran (0-2), J Doherty.
Subs used: C O’Connor (0-1) for Parsons (inj); D Drake for Loftus; J Durcan for Doherty; C Hanley for S O’Shea; D Vaughan for Moran; B Harrison for O’Donoghue (inj).
Referee: C Lane (Cork)