Mayo show maturity to get the job done
IT was not the classic we had expected and will live in the memory only as a further defeat of an old foe. For rusty Mayo, however, it was the required result to get them on track ... if moving ever so sluggishly.
We thought Galway would be difficult opposition, and they were, but not in the manner of old Galway character. Their plan was no more complex than to stop Mayo in whatever way possible. And in conceding well over 30 frees, the cost was enormous.
When, infrequently, symbols of old Galway style and technique surfaced and a couple of livewire forwards found the confidence to try chasing away the ghosts of their last few encounters, Mayo did look decidedly uncomfortable, and we wondered had the wheels begun to come off the wagon.
Not in the memory of this reporter had a Mayo side entered a contest against the Tribesmen so hotly tipped to win. Past Mayo teams would not have survived the mental pressure of such odds.
It is a measure of the maturity of this Mayo that when the die seemed cast at half-time they were able to renew defence of their crown with greater vigour, and within minutes of the re-start had turned the game irreversibly around.
Galway must have fancied their chances at the break following the tonic of an inspirational goal by Gary Sice that helped them to break even. They had found a flaw or two in the normally consistent Mayo defence, and they plugged away until Sice found space with a sizzling run and a golden goal that gave them hope.
The long ball into the Mayo box had begun to undermine a defence that has yielded little enough over the past four years. This time they were under pressure from the sprightly duo Damien Comer and Danny Cummins, and it was in trying to hold them in check that Sice was allowed the room to cut up the left wing for his goal as the 35th minute ticked over.
At the other end Mayo’s threat to the challengers was emanating from Aidan O’Shea who, wisely, took up the role of full forward with the diligent Kevin McLoughlin switching to centre half-forward and Jason Doherty back to his customary left-half position and working hard.
O’Shea won most of his duels with Finian Hanley, and from frees conceded mostly by the full-back, Cillian O’Connor took full advantage. Galway looked vulnerable, but got back in sufficient numbers to disrupt many Mayo attacks and frustrate their efforts at any sort of serious breakthrough ... and then themselves to pounce for that goal.
Thus it was that at level terms at the break. the challengers seemed more secure than the champions.
The impression lasted for as long as it took Mayo to run back onto the field for the second half to partake in a psychological warm-up run before the throw-in; for Aidan O’Shea to set a marker, too, by grabbing the throw-in, and for Cillian O’Connor to shunt Mayo into the lead again from a free.
Seconds later the ball was in the Galway net, an own goal, when a clearance by goalkeeper Manus Breathnach rebounded off Hanley. Aidan O’Shea was at the heart of that score. He took a pass from Diarmuid O’Connor and although hustled by three defenders, forced his way into the box, where he was dispossessed. Instead of picking up the loose ball, the goalkeeper tried to clear it – with disastrous results.
Another gem by Cillian, and herculean work by Aidan and Mayo were fired into a lead of six points inside three minutes. And Galway had begun again to labour and to lose what momentum Sice’s goal had given them.
MAYO also came to life around the middle of the field. Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea had held their own against Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Thomas Flynn, but now they took on more work, especially helping to stem Galway’s first-half flow to their forward line.
With that lifeline cut off, and with enormous help from Aidan O’Shea, Mayo’s experience surfaced. No visible sign of panic appeared when Galway raided, not even when Danny Cummins swept the ball into the net halfway through the second half.
That goal, begun with a quick free by Damien Comer, who was the biggest threat to Mayo in the first half, exposed another flaw in the champions’ defence. Thanks to the brilliance of Aidan O’Shea, Mayo overcame that setback, but without a remedy a recurrence of that fault will prevent further progress.
Indeed without the regal form shown by Aidan O’Shea, Mayo might not even have survived this challenge. The Breaffy man used every ounce of energy in an awesome display of skill and power. For a big man to traverse the field with such dominance is a tribute to the size of the heart that beats inside him.
Near the end he hurt his arm, but because Mayo had emptied their bench carried on with the bravery that is the essence of his character. It is to be hoped that the injury is not as serious as it seemed initially. To be without him for the final is almost unthinkable.
Another storming performance came from the Mayo captain Keith Higgins, whose steadying influence throughout the first half held the defence firm when it was under severe pressures especially in the first half.
To Lee Keegan fell the task of curbing the thrusts of Micheál Lundy, and the fact that the Galway speedster was never a threat is due to the close attention paid him by the Westport man.
Tom Cunniffe, who for a while looked vulnerable against the spirited probing of Damien Comer, emerged fully in charge of the position with a competent second-half defence of his area.
Kevin Keane did all that was required of him. Although both have yet to reach their own standard of fitness, Colm Boyle and Chris Barrett also defended strongly.
The concession of two goals may have been to some degree due to slackness in support from midfield, where most of the attention of Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea was given to curbing Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Thomas Flynn. Both did that well, Parsons fielding magnificently on a few occasions and Seamus driving hard as ever.
But in the first half less thought was given to helping out in defence, thus increasing the workload on the six backs to a degree to which they are not accustomed.
Cillian O’Connor’s nine points, eight from frees, is testimony of the Ballintubber man’s accuracy and astuteness. But none equalled the two from acute angles scored by Andy Moran before being injured.
Diarmuid O’Connor worked extremely hard and will grow with ever-increasing confidence into the position, and the springing from the bench of Donal Vaughan especially helped Mayo enormously in the sapping heat to sustain the momentum to the end.