Westport's gallant adventure in Connacht came to an end at Tuam on Sunday . . . snuffed out by a point that never was. But in defeat they won greater acclaim than they have done in many a victory.
Incompetent umpires made the critical decision following another extraordinary performance by a Mayo club. It deserved a better result than the one controversial point that divided them from Leitir Mór after half an hour of extra-time.
It was a pity that contentious score — credited to the Galway champions in the second quarter of ordinary time and which was blatantly well wide of the upright — spoiled what had been a marvellous match.
No side deserved to lose. For the entire ninety minutes the supporters of both teams were held enthralled as, with the blink of an eyelid, the lead changed hands and players reached extraordinary feats of courage and will power.
For a short while in the first half the task for Westport, who were less physical and were losing the midfield battle, seemed beyond them. They had fought back to parity by the 13th minute, but then slipped four points behind . . . including the disputed score.
But when Lee Keegan shattered Leitir Mor¹s conviction with a goal worthy of any occasion, a tantalising game of tit for tat opened up. It was gripping stuff, great end of season football.
Westport were magnificent. Everyone put his heart and soul into the game. Their teamwork and clever wing play was the perfect antidote to Leitir Mór’s more rugged, catch-and-kick style. That contrast in styles was fascinating and the fluctuating play riveted the attention of everyone in the stadium.
Keegan’s goal was the boost Westport needed, and the centre-half back was an inspiring figure in their push to get over the line. Against him, Galway footballer Fiachra Breathnach paled into insignificance.
But then every Westport defender was excellent in his own right, and if Kevin and Dessie Keane and Niall O’Malley also stood out, it was no more than a shade above that of Liam Joyce or Brian Higgins, or Gary Keane in goal.
Neither Eugene O’Toole nor Dermot O’Connor matched the high fielding of ‘Toto’ Griffin and Christy Flaherty in the middle of the field, but the two eventually adapted effective counter measures that negated Leitir Mor’s fielding advantage.
One man with whom Westport could not cope, however, was Patrick Mark Ó Fatharta whose total of 1-8, including the disputed point, from all sorts of angles and from play and frees was the difference between them. It was his goal in the dying minutes of extra-time that finally nailed down the match for the Galway champions.
But Westport fought to the very end, and it took a daring save by Leitir Mor’s keeper to deny them a winning goal seconds from the end. That effort was every bit as dramatic as the goal grabbed by Liam Joyce before the end of normal time.
You could not fault a Westport player for the defeat. Stephen Broderick led the forward line brilliantly. Eamon Walsh, Ruairí Connolly, Damien Keane, Lewis Cawley Ryan Cafferkey and Phillip Keegan all contributed to a match that will live long in the memory.
Managers Martin Connolly and Shane Conway have brought a new dynamic to Westport football that will soon yield a rich harvest.