Mayo make local history
REGARDLESS of what the future holds for this group of Mayo footballers their names will be forever etched in the annals of Connacht GAA history after they completed a remarkable four-in-a-row of provincial titles last Sunday. On a stiflingly hot day in their own backyard at MacHale Park, the team that James Horan has painstakingly assembled over the last four years produced a typically powerful performance to rack up Mayo’s fourth successive Connacht SFC title for the first time in 63 years. The fact that this feat was last achieved in 1951 (a great year for Mayo football) wasn’t lost on anybody in the huge crowd of over 26,500 people that turned out to watch this local derby. However, Mayo manager James Horan was more interested in discussing the merits of Mayo’s 45th Connacht title success than lingering on the notion that history might repeat itself in September. “I’m delighted and very proud of the achievement, as are all the players. To beat every team we’ve met, every time we’ve played them over the last four years, is a great achievement,” he noted afterwards. The story of a typically high-octane, free-flowing championship encounter between these age-old rivals is probably best summed up by saying: Mayo are still some distance ahead of their near-neighbours. Early on the rank outsiders (they were 4/1 to win their first Connacht title since 2008) struggled to cope with Mayo’s pace and power as the champions laid down some markers. A ferocious fair shoulder by All Star centre-back Colm Boyle on Galway newcomer Damien Comer was one such moment. The O’Shea brothers, Seamus and Aidan, along with big Barry Moran, also ruled the midfield sector with authority. Wing-forwards Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty cleaned up on breaks too, with the former also gunning three brilliant points from play. As a consequence it was no surprise that Mayo led by 1-9 to 0-5 by half-time with Lee Keegan’s fisted goal on 23 minutes a just reward for the homeside’s dominance. Man of the match Cillian O’Connor, who tormented Donal O’Neill and shot eight points (three from play), also provided a superb assist for Keegan’s close-range finish. Some reckless shooting from an inexperienced Galway side didn’t help their cause in that opening period and they found scores extremely hard to come by. The pick of their small bunch were from the industrious Micheál Lundy, Paul Conroy and Danny Cummins. At that stage it looked like Mayo would push on to close the game out at their leisure but Galway upped the ante after the restart and came roaring back into contention. Three scores in quick succession after the restart from Shane Walsh, Paul Conroy and Gareth Bradshaw shaved the deficit back to four points, and the tension started to build. Mayo’s response was impressive as Jason Doherty slid in a brilliant goal on 48 minutes to propel the champions ahead by 2-12 to 0-9. They never looked back. Even though they were outscored by 0-7 to 1-2 in the last quarter by a Galway side that refused to throw in the towel, Mayo’s greater experience and craft meant they were always just out of reach. Barry Moran’s palmed goal on 55 minutes wrapped the game up for Mayo while Robbie Hennelly produced a superb save to deny Shane Walsh a goal from a penalty four minutes later. All roads now lead back to Croke Park for Mayo as they contest their fourth successive All-Ireland quarter-final on the August Bank Holiday weekend. “Nobody panicked, we knew we’d find a way,” remarked Horan when asked about Galway’s refusal to roll over. “The players are very experienced, they play what they see. They’re getting very comfortable with that.” A return to the familiar surrounds of Croke Park again next month will hopefully bring out the best in them again too.
R Hennelly; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan (1-1), C Boyle, D Vaughan; S O’Shea, B Moran (1-0); K McLoughlin (0-3), A O’Shea, J Doherty (1-1); C O’Connor (0-8, 5fs), A Moran, A Dillon (0-1).
Subs used: M Conroy for Dillon (44); A Freeman for Moran (55); J Gibbons for B Moran (black card, 59); K Keane for Boyle (69); D O’Connor for Doherty (70); M Sweeney for A O’Shea (71).
M Breathnach; D O’Neill, F Hanley, A Tierney; G Bradshaw (0-1), G O’Donnell, P Varley; F Ó Curraoin, T Flynn; M Lundy (0-1), S Walsh (0-7, 5fs), D Comer; P Conroy (0-4), E Hoare, D Cummins (0-1).
Subs used: J Kavanagh for Comer (24); S Armstrong (0-2) for Cummins (45); D Burke for Tierney (46); G Higgins for Hoare (56); J O’Brien for Lundy (62).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)