UNDER PRESSURE?Mayo’s Conor Loftus tries to hold off Galway’s Michael Daly during the Connacht U-21 FC semi-final on Saturday.?Pic: Ray Ryan
Mayo fail to stop the slide
SOMETIMES no amount of hard work, honesty and genuine effort can compensate for the lack of a ‘game-changer’ in your ranks. That was one of many lessons to be learned by the Mayo under 21 footballers as they bowed out of the Connacht Championship last Saturday evening.
Galway were the better team on the evening anyway but, in captain and talisman, Damien Comer, they had the one player on the field who truly seized the day.
Utilised brilliantly by his shrewd manager Alan Flynn, the Annaghdown sharpshooter took Mayo for 1-5 (all but one point from open play) and tormented and terrorized a succession of would-be markers.
Ultimately, when the dust settled, Comer’s goal in the 23rd minute was the defining score of a fast and furious game of knock-out, championship football.
A spirited Mayo finished strongly, holding the winners scoreless for the last twenty minutes, and grabbing a last-gasp goal from teenager Brian Reape that was disallowed for a push in the back of a Galway defender.
However, their best efforts came up short and they were left to rue the unforced errors, poor wides, disjointed display and sheer misfortune that have dogged every Mayo team in this competition over the last six seasons.
They also finished the game with fourteen men after the lion-hearted Patrick Durcan was red-carded in the 60th minute after a high tackle that was born out of utter frustration.
Influential Mayo midfielder Diarmuid O’Connor also saw his evening end early, after only 23 minutes, when he was adjudged to have collided with an opponent deliberately.
He was one of three players black carded during the game, along with Galway’s Johnny Heaney and Damien Comer.
The match itself was a breathless affair that rattled along at a hectic pace.
Mayo only led once, after Darren McHale landed the first score of the contest, before limping off soon after with an injury.
Galway settled into their stride quickly, shooting four points without reply from Damien Comer (2, including a sweetly-struck ‘45), Gary Kelly and Michael Day to take control.
Mayo’s response was encouraging though as three quickfire scores, two of them from long-range by Stephen Coen, the other from Conor Loftus, levelled the match for the second time after 21 minutes.
Soon after, Galway struck for the only goal of the game; Damien Comer hitting the net after gathering a long delivery from the impressive Conor Cunningham.
A push in the back from Comer on James Stretton went unnoticed by the referee, and the goal put Galway in the driving seat.
Mayo sub TJ Byrne did pull a superb point back with his second touch, but Galway re-asserted their dominance as the unmarkable Comer and Eamon Brannigan both hit the target to leave the visitors ahead by 1-6 to 0-5 at the break.
There were still four points between the sides at the end of the third quarter as Galway’s well-organised defence kept Mayo’s forwards under wraps, but Alan Flynn’s side then moved out of reach once and for all.
Three points between the 39th and 43rd minutes, two of them from the outstanding Damien Comer, pushed the Tribesmen seven clear and there was no way back from there for Mayo.
To their credit, Niall Heffernan’s side spared no effort trying to reel Galway back in, and they kept the Tribesmen scoreless for the last 20 minutes.
But they had left themselves with too much to do, and despite a big last quarter from captain Adam Gallagher, who nailed two fine points, and a couple of frees from James Durcan, Mayo were unable to finish the rescue mission.
It did look like they had been thrown a lifeline in the dying minutes when sub Brian Reape pounced to score a goal, but Paddy Neilan awarded a free out for a push on a Galway defender to dash Mayo’s hopes of a late comeback.
M Flanagan; M Hall, D Kenny, J Stretton; P Durcan, S Coen (0-2), S Regan; D O’Connor, V Roughneen; M Ruane, A Gallagher (0-2), D McHale (0-1); K Lynch, C Loftus (0-1), J Durcan (0-4, 4fs).
Subs used: M Plunkett for McHale (inj, 9 mins); C Burke for Lynch (22); TJ Byrne for O’Connor (black card, 23); E Lavin for Roughneen (half-time); E Doran for Stretton (48); B Reape for Ruane (49).
T O’Malley; E Kerin, J Wyndham, K Molloy; J Heaney, A Nolan, L Silke; M Day (0-1), D Corbett; E Tierney, D Comer (1-5, ‘45), C Brady; M Daly, G Kelly (0-3, 2fs), E Brannigan (0-2).
Subs used: C Cunningham (0-1) for Heaney (black card, 24); E Finnerty for Daly (39); D Wall for Kelly (46); P Mannion for Comer (black card, 53); J Donnellan for Brannigan (61).
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)