Mort’s magic moment will endure
THE enduring memory will be the winning point, the ice-cool composure of Conor Mortimer as he slung the ball between the posts in the fourth minute of injury time. The indefatigable work of Ciaran McDonald and the sky-scraping fielding of Ronan McGarrity will not be forgotten either.
But transcending everything is that wonder point, from that free at that angle. Composure? Even a man of his conviction, of his unflappable certitude could not fail to be affected by the magnitude of the task confronting him.
A thousand frightening thoughts must have twanged his nerve . . . long moments while injuries were being treated . . . to toss around in his head, to haunt him for past failures. And as he turned his back to the goal to compose himself you could only empathise with a man not only confronting those demons but with the eyes and hopes of the Mayo thousands pinned on him.
The Shrule man must have thought of the earlier opportunities which Mayo had wasted in the minutes that had gone before including one by himself from a 40 yards free early in the game, and the most glaring of all by Pat Harte who spoiled a move which he himself had brilliantly engineered by slicing the shot wide from no more than 20 yards.
He must have wondered why fate had determined that a Mayo victory should have hinged on this most difficult of frees. Maybe only people torn by self-doubt allow thoughts of that nature to assail their minds. Maybe Conor Mortimer is impervious to mental uncertainty. Whatever his thoughts the ball was struck with such authority that it looked a point once it left his lethal left foot, to the sound of ecstatic Mayo people echoing around MacHale Park.
If Michael Donnellan had emulated that kick there might be less of a glint on Conor Mortimer’s achievement. The chance came to Donnellan immediately afterwards when he was grounded by David Heaney. It was a scoreable kick for the Galway captain, a chance to take the game to a replay.
It was made more critical when referee Paddy Russell indicated his would be the final kick of the match and, indirectly, that Galway’s fate hung in his hands. Crisis situations were not new to Donnellan who had the experience of two Celtic crosses behind him. He was no stranger to place-kicks of that nature. But like so much of Galway’s play, this too went a bit awry, the ball drifting harmlessly wide.
It was the story of Galway’s afternoon, a performance as feeble as anything they have produced this year. We had expected fire and brimstone following that well advertised spat between Mickey Moran and Peter Ford.
What we got was among the tamest of their 72 championship encounters, and you begin to wonder were the Tribesmen in some way affected by the well publicised Moran claims of Galway’s use of spoiling tactics in their two recent meetings. Instead of damaging Mayo’s cause, could it have been a psychological victory for Moran?
If the game had ended in a draw, the psychological damage to Mayo might have been costly, having failed to put away a game they had dominated for the greater part. Throughout the field they had the edge in pace and determination.
They won the midfield and defensive battle, and they won most of the breaks, but although the forwards seemed bent on self-destruction in the first half, five of the original six contributed to the scoreline.
This young Mayo fan was among the crowd of 34,613 people who attended the Connacht SFC Final.
Man to man plan worked
THE kicking was atrocious in the first half, and overall the game was lifeless. Mayo had been playing against the wind, and their surging movements deserved better than one point in twenty-five minutes. That one point had come from a free by Mortimer. It preceded and followed a plethora of wasted shots that drew groans from Mayo followers.
Their work was worthy of a far greater return. Driven by the all-round brilliance of Ciaran McDonald, by the magnificent fielding of Ronan McGarrity, by the clever grafting of Pat Harte, and the unswerving commitment of each of the defenders you wondered could they last the pace and how they might yet pay dearly for their wastage.
As a contest it was only limping along mainly because Galway’s opposition lacked the fire of their previous meeting. Mayo abandoned the strategy of having the full-forward line planted in the Galway square. They went for man to man marking in defence . . . David Heaney moving to centre-half to cover Padraic Joyce against whom he has a good record. Dermot Geraghty was detailed to shadow ace marksman Michael Meehan, Peadar Gardiner stuck with Matthew Clancy, James Nallen with Joe Bergin, Liam O’Malley with Sean Armstrong and Keith Higgins on Colm Bane, a last minute replacement for Derek Savage.
For Mayo that plan worked wonders. All of the Galway forwards with the exception of Joe Bergin found no crumb of comfort, nothing to undermine the quality of their opposition. Keith Higgins played the fullback role intelligently. Liam O’Malley was superb at right corner, tirelessly and tigerishly dominating the right flank of defence. Michael Meehan got little joy from Dermot Geraghty who was solid and uncompromising.
In front of them David Heaney manned the centre with a sense of control that radiates confidence, and while Peadar Gardiner confined his customary surges because of the danger that an unmarked Matthew Clancy posed, he and James Nallen were vigilant and smart.
And yet, for all that, Mayo were struggling to convert that edge into scores. Against the run of play Galway bagged the opening two points of the game as the frustrated home supporters pulled their hair out. Bergin, a constant danger, had the opener, and Joyce the second when - shades of the All-Ireland final of 1996 - goalkeeper John Healy allowed the ball to bounce over the bar.
Mortimer and McDonald eased Mayo fears a little when each finally found the target from long range, and it looked as if their general fiery performance was about to be rewarded. But by half-time Galway had stolen ahead, and nobody was unconvinced that Galway would not harness the wind to suit their game in the second half.
The wind in your favour is not always an advantage. Like Mayo in the first half Galway were equally capable when their turn came to play into the diagonal wind. And when Matthew Clancy broke free to avail of a slight deflection by Damien Dunleavy to nudge the ball into the net you waited for that passionate revival for which they are noted. Joyce put them four ahead and for a couple of minutes they took fire.
But McGarrity’s brilliance in the middle of the field found a new chord in his colleagues’ hearts. McDonald played the game of his life, assisting, foraging, spoiling . . . above all delivering with uncanny accuracy. Declan Meehan found him too hot to handle. The two Mayo men were close contenders for the Man of the Match award. McDonald for his unceasing energy and vitality is this writer’s narrow choice.
All of that and some fine scores by Ger Brady, Alan Dillon, Kevin O’Neill and Billy Joe Padden melted Galway’s lead, whose forwards became almost as culpable as Mayo’s in the scale of wasted chances.
Dillon and Padden moved with great heart throughout the seventy minutes. Ger Brady and Andy Moran were a little unlucky to have been substituted, but Kevin O’Neill scored one fine point and laid on the other for Conor Mortimer.
The applause that greeted the entry of Trevor Mortimer was an indication of the high regard in which he is held. It was his drive to the wing that resulted in Billy Joe Padden being fouled by Finian Hanley and from which Conor bagged that winning point.
Galway squandered some good chances of points in that second half which is convincing evidence that the swirling wind interfered with marksmanship. But on this occasion the visitors were a pale shadow of other occasions . . . maybe made to appear that way by Mayo’s hunger.
Finian Hanley at full-back, Diarmuid Blake and Damien Burke showed no signs of the lethargy that affected the others, but only Joe Bergin and, to a certain extent, Matthew Clancy, when he moved to the full-forward line, found their true form.
A nice gesture from Mayo people in the huge attendance in their warm applause for Roscommon’s minors who proved that their defeat of Galway was no fluke. Their merited triumph over Mayo earned for their county their first Connacht win in fourteen years. Nobody begrudges the young men their day in the sun. May they continue to thrive.