SWALLOWED UP Mayo’s Jason Doherty hits the deck as Galway’s Paul Conroy prepares to gather the ball with support from four team-mates during Saturday’s Connacht SFC semi-final. Pic: Sportsfile
AS Galway players and supporters celebrated on the MacHale Park pitch like it was 1998, Mayo’s shellshocked footballers and fans slipped away quietly into the wet and windy night.
Saturday’s Connacht semi-final had been billed as a routine exercise for a Mayo team chasing six provincial titles in a row, with Galway due to play the part of whipping boys.
Instead, when the final whistle sounded the Tribesmen had pulled off the perfect ambush — finishing with a flourish to hit 1-4 down the home stretch — to win this age-old derby for the first time in eight years.
The crowd of 21,784, the vast majority of them wearing green and red colours, couldn’t believe what they had seen.
A Mayo team, unbeaten in the Connacht championship since 2010, brought to their knees by a Galway side that hadn’t won a competitive match in almost four months.
Afterwards Stephen Rochford lamented some terrible shooting and decision-making by his players, but was making no excuses for Mayo’s lethargic and lacklustre display.
Apart from a twenty-minute spell either side of half-time, the defending champions were a pale shadow of their usual selves.
Their customary energy and intensity missing just as much as the guiding hand of many of their established leaders.
Galway, on the other hand, had settled far quicker than the mood music around the county last week had suggested.
And even when Mayo had eased into an 0-11 to 0-7 lead by the 50th minute, and looked to be in control, Galway stuck to their game-plan.
Five minutes later Thomas Flynn pinched a short kick-out from Rob Hennelly and raced through to lash the ball into the Mayo net. Everything had changed, changed utterly.
From there to the finish only one team looked like going to a Connacht Final against Roscommon next month.
Galway’s debutants stood strong in defence, while old soldiers like Gareth Bradshaw, Gary Sice and the outstanding Paul Conroy opened their shoulders one more time.
Man of the match Conroy kicked an outrageous levelling score less than a minute after Flynn’s goal, before Danny Cummins, Sice (free) and Conroy again all hit the target.
Mayo were taking in water and losing two of their full-back line to cramp [Brendan Harrison and Kevin Keane] made a bad situation worse.
Forced to shunt Keith Higgins (who had started in the forwardline) and attacking half-back Lee Keegan back to guard their own goal, the holders lost some key line-breakers at a time when they needed them most.
The fact that Mayo’s only score in the last twenty-three minutes came from a Cillian O’Connor free tells its own story.
Mayo are now heading to the All-Ireland Qualifiers for the first time since 2010.
First though they must try and figure out where this all went wrong.
Without playing particularly well at any stage, the favourites were still three points up (0-11 to 0-8) when Thomas Flynn pounced for the second spectacular goal of his fledgling Galway career.
Mayo spectacularly ‘hit the wall’ at this point and were unable to respond when Galway hit a string of scores to hit the front.
Time and again moves broke down, ball was spilled and spoiled, and the lack of energy and imagination was startling.
Galway, stung by pre-match criticism, set out their stall early and led by 0-5 to 0-2 after thirty minutes with Eamonn Brannigan, Gary Sice, Shane Walsh and Johnny Heaney all on target.
Mayo lost Jason Gibbons to a dislocated shoulder midway through the half, but a late scoring burst saw them lead at half-time by 0-8 to 0-6 as Colm Boyle, Tom Parsons, Cillian O’Connor (free), Lee Keegan and Stephen Coen all picked off points.
The floodlights were on for the second half and Mayo seemed ready to grind out a result when they edged ahead by four points with twenty minutes remaining.
But Thomas Flynn’s goal changed the course of history.
Now we await Mayo’s response.
B Power; D Kyne, E Kerin, D Wynne; G O’Donnell, L Silke, G Bradshaw; P Conroy (0-2), T Flynn (1-0); G Sice (0-4, 3fs), S Walsh (0-1), J Heaney (0-1); E Brannigan (0-3), D Comer, D Cummins (0-1).
Subs used: A Varley for Walsh (66); P Sweeney for Cummins (66); S Denvir for Heaney (69); E Tierney for Flynn (71, black card).
R Hennelly; C Boyle (0-1), K Keane, B Harrison; S Coen (0-1), L Keegan (0-1), P Durcan; T Parsons (0-1), J Gibbons; K Higgins, C O’Connor (0-6, 5fs), J Doherty (0-1); E Regan (0-1, 1f), A O’Shea, K McLoughlin.
Subs used: S O’Shea for Gibbons; D Vaughan for Boyle (46-47, blood); D O’Connor for Harrison (59); D Vaughan for Keane (59); A Moran for Regan (64); A Freeman for Parson (69).
Referee: C Lane (Cork)