Aidan O'Shea lifts the Nestor Cup following the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Mayo at Pearse Stadium in Galway. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
THE Nestor Cup was lifted by a Mayo captain for the first time in five years after James Horan’s new-look side beat Galway in last Sunday’s absorbing Connacht Final behind closed doors at Pearse Stadium.
In typical Mayo fashion there were plenty of nervy moments down the home straight as a flurry of late wides from Galway, as well as a black card for Mayo defender Eoghan McLaughlin, meant supporters on the edge of their seats right to the very end.
But Mayo did just enough to win their 47th provincial senior crown and they were deserving winners in the end, although they should (and could) have put the game to bed at various stages throughout.
Two excellent goal chances — one in either half from Cillian O’Connor and Eoghan McLaughlin — were well-saved by Galway goalkeeper Bernard Power, but had either gone in it would have made life a lot easier for the eventual winners, who hit nine wides altogether.
However, Mayo took their scores when they needed to with a brace of second half points from substitute Bryan Walsh and Cillian O’Connor, along with scores from Tommy Conroy and Mattie Ruane, proving just enough to fend off the Tribesmen.
Breaffy midfielder Ruane earned the man of the match award for his display, which included two excellent points, some crucial turnovers and a series of penetrating runs through the heart of the Galway defence.
There were other impressive Mayo performances from Eoghan McLaughlin, Chris Barrett, Tommy Conroy (who hit three points in his first Connacht Final) and Lee Keegan.
While captain Aidan O’Shea also had his moments when the chips were down.
The win for Mayo puts them into an All-Ireland semi-final against either Tipperary or Cork in three weeks time at Croke Park.
The general feeling at half-time was that Mayo should have been much further ahead than the 0-8 to 0-5 scoreline, after a wasteful opening period in front of the posts, despite the wind advantage.
Mayo hit eight points out of 17 shots at goal, with six wides and a number of other poorly executed attempts that dropped short; while Galway were far more efficient with five points from six shots.
The visitors could been well clear by the first half water break had Cillian O’Connor’s shot in the second minute not been stopped by Power, who didn’t know an awful lot about it.
But points from Tommy Conroy (2), Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor, and Paddy Durcan from long range had them 0-5 to 0-2 up, with Dessie Conneely and a Shane Walsh free keeping Galway in it.
Both sides went score for score in the second quarter, with Ryan O’Donoghue (mark), Mattie Ruane and a Cillian O’Connor free being equalled by three injury-time points from Galway through the outstanding Walsh (2, one free) and newcomer Paul Kelly.
The second half was a far scrappier affair as Mayo attacked into the breeze.
Their return of six scores from 12 shots was just enough as seven second half wides from the homeside, including two late difficult frees from Shane Walsh, rounded off a frustrating day for Padraic Joyce’s charges.
Paul Conroy and Walsh had excellent second halves, but they didn’t get enough support from their team-mates from a scoring perspective, and even the introduction of Damien Comer, who had been nursing a hamstring injury, couldn’t tilt the balance of power.
The final whistle came as a great relief for Mayo and for James Horan, who adds another Connacht title to his impressive CV with his developing squad now in a very strong position going into this unique All-Ireland series.
D Clarke; O Mullin, C Barrett, P Durcan (0-1); L Keegan, S Coen, E McLaughlin; C Loftus, M Ruane (0-2); M McLoughlin, R O’Donoghue (0-1, 1m), D O’Connor (0-1); T Conroy (0-3), A O’Shea, C O’Connor (0-4, 3f).
Subs used: B Walsh (0-2) for O’Donoghue (35 mins); J Flynn for Loftus (58 mins); M Moran for Conroy (60 mins); K Higgins for McLoughlin (64 mins); F McDonagh for Ruane (72 mins).
B Power; S Kelly, S MUlkerrin, J Heaney; L Silke, J Duane, G O’Donnell (0-1); C D’Arcy, C McDaid; P Kelly (0-1), P Conroy (0-3), M Daly; I Burke, S Walsh (0-7, 4f), D Conneely (0-1).
Subs used: R Steede for D’Arcy (24 mins); G Bradshaw for Duane (27 mins, inj); K Molloy for O’Donnell (45 mins); D Comer for Burke (50 mins); G Sice for Kelly (64 mins).