We came, confidently expecting this to be the first step on the way to an unprecedented six Connacht titles in a row, the first match on the road back to Croke Park, back to where the real championship starts. We left a wet and grey MacHale Park later this evening, however, with those hopes in tatters, our long unbeaten run within the province finally at an end and with it our even longer undefeated streak over the Tribesmen.
I’m not going to attempt any kind of full match report at this late hour. My head is still spinning after what I witnessed at MacHale Park and, truth be told, I’m trying – as I suspect most of you are as well – to make sense of it all.
First of, though, it’s only right to salute Galway’s achievement in knocking us off our provincial perch. Kevin Walsh’s planning coming into this match was clearly spot on – he had his players well tuned and they played with a degree of commitment and ferocity that we found hard to handle. Well done to them.
From our perspective, the assessment obviously will be a tougher one. Tactically, we looked all over the place tonight and the way we set up seemed to play totally into their hands. Why was this? Why weren’t we able to counter what they were up to? I have to say I’m at a loss on this.
It took us a full half an hour this evening, with the wind at our backs, to register our first score from play. That point from Colm Boyle led to our best patch in the game when we rattled off a number of scores at ease, which saw us turn a three-point deficit into a two-point lead at the break.
Despite our poor performance in the first half, I was still happy enough then that we’d have more than enough in the tank to see them off in the second half. Four points up ten or so minutes into the second period, it looked as if we were starting to ease away from them, the game apparently heading towards its predictable outcome.
But then the proverbial roof fell in. From 0-11 to 0-7 ahead, we went 1-12 to 0-11 behind, going a full twenty minutes without a single score in a period when Galway hit us for 1-5 without a single retort from us.
The goal was, of course, the game’s big turning point. Robbie’s short kick-outs had, until then, been varied and accurate but the one he sent out under the stand straight to Tom Flynn opened us up for the sucker punch that the Galway midfielder duly landed.
Within minutes, Galway followed this up with scores that established a three-point lead and, once they’d secured this bridgehead, we never looked like getting back on terms. We huffed and puffed as attack after attack broke down. All we got for our trouble before the final whistle sounded was a single pointed free from Cillian.
There was, I think, a sense of disbelief among the big home support when the final whistle at last put us out of our collective misery. This wasn’t the script for the evening, throwing out in its wake all those carefully pencilled-in diary dates for the remainder of the summer. But, then again, this wasn’t the kind of Connacht championship performance we had for some years come to see as the norm from the lads in Green and Red.
But the Galway fans! How they celebrated at the end, gathering out on the pitch to belt out a rousing version of The Fields of Athenry. I could be wrong but this looked and sounded like their All-Ireland. And good luck to them if it was.
Where do we go from here? Into the qualifiers, clearly. A back road that, as we know from painful experience, is as much about the mind as it is about the body.
If we can get our heads straight, there’s every reason to hope and expect that we’ll be able to navigate our way through to the All-Ireland series. It all depends, first and foremost, on the draw and we’ll know more on that score on Monday week when the Round 2B draw is made.
Tonight, our march towards six Nestor Cups on the trot ended. The players who have given us so much – and with it so many, many good times – over the past five years now have a harder road to travel if we’re to compete at the top table later this year. Despite tonight’s defeat, our fate this year is still in their hands. We’re down tonight but we’re not out.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Brendan Harrison, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-1), Colm Boyle (0-1), Paddy Durcan; Tom Parsons (0-1), Jason Gibbons; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Jason Doherty (0-1); Evan Regan (0-1, free), Cillian O’Connor (0-6, five frees and a ‘45), Stephen Coen (0-1). Subs: Seamus O’Shea for Gibbons (inj.), Donal Vaughan for Boyle (blood), Diarmuid O’Connor for Harrison, Donal Vaughan for Keane, Andy Moran for Regan, Alan Freeman for Parsons.
Who was our MOTM against Galway?
- Colm Boyle (65%, 213 Votes)
- Evan Regan (5%, 16 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (4%, 13 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (4%, 12 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (3%, 11 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (3%, 9 Votes)
- Kevin Keane (2%, 8 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (2%, 8 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (2%, 8 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (2%, 7 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (2%, 6 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (2%, 5 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (1%, 3 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 3 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 2 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (1%, 2 Votes)
- Jason Gibbons (1%, 2 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (0%, 1 Votes)
- Alan Freeman (0%, 1 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 330