I wasn’t at the game myself but, by the looks of it, there was a bumper crowd at Tuam Stadium this afternoon to see this pre-season derby between ourselves and the neighbours. It may only have been an FBD League tie but, listening in from home on the radio, it seemed to me to have all the feel of a full-throated contest between these two great rivals.
A dramatic contest it proved to be as well. We led by six points early in the second half but Galway gradually reeled us back in, the game ending all-square at 1-9 apiece before the home side then snatched victory 4-2 in the resultant penalty shootout.
It was our lads who took the game to them early on. We got the day’s first score too, with debutant Conor Diskin claiming a forward mark and shooting over.
Soon after Diarmuid O’Connor was dragged back out the field by Ciaran Duggan and Jason Doherty pointed the resultant free.
Galway were finding it difficult to make headway against a hard-working Mayo backline, where David Drake won two good balls to snuff out the danger. Up the other end, Fergal Boland combined with Brian Reape who came around on the loop and fired over.
Confusion with the new rules then cost us a near-certain goal. A long ball in was claimed by Jason Doherty who had the goal at his mercy but ref Paddy Neilan incorrectly stopped play for the mark. That blunder meant that Jason had to be content with a free shot at the posts for the mark and he make no mistake from it to send us four clear with fifteen minutes on the clock.
A further three minutes passed before Galway finally got the scoreboard moving. When they did it was via a free from John Daly.
The exchanges were tasty enough from the start and the first card was produced when Colm Boyle was felled by a hit from Frankie Burke. This resulted in a black card and ten minutes in the sin bin for the Galway forward.
The home team, though, bagged the next score. We coughed up a needless turnover and then compounded this by conceding an unnecessary free within range, which Barry McHugh drove over to reduce the gap to two.
We hit back quickly, however, with Brian Reape coming out to take the pass and firing over. Soon after Jason Doherty collected another long ball in. This time there was no whistle and the Burrishoole mane wasted no time as he crashed the ball to the net to put us properly into the driving seat.
A second Barry McHugh free reduced the deficit to five points. It was Galway’s third score of the day, all three having come from placed balls.
Galway sought to cut the gap further but were unable to make progress through the massed ranks the visitors had pulled back. Eventually we turned the ball over, with the half-time whistle sounding just after.
We made one change for the second half, with Andy Moran coming on for Conor Loftus. Galway replaced Ciaran Duggan with Peter Cooke at the same time.
Our first attack yielded a free for us when Jason Doherty was pulled back. The infraction took place in a good scoring position and Jason made no mistake from the free.
Galway’s first score of the half came shortly afterwards. It was their first from play too, with McHugh bagging the point. The same passage of play resulted in Donal Vaughan heading for the sin bin for something the ref spotted.
Another Galway free – converted by McHugh – cut the gap to four, as they upped the pressure on us. Brian Reape got turned over as he bore down on goal but Galway ran foul of the three-handpass rule as they broke forward. Jason Doherty pointed the resultant free.
We made our second switch then, with Conor O’Shea coming on for Fergal Boland. As Donal Vaughan came back on, Jason Doherty – dropping deep – collided with one of their lads. The free for them cut the gap back to four.
Andy Moran used all his guile and experience to win a free for us over fifty yards out the field. As we moved the ball forward, Michael Plunkett made ground before offloading to Conor Diskin who fired over his second point of the day.
Another attack for us broke down, as Conor O’Shea fumbled an off-load from Brian Reape. Galway broke quickly and John Daly fired over.
Our next switch saw Stephen Coen coming on for James McCormack. Galway, now showing far more urgency, broke again. A shot for goal took a deflection and cannoned off the post before Rob Hennelly scrambled it away to safety.
Galway continued to press hard. Another attack forced Robbie to make another save, the ball going out for a ’45, which McHugh nailed to cut the deficit to three.
Brian Reape steadied the ship for us with a nice point from play. Michael Daly responded in kind straight away for them.
Ten minutes left to play now and another attack for us broke down as Stephen Coen failed to hold possession. The same player made amends just after, though, putting his body on the line to break up a Galway attack.
Our fourth change saw Lee Keegan join the fray, replacing Jason Doherty, both players getting a rousing cheer from the big visiting support as the switch was made.
A big chance for Galway was spurned, the shot going across the face of the goal and wide. That was the home team’s eighth wide but it was also their third clear goal chance in quick succession. A ninth wide for Galway came soon after, this time a bad one from a free in a scoreable position which Michael Daly drove wide.
Into injury time and it really sounded like we were now doing what we could to hold on, with the board signaling that five additional minutes would be played. Midway through injury time we made our final switch, with James Kelly coming on for David Drake.
Then what seemed inevitable in this game for a long while finally happened. Michael Daly punted a long diagonal ball in, Barry McHugh gave Keith Higgins the slip as he took possession and fired to the net to level the match up.
So it finished all-square and, for the second time in a week, we found ourselves in a penalty shootout. This one, though, wasn’t to prove as productive for us.
Diarmuid O’Connor missed our first one, Silke got their opener, Brian Reape netted our second, Heaney sent Robbie the wrong way for their second, James Kelly fired high to the net from our third, McHugh hit the bar but it bounced behind the line for their third, Andy Moran’s effort was saved by Breathnach and then Flynn scored to win the shootout for them on a 4-2 scoreline.
Last Sunday we experienced the joy from prevailing in a penalty shootout but today we got to see what it’s like to come off second best in this type of tie-breaker.
The frustration at today’s loss will, no doubt, be deepened by the fact that we controlled the game for long stretches and led from early on right the way into stoppage time. For sure, it was a game we should have closed out and James Horan – suffering defeat against Galway as manager for the first time – will, despite the many positives from today’s display, be none too pleased that it was a victory his side let slip late on in such dramatic fashion today.
Mayo: Rob Hennelly; Keith Higgins, Brendan Harrison, David Drake; Colm Boyle, Michael Plunkett, James McCormack; Donal Vaughan, Diarmuid O’Connor; Fionn McDonagh, Conor Loftus, Fergal Boland; Conor Diskin (0-2), Brian Reape (0-3), Jason Doherty (1-4, four frees). Subs: Andy Moran for Loftus, Conor O’Shea for Boland, Stephen Coen for McCormack.