There are many attributes you need in a side for it to be successful. Talented players who are dedicated and committed to the cause is one, a tactically astute management team that can get the best out of the players is another. But there is another very important attribute that often goes unseen and only surfaces in those moments of extreme self-doubt, in those moments when your back is against the wall, you know you are beaten in almost every position on the field and you know you are in trouble, in those moments when you are faced with the question, “Do I have it in me to change this game or are we gone?”
That attribute is belief. Belief in your teammates, belief in the game plan, belief in your own ability and belief that if you keep playing for the next ball, only the next ball, that things will turn your way. It was that attribute which kept Mayo in this game when, for large periods of the first half in particular, they were out-fought, out-paced, out-thought and totally out-played by a superior and dominant Galway side.
John Donnellan’s side were in terrific form going in to the match as they were unbeaten in the Connacht minor league and were facing a Mayo side that displayed patchy form at best and had lost to Galway by two points in Ballinrobe earlier in the year. Galway were determined to avenge the 5-8 to 2-11 defeat inflicted on them by Mayo at the very same stage of this competition last year and the odds had them as likely to do so.
Tuam Stadium, the real home of Galway football, played host to a very decent crowd on a warm but overcast evening to see these two old rivals square off on a perfect pitch. A slight but constant breeze favoured Galway in the first half as the Leitrim ref Ray McBrien threw the ball in.
Galway started by winning the throw in and went a point up after just 42 seconds. They went two points up after a minute and a half and also had two goal efforts wonderfully saved by Matthew Flanagan in the Mayo goal in the 4th and 8th minute. This blistering start had Galway in a 6 points to 1 lead after 15 minutes as they cut Mayo open time and time again with the impressive movement and scoring ability of their two corner forwards, Finnerty and Mannion.
Galway dominated midfield, won every breaking ball and their half-back line, where the solid Kieran Molloy at no.7 levelled all comers with his shuddering well timed shoulder hits, swept up behind their midfield at their ease. This total domination of possession pinned Mayo back into their own half and they struggled for the opening 20 minutes to even get inside the Galway 45m line.
Mayo didn’t fetch cleanly in midfield until the 13th minute and by the 17th minute Enda Gilvarry had made his first change with the Mayo no.2 Mikey Barrett called ashore for Stephen Brennan. Gilvarry also switched Cian Hanley at 11 with TJ Byrne at 14 and brought Conor Byrne out from the corner to play as another half-forward. This was an obvious attempt by Gilvarry to add height to the middle third and an extra body to try and win back some possession. While it was not an immediate success it did help Mayo to get their hands on the ball and at least give the defence a rest.
The big problem Mayo had was the Galway no.8 Michael Daly. The dominant force in the middle, his direct powerful running down the middle was creating overlaps that helped to carve open the Mayo backline. One of his runs resulted in a missed free in the 20th minute, another run up the middle saw him hand-pass twice before placing his goal effort wide of Flanagan’s post and a minute later he boomed a massive effort over the bar from outside the 45 metre line, a kick that easily had another 10 metres in it.
Galway tacked on another point in the 24th minute to put them 0-8 to 0-2 up and they then hit the upright with another effort. Mayo undoubtedly were in trouble and badly needed half-time to come to their rescue. However, I did feel that despite all the pressure Mayo were under if they could manage to get to half-time without conceding a goal then they still had a chance. For all the ball that Galway had and the wonderful play that followed from that possession, they still hadn’t put Mayo away. It may have been great Mayo goalkeeping allied to bad luck on Galway’s part, but Mayo were still breathing and still, just about, in the game.
Galway’s failure to put Mayo away came back to haunt them in the 26th minute. Mayo made a complete mess of a free that resulted in a scramble in the Galway goalmouth. This ended up with a Galway defender under pressure on his hands and knees in the small square punching the ball out over the end line. Penalty!!!
Hanley duly dispatched and it was game on. The ref flashed a yellow to Oisin Moran and, most notably, to Michael Daly towards the end of the first half as tempers began to boil. Mayo finished the half on the front foot and although they kicked two wides in the last two minutes, it was an improvement of sorts as we hadn’t ventured too close to their goal too often in the previous 28 minutes. The ref blew up for half-time to leave the crowd puzzled as to how Mayo were still in this game.
The second half started much like the first, Michael Daly wins the ball, runs straight down the middle, gets fouled, the resultant free goes over the bar. Again, after 42 seconds!! For the opening eight minutes of this half both sides traded points (Mayos first from play in the third minute!) but Mayo now seemed much more comfortable in their shape and their match-ups.
Eoin O’Donoghue and Jason Forkan at 4 and 5 respectively were coming to the fore for the Mayo defence and TJ Byrne was winning clean ball at midfield. Mayo were still four points down at 0-12 to 1-5 but they were competitive. However, the match and the dominance of Galway was about to end as in the 9th minute of the second half Michael Daly got his second yellow card and was sent to the line.
Mayo took immediate control of midfield and began spreading the Galway defence by switching the ball from wing to wing using the strong running Sharoize Akram on one side and Liam Byrne, introduced earlier for Oisin Horan, on the other. Mayo scored a point in the 12th, nearly worked a goal in the 13th and kicked three consecutive wides in the next four minutes.
They were guilty of rushing their efforts and overcarrying into crowded areas but they were finding holes in the Galway full-back line and fancied their chances of success there. They were right to do so because in the 19th minute of the second half a well-worked move saw a goalbound effort blocked but fortunately it fell to the sub Byrne and he buried it to the back of the net.
Galway 0-12, Mayo 2-6. Mayo were finally level. Not for long though as two minutes later a Galway move down the right side and in along the end line saw Flanagan save bravely again only to see the loose ball tucked away by the Galway full-forward to re-establish their three-point lead. After all the work they put in to draw themselves level, the Mayo lads found themselves three points down again with nine minutes to go.
I mentioned belief earlier. Well these Mayo lads have it in bucketful because their response was to go straight down the other end of the field from the resultant kick-out and score a third goal. It was the scrappiest of the lot but a goal nonetheless and more importantly the game was level again, Galway 1-12 Mayo 3-6.
Mayo were winning ball and running at the Galway defence but some poor decision making by Conor Byrne saw us cough up possession on a number of occasions through over carrying and running into congested areas of the middle third. This tactic yielded its reward however in the 26th minute of the second half when a Galway foot block on a Mayo shot resulted in a free directly in front of the posts.
The ref initially called a penalty but was informed by his umpire that the infringement occurred outside the square and so Hanley pointed the free to put Mayo in the lead for the first time in the game. Mayo were owning the ball now but another Conor Byrne wide from a wild unbalanced effort saw Galway play a short quick kick out as they made one final surge forward in added on time. They built from the back and broke through the Mayo midfield where the Galway runner had his shirt pulled and was fouled.
Just outside the 45 metre line and into a slight breeze, Peter Cooke struck the ball sweetly but it fell short where a Galway fist punched it into the outside of the Mayo side netting. For a fraction of a second the home crowd thought the ball was in the net and started celebrating. Their joy was short lived however when they saw the umpire on that side of the goal wave it wide. The ref blew the final whistle on the kick-out and the Mayo lads jumped for joy while their opponents slumped to the ground. Mayo 3-7 Galway 1-12.
There is no doubt that Mayo got out of jail in the first half where Galway should have scored two, if not three, goals and some untidy Galway tackling allowed Mayo to register a couple of scores that they didn’t look like getting from play. There can be no doubt either that Daly getting sent off had a huge bearing on the outcome of the match as the Galway dominance in the middle third ended with his dismissal and Galway only posted a solitary score (albeit a goal) and registered no wides without him.
Mayo on the other hand scored 2-2 and kicked five wides in the same period. To counter that it must be said that Flanagan in the Mayo goal was outstanding, Gilvarry’s changes in the first half helped and Mayo had shown signs of getting to grips with Galway in the opening exchanges of the second half.
The biggest loser this evening I believe is the All-Ireland Minor championship. As this was not a provincial final there is no “back door” qualifier system available to Galway and this is a shame. This is a serious Galway outfit with toughness, pace, skill, power in midfield and, as always with Galway, classy forwards. They are worthy of a provincial final or a run-out in Croke Park and the fact that such an excellent side is now out of the championship is football’s loss.
Mayo to their enormous credit hung in when they were on the rack and battled and scrapped for every ball. They clung on, just enough, to not let Galway get out of sight. They refused to be beaten and when the game was there to be won with ten minutes to go, they reached out and grabbed it. Players of note were Flanagan, Duffy and O’Donoghue in the full-back line, Forkan and Akram for their hard running, Hanley for his leadership particularly from dead balls and TJ Byrne for his outstanding fielding ability in the middle third. Gilvarry has some work to do before they met the Rossies in McHale Park in a couple of weeks but at least they are there and he will know better than any that today’s performance will not be good enough the next day.