Tonight’s Connacht MFC between Mayo and Galway was the first of four separate Championship meetings between the counties in a five-day span. If any of the other matches are anything as good as this rip-roaring encounter at Tuam Stadium then we’re all in for a treat.
It was a contest that the Mayo youngsters won by the minimum margin, on a scoreline of 1-18 to 1-17, after extra-time. That was hard luck on a brave and gallant Galway team but the greater appetite for attack and adventure shown by the Mayo lads eventually brought them the reward they deserved. Fair play to them.
Both sides had periods of dominance in the opening half. Tomo Culhane, with a free, opened Galway’s account inside the opening minute but Frank Irwin finished a move straight from the restart to level it up.
Galway had a goal chance on three minutes, Culhane cleverly feeding Cox who shot on the run but blasted over when maybe a greater reward was to be had.
Our lads got back on terms when Galway were penalised for overcarrying and Ethan Henry’s free was diverted out for a ’45. The midfielder then drove the ’45 over to level it up.
An increasingly confident Galway started to take over as the half went on. Moving the ball with fluidity and linking the play to great effect, the home side ran hard at Mayo and the scores followed. By contrast the Mayo attacks were more individualistic, with several hit-and-hope balls pumped in long, which the Galway backline lapped up with ease.
By the end of the first quarter, Galway were four points to the good and looking well in control. Culhane was proving a menace inside and we were struggling to stay in touch.
But then the pendulum swung back sharply in our favour. We wrested control of midfield and soon we began to do some damage on the scoreboard.
Ciaran Mylett ended a long scoreless spell with a nice effort and this was followed by one from distance by Ethan Henry. Another from the same range, this one pumped over by Dylan Thornton, cut the gap to one.
Culhane was fouled just outside the large square at the other end and tapped over the resultant free but Frank Irwin, initiating a quick one-two off a free, brought the margin back to the minimum once more.
It was Frank Irwin again, after yet another long ball in – only this one being one we won, who got the next to level the match up. Then sub Rory Morrin burst forward, rode the tackle really well and pointed nicely to edge us ahead for the first time.
After a Frank Irwin wide we won the kickout and a shot on the run from Shaun Dempsey increased our lead to two.
That second point came as the half went into added time and it looked then like we’d take that lead into the break. Two carelessly conceded frees within range, however, gave Culhane two tap-overs to level it up at the short whistle.
The second half was even from start to finish, with the gap no wider than two points at any stage. Galway had the edge for a good while but in the final quarter we looked the stronger and it was then that the Galway lads flung out the shawl in earnest, seeking to smother our attacks and then hit us on the break. It was a tactic they persevered with from then right to the finish but it was to prove their undoing.
With ten minutes to go Galway were two to the good but then points from Eoin Gilraine out on the wing and Ethan Henry, after a strong burst through the middle, levelled it up.
We spurned two chances to take the lead from frees won in good positions on the right-hand side. It looked like we’d end up ruing these misses when Galway broke through late on but an effort for a point came off the upright and the ball was cleared.
Down at the other end a goal chance ended with a ’45 for us, way out on the wing. Deep in stoppage time this looked like the chance to win it and Ethan Henry obliged, his placed ball effort just having the distance.
But it wasn’t the winner. Galway burst forward again, Culhane pointing bravely to snatch the equaliser and send the game into extra-time.
On TG4, Seán Ó Domhnaill reckoned that whoever got a goal would win it. That seemed like sound reasoning.
When Galway got that goal, Culhane converting a penalty after a pull down in the square, it certainly looked like the breakthrough score. We’d got the opening point in extra-time, from sub John Grady, but they’d responded with two points before the penalty.
Our lads now really had a mountain to climb. Dylan Thornton made some inroads before the break, notching a nice score, but the shawl was now fully laid out and it looked as if we’d really struggle to get the scores we needed to win the game.
On the restart Paul Walsh pointed smartly to cut the gap to two. As events would transpire this was a crucial score.
Paul was also central to the winning score. The ball was played into him close to goal and he was unceremoniously bundled over. For the second time in extra-time the referee spread his arms for the penalty, which Frank Irwin converted with no little aplomb.
Now the May-Oh! May-Oh! May-Oh! chants began to ring around this historic old ground, as our lads sought to clinch the deal, while Galway battled manfully to haul the fat from the fire.
Galway had a wide and twice as they tried to break downfield we won stirring turnovers, courtesy of Dylan Thornton and Ciaran Mylett.
Rory Morrin – who had a huge influence on tonight’s result – let fly from out the wing, his effort deflected for a ’45. Ethan Henry – the TG4 Man of the Match and a towering performer all night for us – drove his kick narrowly wide.
Frank Irwin gave it everything from distance but his effort came up short. Deep in injury time Galway had one last chance, when they won a free fifty yards out. Culhane looked at it but passed up the chance and instead midfielder McLaughlin – who along with Culhane was Galway’s best player tonight – initiated a quick one-two and let fly from distance. His shot tailed wide, however, and that was that.
The scenes of joy among the Mayo lads were a sight to see – even if, for me, it was via the livestream online – and it was great to see them lift the cup as they claimed the county’s first Minor title in five years. Huge congrats to them.
What a start to the weekend, what a boost these young warriors have given the county ahead of the gladiatorial battle that faces us tomorrow. The long, long losing run to Galway at all levels is over. Tonight, at last, it feels as if the tide has, finally, begun to turn. Up Mayo.
Mayo: Luke Jennings; Owen McHale, Oisín Tunney, Aidan Cosgrove; Shaun Dempsey (0-1), Ruairí Keane, Eoin Gilraine (0-1); Paddy Heneghan, Ethan Henry (0-6, three ’45s); Ciaran Mylett (0-2), Ronan Hughes, Dylan Thornton (0-2); Paul Walsh (0-1), Ray Walsh, Frank Irwin (1-2, goal a penalty). Subs: Rory Morrin (0-2) for Hughes, John Grady (0-1) for Walsh, Emmet Murphy for Cosgrave (black card), Cian O’Connor for Mylett, Conor Reid for Heneghan, C Mylett for O’Connor (ET), R Hughes for Morrin (ET).