Mayo went into today’s ladies’ All-Ireland senior football semi-final against Galway as outsiders but in a sun-washed Croke Park they put in a real battling display, just losing out at the finish by a single point on a scoreline of 2-10 to 2-9. It was rough justice to come up short by the minimum margin in a game where fortunes swung back and over during the hour.
Just under 11,000 came to Croke Park for this double-header and with everyone packed into the Lower Hogan it made for a real Championship atmosphere at HQ. There was plenty of Mayo support in evidence too and they made their presence felt right throughout this rip-roaring contest.
Galway struck the first significant blow. Their hard-running, quick-offloading game caused the Mayo rearguard plenty of problems right throughout the first half and after just three minutes they had the ball in the net.
The goal came from a fast downfield move, with Mairéad Seoighe losing her marker and ghosting into space. Once the ball was played into her she finished emphatically to fire Galway a goal up.
Ten minutes were played before we got off the mark, Sinéad Cafferkey pointing, but they hit back in kind straight away at the other end. They added another point soon after to stretch their lead to four.
But we responded well. A nice move saw a pinpoint long pass played into the unmarked Éilis Roynane who squared it for Rachel Kearns to blast home.
Any sense of joy amongst the Mayo following was, though, dented a few minutes later. Another slick Galway move saw Seoighe again evade our backline cover and once again finish to the net.
The match threatened to run away from us then. To their credit, though, the Mayo ladies kept the scoreboard moving and by half-time they’d pared the deficit back to two points.
Galway got the first point after the break but then we replied with the score of the game. Team captain Niamh Kelly gathered possession at pace on halfway and surged straight at the Galway defence. Slaloming through the cover, she bore down on goal and finished with aplomb off the outside of her boot. Here, see it for yourself:
The confidence that surged through the team in the wake of that goal was evident all over the pitch. Now we were the team battling hardest and winning the 50:50 contests, raiding forward repeatedly. We had, though, a massive let-off when a goal effort for Galway cannoned back off the butt of the upright.
We pushed ahead for the first time when Sarah Rowe pointed a free with fifteen minutes to go. But Galway levelled it up immediately, as they did again after Rachel Kearns had edged us back in front.
Then, with twelve minutes left on the clock, came one of the game’s real turning points. Niamh Kelly took off on another scorching run but less than thirty yards from goal she was poleaxed by Galway’s Olivia Divilly. It had to be at least a yellow – and, with it, ten minutes in the sin-bin – but, incredibly the Galway player escaped with just a tick from the card-averse ref.
Sub Natasha Gaughan nailed the free and we were one up again but that proved to be our final score of the game. With the clock ticking remorselessly down, we strove to hang on, missing more than one chance to give us a bit more breathing space coming down the tense closing stretch.
With seven minutes to go Galway equalised and the tension ratcheted up another few notches. Both sides had chances to add to their tally but both failed to do so and down the clock continued to count.
Eventually, Galway were awarded a free well within range that looked – through these slightly biased eyes – more than a little on the soft side. There was less than two minutes to go to the hooter when Róisín Leonard rammed her placed-ball effort over the bar for what proved to be the winner.
We drove forward, desperately searching for an equaliser. It looked like we were going to get one too when Rachel Kearns was fouled close to goal. As is Croke Park practice – more unsustainable by the day – there were no replays to show what had happened but watching it back on TV later on it was clear that Rachel had hopped the ball twice before she was felled and so the free out was the correct decision.
Galway only had to play keep-ball for a matter of seconds, which they did successfully, to close out the win and so qualify for their first All-Ireland final since 2005. There they’ll meet three-in-a-row chasing Dublin who had six points to spare over Cork in the day’s second semi-final.
So it’s the end of the road this year for the Mayo ladies. They can, however, look back with a significant amount of satisfaction on the progress they’ve made in 2019. This largely new, young team did really well to make it as far as the All-Ireland semi-final and to perform so strongly at Croke Park today. That’s a great platform to take into 2020. Hard luck on today’s narrow loss but here’s to better days to come for them.
Mayo: Aishling Tarpey; Éilis Roynane, Danielle Caldwell, Ciara McManamon; Kathryn Sullivan, Dayna Finn, Ciara Whyte; Clodagh McManamon, Aileen Gilroy; Sinéad Cafferky (0-1), Niamh Kelly (1-1), Fiona Doherty; Sarah Rowe (0-1, free), Rachel Kearns (1-2), Grace Kelly (0-3, two frees). Subs: Lisa Cafferky for Doherty, Emma Needham for Sullivan, Natasha Gaughan (0-1, free) for Rowe, Alannah Duffy for Clodagh McManamon, Noirín Moran for Whyte.