The Padraic Joyce era got off to a good start for Galway at MacHale Park today. Six down with normal time up, his team dug themselves out of that hole over the course of the twelve minutes and more injury time that was played. The match eventually finished level at 1-17 each but, as they did twelve months ago in Tuam, Galway claimed the spoils in the penalty shootout, winning 3-2 to set up yet another FBD final against Roscommon.
There was a fair sprinkling of supporters, the bulk, it appeared, from Galway around MacHale Park when I parked up over an hour before throw-in. It was evident then that Galway were going to bring a big crowd with them and so it was no surprise – even if it was still a shock – that the appearance onto the field of the visitors’ team that produced the loudest pre-match cheer from a crowd in excess of seven thousand souls.
The stronger, more experienced Galway team settled quickest into the contest. Shane Walsh got the game’s first two scores, the first from play, and with ten minutes gone they were four to one in front, our solitary score from Jordan Flynn, from a Brian Reape lay-off after a probing pass in from Paddy Durcan.
A super fetch in the middle from Mikey Murray started the move that saw Kevin McLoughlin speed forward and shoot over. Then Diarmuid O’Connor picked out the unmarked Brian Reape inside. The goal attempt was blocked but Jordan Flynn picked up the breaking ball and pointed.
Walsh, again, scored for them after a mix-up led to a turnover out the field. We hit back, though, when Bryan Walsh pointed after a super, dogged rob by Padraig O’Hora. Kevin McLoughlin levelled it up soon after.
A shot from out the field that hit the post led to the score that put us ahead for the first time. Kevin Mc tapped the ball down to Brian Reape who fired over.
There was a break in play while Johnny Heaney was attended to and eventually taken from the field in a motorised stretcher. Conor Loftus waited to take a free while this was happening but when the time came to take it he shanked it wide.
Our next score elicited a loud cheer. Tom Parsons took possession at speed and shot on the run to increase our lead to two.
We then swapped scores. Varley, a constant outlet for inside ball for them, slipped his marker and pointed. At the other end, debutant Bryan Walsh bagged his second after a great pick-up under pressure.
Points from Daly and Walsh (free) hauled them level but we had the final say on the scoreboard before the break. They’d missed a goal chance and shot two wides besides before Michael Plunkett was felled as he stormed forward, Conor Loftus converting the free.
Galway were fastest out of the blocks on the resumption too. Varley, fed by Walsh, levelled it up and then a butchered restart gave Walsh the chance to bag the lead for them.
Fiontain Ó Currain went down following a scrummage for the ball after the next restart and, sadly, he stayed down. It took ages for the paramedics to get him sorted so that he could be stretchered from the field.
Galway had been awarded a close-in free after the incident when Ó Currain went down. Shane Walsh had to wait nearly ten minutes to take it but he made no mistake and Galway led by two.
They increased the lead to three shortly after Cillian McDaid was sent to the sin bin but then the momentum swung sharply in our favour. Brian Reape started this off with one from play.
As Galway deployed the shawl for the first time this afternoon, we were getting bottled up around the middle. It needed a bit of magic to unlock their backline and Kevin McLoughlin produced it. Brian Reape did all the hard work and when the ball hopped up for Kevin he poked it with his fist to the net.
Bryan Walsh smashed over his third from play to increase our lead. Fergal Boland – on for Conor Loftus – and Brian Reape (free) pushed us four clear. We were now winning all the battles out the field, with Reape and Boland combining to effect inside. A point for each of them increased our lead to six.
Normal time was now up but, due to the Ó Currain injury, a full twelve minutes of injury time was still to be played. Galway used that time to full effect, reeling us back in and then, to ice the cake, beating us in the penalty shootout that followed.
Key to their revival was the goal. Robbie did really well to parry the first goalbound shot away but the ball ricocheted out into open territory in front of the posts and none of our backs were able to grab it. Instead Varley connected cleanly with the loose ball from 14 yards to hit the net and cut the gap to three.
A low winter sun was now streaming down the pitch right into Robbie’s eyes, making the job of getting his restarts away all the more difficult. An element of panic engulfed the team too and so, in truth, it was no great surprise when Galway bagged the three points they needed to send the match into a shootout.
It was a tie-breaker that could have gone either way. Walsh scored, then Fergal Boland missed, then Conroy missed and Liam Irwin scored as did both Comer and Kevin McLoughlin. Varley hit the post to hand us the advantage but Gary Boylan missed and, when the ref ordered the kick retaken as the Galway keeper was miles off his line, missed again. Flynn then scored and Bryan Walsh’s effort clipped the crossbar and came back out to give Galway the 3-2 shootout win.
There’ll be frustration, no doubt, at yet another game we failed to close out. From six up with just the long injury time to play there’s no way we should have come away with anything but the win. Somehow we managed not to seal the deal.
With it, there’ll be some annoyance from James Horan’s perspective that he’s allowed Padraic Joyce to claim the first bragging rights in their sideline duel. Sure, we more than matched them today – and they fielded more of their big guns than we did – but the record will show that they prevailed, albeit only after penalties.
On the positive side, though, we saw several bright performances from the newcomers. Padraig O’Hora, Bryan Walsh and Jordan Flynn will all be very happy this evening with how today went for them and there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing plenty of all three of them this year.
Mikey Murray had some good moments too, as did James McCormack in often difficult conditions at the back. Up front, Brian Reape – who started brightly last year before falling down the pecking order – put in a great shift, especially when Fergal Boland joined the fray after the break.
So, both positives and negatives to start the year. But it’s only January so any high is never going to be very high, any low doesn’t count as a depression. Today was a useful run-out as we start to ready ourselves for the defence of our National League title, which begins with a tough trip to Ballybofey in two weeks time.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; James Stretton, James McCormack, Brendan Harrison; Padraig O’Hora, Michael Plunkett, Paddy Durcan; Tom Parsons (0-1), Mikey Murray; Bryan Walsh (0-3), Conor Loftus (0-2, frees), Jordan Flynn (0-2); Kevin McLoughlin (1-2), Brian Reape (0-5, one free), Diarmuid O’Connor. Subs: Fergal Boland (0-2) for Loftus, Colm Boyle for Stretton, Gary Boylan for O’Connor, Liam Irwin for Reape, David Kenny for McCormack.