It was, deservedly, the Rossies who left McHale Park today with most of the plaudits and fair play to them too for the way that they made such a nonsense of those (admittedly daft) pre-match odds to seize an unexpected 20th Connacht title over a Sligo side that failed to reach the highs they achieved when beating ourselves and Galway on the way to the final and whose indiscipline at the back proved suicidal, given Donie Shine’s awesome freetaking ability. The Rossies will savour this provincial win like a precious jewel, all the more so because it looked as likely as a Fianna Fail overall majority in the next election at the outset of the championship. They’ll now head to Croke Park in great mood, knowing that 2010 will go down as a success for them, regardless of what happens from here on.
We can only look in at all this from the outside but the minors’ excellent win over Galway in today’s curtain-raiser at McHale Park is worthy of celebrating too. The lads’ victory completes a provincial three-in-a-row for the county at this level and it means that, for the third year in succession, it’ll be the minors that’ll maintain our direct interest in the championship as we head towards August.
Our five-point margin of victory, on a 3-9 to 1-10 scoreline, suggests that the win was a straightforward enough one but it looked anything but at half-time. Sure, we’d opened brightly enough, with Danny Kirby pointing within two minutes, and we then led by five points to two a little after twenty minutes, with Ryan Quirke’s point from play being followed by three frees from roughly the same position all being converted by Cillian O’Connor.
But just as we seemed to be taking control, the Tribesmen got a goal at the other end that came against the run of play when goalie Paul Mannion made a hash of an attempted clearance, allowing Paul Varley to claim the game’s first major. Galway then followed up with two quick points, the first from a free and the second from play, to open a two-point lead for the visitors. Our lads steadied themselves, though, with points from play from Darren Coen and Sean Kelly to leave it all square at the break.
Galway got the opening score of the second half and when Cillian O’Connor missed two frees, the second of which was well within his range, it looked as if the match might be on the point of running away from us. That second miss was our eighth wide of the game and our failure to take the chances we were creating was raising obvious worries about our ability to close the deal. A blistering six-minute spell ensued, however, at the end of which the match was as good as over.
Cillian O’Connor started things off with a burst into the square where he was hauled down. Danny Kirby buried the resultant penalty in the bottom right-hand corner and, straight from the kickout, we broke foreward again, with Darren Coen unleashing a piledriver to the net from 20 yards out. The young Tribesmen got one back from play but this was cancelled out by another Cillian O’Connor free before Coen netted for a second time to end the game as a contest, with just under fifteen minutes left to play.
The match, understandably, petered out from there – Galway tacked on four points to bring down the winning margin into more respectable territory, while we only managed a single additional point, which came from the boot of substitute Conor O’Shea. It was a comfortable win in the end but this was solely due to the fusillade of second-half goals, which turned what was up till then looking like a tight contest into a canter to the winning line.
Next up for the minors are the Leinster finalists Offaly in an All-Ireland quarter-final tie to be played at some stage over the August Bank Holiday weekend and, if they win that one, either Kerry or Tyrone will be waiting for them in the semis three weeks after that. With Cork and last year’s winners Armagh also still in the hunt for minor honours, it’s obvious that capturing the Tom Markham Cup this year will – as we know full well from the last two campaigns at this level – be a tall order. But today’s win provides plenty of encouragement about the will to win that Tony Duffy’s young charges have and so they can now head off to the All-Ireland quarter-finals with a fair degree of confidence about how they’ll fare there.
MAYO: Paul Mannion; Brendan Harrison, Niall Freeman, Ciaran Twomey; Ryan Quirke (0-1), Conor Walsh, Conor Horan; Danny Kirby (1-1, goal a penalty), Sean McGarry; Fergal Durkan, Mícheál Forde, Sean Kelly (0-1); Cian Costello, Darren Coen (2-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-4, frees). Subs: Jack McDonnell for Costello, Adrian Leonard for Kelly, Conor O’Shea (1-1) for Forde.