For this hugely experienced team of ours to lose one Connacht championship match to Galway might be regarded as unfortunate but to lose two in succession has to be viewed as downright careless. We allowed them to mug us in MacHale Park a year ago and today at Pearse Stadium it was primarily our own failings that saw them record back-to-back Connacht wins over us for the first time in almost a decade.
First off, it’s only right to acknowledge that Galway fully deserved their one-point win over us today. Sure, we missed plenty of chances down the closing stretch and, absolutely, from our perspective Joe McQuillan’s reffing left much to be desired. We never, though, performed at the level we needed to if we were to win this one on a day when Galway’s enormous hunger and desire proved decisive to the game’s outcome.
So too did the sending off of Keith Higgins, which happened with a good bit of the opening half still to play. Once Comer had fallen to the ground in a crumpled heap it was obvious that Keith was in trouble and the lack of any protest once the red card was flashed was telling. Regardless of whether or not the Galway man made a meal of it, it was a pure moment of madness by the vastly experienced Ballyhaunis defender and we were always bailing water thereafter.
Mind you, from then ’till half-time we enjoyed a reasonably positive period in the game. Galway, with the strong wind whipping in off the Atlantic behind them, started brightly and were three points up with as many minutes played. Our decision to face the wind in that opening half might then have been regarded as questionable but we steadied ourselves well after that opening fusillade.
Central to this was the goal we got, belted home by Kevin McLoughlin, after a point attempt by Lee Keegan came back off the upright and the Knockmore man pounced to claim possession and fire to the net.
I was really worried that Galway’s pacy forwards might go to town on us once we’d been reduced to fourteen. However, the reshuffle we made after Keith’s departure, which saw Stephen Coen (who’d started instead of Jason Doherty, with Donal Vaughan lining out in place of Colm Boyle in our starting fifteen) drop back deep, seemed to work and so we went in at the break only a point behind.
Despite John Maughan’s cheery prediction that we’d do it, when interviewed out on the pitch by Mike Finnerty during the break, we were obviously in a real battle now. The task of getting out of Salthill with a result got even harder soon after the resumption when Galway added two quick scores to pull three ahead.
The second of these, which came when the home team turned over David Clarke’s kickout, laid bare our restart problems. The Ballina man frequently struggles to get short kickouts away effectively and so it wasn’t an act of tactical wizardry to realise that, with Keith off, our man’s options on restarts were narrowed considerably. Twice in the second half Galway caught us out in this respect, by claiming the kickout ball and booting over a second point to follow the one they’d just scored.
A strong input from the bench would, for sure, now been needed to haul the fat from the fire for us. I thought we waited too long to ring the changes and, when we did, the substitutions we made were more than a bit bewildering. Aidan definitely had to come on – and did well when he did – but was Seamie the right man to come off at that stage? And did it make any sense at all to call Andy Moran, who’d just knocked over a screaming score, ashore when Danny Kirby was introduced?
In the final quarter, we came at them in waves. We created plenty of chances too but shot after shot sailed wide of the posts. Cillian saw a ’45 come back up off the upright, Donie thumped one wide from out on the wing, Paddy Durcan – released at speed in a beautiful move right down the centre – spooned a bad effort wide. Cillian missed a few low percentage efforts from play and then Evan Regan was off target from two daft attempts, one from either sideline thirty yards out. Make no mistake, we’d plenty of chances to eke out the win but we just didn’t have the ability to get the vital scores when it counted.
Galway probably couldn’t quite believe it themselves when they managed to hold out until the final whistle sounded but hold out they did. They only won by the minimum margin but I doubt this did anything to lessen the sweetness of the victory from their perspective. After last year and our insistence that they’d caught us on the hop, this will have felt – because it was – a huge win for them.
For us, we can’t but accept that the loss represents an enormous setback. Forget the fact that it’s the first time since 1978 that the county has now failed to reach the Connacht final in successive years (it is, but the decline in the importance of the provincial championships since lessens the importance of that statistic), of greater consequence is what this defeat will do for our collective psyche, both in the short-term and more widely.
It’s easy to conclude that we’ve shot our bolt, that the dream is over for this group of players and that we’re now destined to slip right back into the pack. Maybe all that is true and maybe this will indeed be our grim fate but it’s still a bit early to be drawing such conclusions in any definitive way, even if the evidence on that side of the argument is now starting to build up quite significantly.
The bigger question for us now is where we go from here in this year’s championship. Last year it proved relatively easy to pick ourselves up after the loss to Galway and, favoured by a rather benign qualifier draw, we were able to get back up on the horse again without an inordinate amount of effort. You get the sense, however, that it might not be that easy this year, not least if the draw throws more significant challenges in our path.
All those questions will need to be faced sooner rather than later. Tonight, though, we’re stuck with reflections on today’s result and, I guess, what might have been. We can, I suppose, console ourselves at being witnesses to the first proper contest in this year’s football championship – and it needs to be said that it really was a cracking game of football today – but there’s little comfort, as a former inter-county player remarked to me once, in coming out the wrong side of a classic.
Today’s match doesn’t deserve that kind of ranking but it was, for sure, one of the better Galway/Mayo clashes in recent years. The manner in which we lost it, though, has the capacity to haunt us, signposting as it does a likely trajectory for the team that none of us wants to accept but which, soon enough, we may have no choice but to acknowledge as fact. That day isn’t upon us yet but tonight it sure doesn’t feel all that far away.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Donal Vaughan, Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Fergal Boland (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), Stephen Coen; Kevin McLoughlin (1-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-6, five frees), Andy Moran (0-1). Subs: Aidan O’Shea for Seamus O’Shea, Danny Kirby for Moran, Jason Doherty for McLoughlin, Evan Regan for Boland, Colm Boyle for Vaughan, David Drake for Diarmuid O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Galway?
- Cillian O'Connor (32%, 290 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (10%, 92 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (9%, 86 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (8%, 73 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (7%, 66 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (6%, 57 Votes)
- David Clarke (6%, 51 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (5%, 42 Votes)
- Evan Regan (3%, 31 Votes)
- Andy Moran (2%, 21 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 19 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (2%, 19 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (2%, 14 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (1%, 12 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (1%, 9 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (1%, 8 Votes)
- David Drake (1%, 8 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 7 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (1%, 6 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (0%, 2 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 914