I’ll freely admit I had no idea what to expect today. Seven months since we last played a competitive game, sending out an experimental team to face a Galway side full of unfamiliar names. It was a hard one to call – I wonder did anyone guess our fifteen-point winning margin correctly?
We never really got going at all in the spring. But right from the throw-in today we went pedal to the metal and we were out the gate and over the hills by half-time. What a stunning first half that was.
It was mildly surprising that we started with the team we’d named on Friday night. But that was good, as it showed that James was willing to back what was largely a young team. They repaid his faith in spades today, with debutant Mark Moran in particular putting in an eye-catching display, notching 1-2 and picking up the TG4 Man of the Match award.
Conor Loftus was another man who enjoyed a profitable afternoon and he got us going within thirty seconds of the start, letting fly from distance to grab the lead. It was a lead we’d never lose from then to the finish.
Sean Andy O Ceallaigh had his big paws all over Aidan O’Shea – that continued for the whole game, incredibly he was never booked for these repeated fouls – and Cillian O’Connor pointed the resultant free. He popped over another one soon after as we established an important bridgehead early on.
Galway suffered a major blow then. Damien Comer had started in place of Michael Daly but he hobbled from the field with no more than three minutes played. It looked like hamstring trouble and if it is then, in light of the condensed season, that could be his year over.
Silke blazed over, with the goal at his mercy, to open Galway’s account. We had a sort-of goal chance ourselves just after, Cillian lofting his handpass in a bit too high and Aidan could do no more than paw it over the bar.
A rapid downfield move – already we were showing so much zip and energy to our play – ended with Mark Moran firing over. Two minutes later the Westport man found the net, Cillian feeding him superbly and he slipped the ball beyond the ‘keeper.
Galway enjoyed a small revival after that. Two points from Conroy, bookending a Finnerty free, cancelled out the goal but Mark Moran then swung over a peach of a score to keep us ticking over.
O’Donnell, on for Duane who hobbled off with what looked like another muscle injury, pointed for them but we got the final score before the water break. Stephen Coen did very well to claim the forward mark and he then proceeded to knock it over.
A Cillian free soon after the resumption stretched our lead to six. Conroy then boomed over an effort that the umpire on the near post immediately flagged wide, only for his companion to flag as a score. Maurice Deegan had a chat with the two umpires and the score attempt was chalked down as a wide.
The scores did, though, keep coming in rapid succession. Tommy Conroy, shooting under pressure, put us seven clear. Another Finnerty free for them was followed by a second point from Conor Loftus, this one after claiming a forward mark.
Finnerty was once more unerring from the dead-ball, after Eoghan McLaughlin had clattered into one of their lads. Eoghan protested that he’d gone in with the shoulder, which he had, but he’d connected with the Galway player’s back.
We then cut them clean open, Oisin Mullin – what a talent this lad is – speeding forward, offloading to Aidan who fed Paddy Durcan. Paddy’s shot was low and hard, rattling the net to shoot us nine clear.
Sean Andy then got into another tangle with Aidan, Deegan spotted what was happening from half a pitch length away and Cillian tapped over the resultant free.
We were rampant now. Before the half-time whistle blew we added six more points without reply, in a mesmerising spell that saw us go in at the break a yawning sixteen points to the good.
Sean Andy’s jersey-grabbing paws were once again responsible for the first of these, as he hauled back the in-rushing Tommy Conroy. Cillian converted the free.
Aidan, from a super pass from Paddy, knocked over the next and Cillian got one from play after that. He got the next one too, brother Diarmuid picking him out with a pinpoint pass from a sideline ball, Cillian swivelling to fire over.
From a humour point of view, the next score we got was the pick of the bunch. Sean Andy found himself under severe pressure from Aidan – not a comfortable place for any player to find himself in, in all fairness – and this caused him to foul the ball on the ground. Cillian had no trouble with the free.
Tommy Conroy got our final point of this remarkable half, in which we’d posted a score of 2-17, but Cillian missed a chance to add one more to that tally, when he tried his luck with a free off his left and it came up short.
After that blistering first period, it was always going to be a more raggedy second half. Galway, already well beaten, were only playing for pride now, while we were obviously going to take the opportunity to give players on the bench a look at the action. We had, though, to keep an eye on the points-difference side of things as we knew this could have a bearing on final table placings this day week.
We traded scores on the resumption. McDaid for them. Conroy for us. Cillian, yet another free after O’Donnell grabbed hold of a fistful of Mark Moran’s jersey. Finnerty off his left from play for them.
We made our first switch ten minutes into the half, with Fionn McDonagh coming off to be replaced by Bryan Walsh. A Varley point for them was responded to by Cillian’s tenth score (his eighth from a free), which was also our twentieth of the day.
Our next score put the icing on the cake. Mark Moran’s ball into Conor Loftus was superbly judged but it still left Conor with plenty to do. The Crossmolina man did it all, though, dodging round the ‘keeper, evading the flailing Galway backline and slipping the ball to the net.
That left us sixteen clear at the second water break. Cillian and Diarmuid left the pitch at that stage, Darren Coen and Ryan O’Donoghue joining what was now a fairly pedestrian contest.
Galway scored four more in that final quarter, we bagged three – Aidan and two from Paddy completing our tally – as we closed out a win by fifteen points.
While it’s always good fun to hammer the neighbours, this is a result we need to box away quickly and focus on the next challenge. Galway, in retrospect, went with too much experimentation from the off, did nothing when their ‘keeper kept kicking the ball out to us and were helpless to stop the game careering away from them. If we meet them in the Connacht final this year – a place there is a given for them but not for us, with Roscommon to get past first – they’ll be a very different proposition.
But it was good fun and we can be more than happy with our afternoon’s work today. Our Division One survival isn’t yet guaranteed but our fate remains in our own hands going into next weekend, as it has done so often in the League in the past. Put simply, we need to beat Tyrone to be sure of staying up.
It was also very encouraging to see the young guns play so well today. David McBrien did okay against a tough opponent in Paul Conroy while fellow first-timer Mark Moran enjoyed a dream debut. Oisin Mullin was excellent, Eoghan McLaughlin did well and so too did Tommy Conroy.
Conor Loftus, for long a player who seemed to have lost his way at this level, looked reborn today. His 1-2 contribution to the win will do his confidence the world of good.
So that’s Galway sorted, for now at least. Now it’s a home match with Tyrone back at MacHale Park next Sunday where we hope we can complete yet another top tier great escape.
And isn’t it great to be lost in all this talk about football – and only football – for a few hours? Maybe that was the biggest win for all of us today. That and hosing Galway.
Mayo: David Clarke; Oisin Mullin, David McBrien, Lee Keegan; Paddy Durcan (1-2), Stephen Coen (0-1, mark), Eoghan McLaughlin; Matthew Ruane, Conor Loftus (1-2, one point a mark); Fionn McDonagh, Mark Moran (1-2), Diarmuid O’Connor; Tommy Conroy (0-3), Aidan O’Shea (0-3), Cillian O’Connor (0-10, eight frees). Subs: Bryan Walsh for McDonagh, Padraig O’Hora for McBrien, Darren Coen for Cillian O’Connor, Ryan O’Donoghue for Diarmuid O’Connor, Jordan Flynn for Ruane.
Who was our Man of the Match against Galway? Pick your top three performers
- Mark Moran (35%, 652 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (21%, 393 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (11%, 207 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (9%, 162 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (8%, 148 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (7%, 123 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (3%, 49 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (2%, 41 Votes)
- David McBrien (1%, 16 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 15 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (1%, 12 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (1%, 12 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 8 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (0%, 7 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (0%, 7 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 7 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 3 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (0%, 2 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donooghue (0%, 2 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,030