The county’s hurlers this afternoon made it a happy return to MacHale Park when they got the better of Derry by 2-23 to 2-18. The win confirms Mayo’s place – for the first time ever – in the final of the Christy Ring Cup. The decider takes place at Croke Park next weekend where Kildare will provide the opposition.
Today’s Round 5 clash was, to all intents and purposes, a semi-final tie, with the winners guaranteed to finish second in the table and so join Kildare in the decider. As they say, semi-finals are for winning and this keenly contested contest confirmed that, with the outcome still in the balance down the closing stretch.
Mayo would, though, have been very disappointed had they not come out on top as they had the edge on their Northern opponents for much of the afternoon. The opening quarter was tight, with scores traded at regular intervals, before Joe Mooney struck for the game’s opening goal to put the home side four points clear after 15 minutes.
A goal from Derry brought them right back into it but Mayo finished the half stronger and the lead was back out to four at the break.
Early in the second half, the lead stretched to six and it began to look like a comfortable enough passage to the Croke Park decider was now in prospect. Derry had other ideas, though, and by midway in the second period the lead was halved, with just three between them now.
That meant Mayo’s second goal, bagged by sub Kenny Feeney following a super pass from skipper Shane Boland, was a hugely important score. Once again the home team had a bit of breathing space but as normal time neared its end Derry fought back once again.
In little over two minutes, Derry bagged 1-2 without reply to cut the gap back to the minimum. To lose it now would have been cruel on Derek Walsh’s team but the Oakleafers looked to have timed their run to perfection and appeared well set to complete a smash-and-grab win.
But then the momentum swung back in Mayo’s favour. Derry wouldn’t score again before the final whistle while, at the other end, the home team calmly tacked on four unanswered points to close out a five-point win. Captain Shane Boland, top scorer for the team once again today with a haul of twelve points, bagged one of those closing scores.
Today’s victory sees the county’s hurlers continue what is by any measure a remarkable rise. Relegated to Division 3A of the NHL this spring, it seemed all but certain that they were in for a chastening Christy Ring Cup campaign, with the teams in the third tier Championship all of higher quality to the ones Mayo had lost to in the League.
A bad defeat to Kildare in Round 1 appeared to confirm this line of reasoning. Since then, though, they’ve ripped up the script and now, with victories banked over Wicklow, London, Sligo and Derry, they’ve made it to a first-ever Christy Ring Cup final.
What a turnaround in form that is for the team and, while Kildare will be raging favourites to prevail in the decider, Mayo will certainly be heading to Croke Park next weekend with serious momentum behind them.
This game wasn’t the only hurling success for the county today. A bit earlier on over at Adrian Freeman Park in Tooreen, the U17s beat Kildare in the Celtic Challenge semi-final. Like the Seniors, the U17s were to the fore for most of this game but a late fightback by the Lilywhites just came up short as the Mayo lads held on to win by a single point, on a scoreline of 2-8 to 0-13.
Well done to both Mayo teams on their wins today.