At half-time in today’s LGFA SFC quarter-final at MacHale Park it looked as if Mayo were going to beat Galway with considerable ease. The neighbours weren’t, though, prepared to bow out without a fight and it took some determined rearguard action for Michael Moyles’ team to seal a hard-fought 1-15 to 1-11 win over Galway.
After heavy rain in the west earlier on, the skies had cleared before the ball was thrown in, although the going underfoot was obviously a bit tricky. Mayo came out of the traps smartly and took the game to Galway right from the outset.
Their gameplan was based on hard work and hard running, getting the ball up the field fast where Sarah Rowe was always a good outlet. It wasn’t long before this high tempo approach started to pay significant dividends on the scoreboard.
We got the game’s opening three scores. Our first one could well have been a goal but Lisa Cafferky’s effort was well saved by the Galway ‘keeper. A Shauna Howley free, following a foul on Sarah Rowe, got us moving. A nice one from play and a free by Rachel Kearns – followed another foul on Sarah – stretched our lead to three.
Ten minutes had been played before Galway opened their account. We hit back immediately, Sarah taking possession at pace, turning and firing over. After Galway got their second, Sarah turned provider, feeding Shauna Howley, whose trusty left boot did the rest.
We added three more points without reply after the water break. Rachel, Shauna and Sarah all found the target as our lead widened to six points.
Galway pulled two back in quick succession but then Sarah bagged her third of the day, after some clever inter-play with Niamh Kelly. Soon after, Sinead Cafferkey gathered the ball out on the fifty, turned and ran hard at the Galway goal. The defence backed off her and the Kilmovee player had time to pick her spot, shooting low and hard to the net.
Galway responded with a free. Sinead had the final say of the half, however, as she executed a wonderful dummy which her marker bought hook, line and sinker, before firing over to send her team in at the break a handsome eight points to the good.
A comeback for the visitors didn’t look on the cards at that juncture. The seeds of a Galway revival had, though, already been sown with all that hard running Mayo had done in the first half. Despite injecting fresh legs into the contest throughout the second half, as the half progressed the home team increasingly lost their way as Galway roared back into contention.
Sarah Rowe’s substitution with 17 minutes left on the clock seemed a curious switch. The Kilmoremoy woman was a live wire up front, so clever on the ball, always making good use of possession and with a keen eye both for a score and a well-placed pass. When she left the fray it was surely no coincidence that our forward play looked more disjointed.
Still, we were nine points up at that stage. Scores after the break from Grace Kelly, Sinead Cafferkey and Rachel Kearns, with Galway bagging two in response (one a free) left us in a strong position as the second water break beckoned.
Before then, however, Galway broke through for a goal. In fairness, the warning signs were there as Laura Brennan had before then denied Galway twice with two well-timed saves. There was nothing the Mayo ‘keeper could do, though, about Mairéad Seoighe’s shot, which she hit early off the left, rippling the net to cut the gap to six.
Shauna responded for us with a nice one from play. This contest had, however, gone off on a different direction, with an interesting final quarter in prospect.
Galway poured forward repeatedly after that. Three points in a row for them shaved the gap back to three, with nine minutes left before the hooter would sound. We weren’t helping ourselves either, as Rachel blasted wildly wide with the goal at her mercy. It could, though, have been worse as Galway drove a relatively easy free wide at the other end.
As the seconds ticked down towards the hooter, the tension ratcheted up bit by bit. It made for nervy viewing on TV and I’d say it was nervy enough out on the pitch too. Another Galway wide, after a long period when they probed for an opening, was followed by another wide for Rachel into the bacon factory end.
The next Galway attack faltered when we won a vital interception. Sarah came back on then, her presence seemingly spreading some much-needed calmness in our ranks.
Into the final minute now, we drove forward one final time. Once more it was Sinead Cafferkey running into opposition territory where she spotted her sister Lisa raiding forward with her. Sinead laid it off nicely and Lisa applied the finish, the hooter sounding soon afterwards as Mayo won by 1-15 to 1-11.
So, like the lads, it’s now onto the All-Ireland semi-final, which takes place the same weekend as the men’s game. The similarities may not end there too, as they’re likely to face All-Ireland champions Dublin then (who are currently just ahead of Donegal at half-time in their quarter-final in Carrick-on-Shannon).
This year, under new management, represented a fresh start for the Mayo women’s team. It was always going to take more than a few months to get this team playing to its full potential, not least given the many injuries they’ve had in their ranks this year.
Getting to a League semi-final and now topping this by making it to an All-Ireland semi-final represents a solid achievement for Michael Moyles and his players. And, you know, they’re not done yet. Far from it, in fact. Well done to them on today’s win and good luck to them in the semi-final in two weeks time.
Mayo: Laura Brennan; Saoirse Lally, Dayna Finn, Roisín Durcan; Tamara O’Connor, Ciara Whyte, Kathyrn Sullivan; Niamh Kelly, Sinead Cafferky (1-2); Fiona McHale, Rachel Kearns (0-3, two frees), Sarah Rowe (0-3); Grace Kelly (0-2), Shauna Howley (0-4, one free), Lisa Cafferky (0-1). Subs: Éilis Ronayne for White, Amy Dowling for Rowe, Marie Reilly for Howley, Danielle Caldwell, Sarah Rowe for Kearns.