We’re the National League champions once again.
Our three-point win over Galway at Croke Park this afternoon saw us claim NFL honours for the second time in five seasons and for the thirteenth time in all. It was a deserved win too in what was in large part a rather muted contest, in which both sides tended to pull their punches, but we had more about us over the seventy minutes and a strong finish saw us home.
The celebrations afterwards were understated too, in marked contrast to the joyous aftermath of the 2019 win over Kerry. That’s no surprise, however, as we simply haven’t a moment to spare this time round, with the Roscommon game on this day week.
For all that, though, there will undoubtedly be satisfaction within the squad that we sealed the deal today. We were the form team in Division One this year and this good form cried out for a winning performance today to cap off the campaign in the appropriate way. This we provided at Croke Park today.
At a more basic level, it was also good to win a final at Croke Park. The only balm for our desperate All-Ireland final record is, of course, a Sam Maguire success but winning League finals has to be of help in achieving that ultimate objective.
This was a game we took by the scruff of the neck early on. We led from first ’till last and, even though Galway stuck with us the whole way, we managed to keep our noses in front and pulled clear coming down the closing stretch.
We owned the ball for the first two minutes. Galway unfurled the shawl to the full, all fifteen players behind the ball as we probed for an opening. The score attempt, when it finally came, ended with Diarmuid O’Connor shooting wide off his left.
We struck for two scores in as many minutes. Ryan O’Donoghue got shunted off the ball by McGrath and Colm Reape, from close to fifty yards out, lofted the opener over the bar. James Carr doubled our lead with a fine strike soon after.
Our positive opening continued when we got another free, this one close to the posts, after Fitzgerald impeded Jack Carney off the ball. Ryan stroked it over.
I remarked to Rob just then that the last thing we needed after that start was to concede a goal. We nearly did, as Galway knifed through our backline but Colm Reape was equal to Maher’s shot. Kelly claimed the loose ball and fisted it over to open their account.
We kept up the offensive, firing over three on the spin to stretch our lead to five at the end of the opening quarter. Ryan, from a mark well out on the left, Paddy Durcan and Jordan Flynn got these scores. At this stage, we were fully in control of the game.
Galway finally got moving again, their second point coming from a Shane Walsh free fifty yards out, following a foul on Paul Conroy. Soon after Galway had a second goal chance but Heaney’s shot was off target. The out-rushing Colm Reape clattered into the Galway player, earning a yellow for his trouble, and there was a long stoppage before play resumed. When it did, Walsh tapped over the 14-yard free to cut the gap to three.
Our early confidence had now deserted us. When Aidan O’Shea was fouled, Ryan screwed a straightforward enough free narrowly wide and when Walsh landed one from play from forty yards out, it felt as if the momentum had shifted strongly in favour of the Tribesmen.
This feeling was amplified when Maher, with little or no angle to work with, shot over to cut the gap to one. By now Heaney had departed the fray, with Damien Comer coming on, sooner perhaps than Galway would have wanted.
Our sense of discomfort deepened when Jack Coyne, hunted down by Walsh, essayed a back-pass that Colm had to scramble to claim but was unable to stop from going over the end line. That presented Walsh with the chance to level the game from the resultant ’45 but the kick was wide to the right of the posts.
As Walsh was shaping to shoot, I mused that there was a real chance we might yet go in behind at half-time. Instead, following that missed ’45, we closed the half with two scores from placed balls, converted by Ryan and Colm, and we took a three-point lead into the break.
David McBrien failed to reappear for the second half, with Eoghan McLaughlin replacing him as Paddy Durcan took up the role as makeshift full-back.
Rob Finnerty was to the fore on the resumption. Two points, the first from a mark and the second from open play, cut the gap once more to the minimum. He then had a chance to level the game when he claimed another mark but this time his shot was off target.
We needed a score to settle us and we nearly got a significant one. James Carr got on the ball close to the Galway goal and he shot hard and early but Gleeson pulled off a superb save to deny the Ardagh player.
Colm landed the resultant ’45 but Walsh responded in kind at the other end soon after, as this contest remained on a knife-edge.
Galway continued to look dangerous and Colm was once again called into action, batting away Tierney’s goal attempt. We were living dangerously now.
Up the other end. Aidan was fouled and, on a day where the ref decided – unlike many other officials down the years – that a foul on Aidan merited a free for us, Ryan gave us precious breathing space by knocking over the placed ball.
Soon after Aidan turned provider, punting the ball into Ryan who bravely claimed the mark out on the left, getting a belt in the face as he grabbed the ball. He rammed the resultant kick between the posts and now we were three to the good once more.
Walsh then took off on a rare trademark mazy run and pointed with ease. Then Comer burst through on goal but once again Colm was equal to the shot. Walsh’s ’45 was off target and soon after Comer’s effort for a point out on the left wing hit the upright and bounced wide.
It just seemed like a matter of time before they’d overhaul us. Cooke, finally getting a chance to strike at the posts, clipped over a delicious score from out on the right. That left just one between the teams again.
We’d brought on Tommy Conroy for James Carr by now and immediately Tommy’s blinding pace added a new dimension to our attack. This yielded the first tangible return for us when Glynn was forced to foul him and Ryan did the rest from the free.
Comer looked to have cut the gap back to the minimum from a mark but Hawk-Eye chalked his effort off. Then Tommy took off again and this resulted in another despairing foul on him. This one was in front of the posts and Ryan stroked it over.
The game was now entering injury time and it was increasingly clear that our late surge was going to prove decisive. When Jack Coyne raided forward to fire over, it was, amazingly, our first point from play in the second half. It was also, without doubt, the insurance point.
With just a minute of injury time left, Cooke had a late, late goal chance. Once again, though, Colm was equal to the shot and Walsh missed the ’45 that resulted from it. Culhane got the final score of the day but this final was now ours, as we closed out the win and, with it, our 13th National League title.
Although the emotional quotient was without doubt lower this time compared to 2019, it was nonetheless great to be there in the Lower Hogan (I was close enough to the presentation to appear on the telly, as screenshots sent to me on WhatsApp afterwards confirmed) to see Paddy get the cup and to celebrate our winning this national title. We could, you know, get used to this.
But, of course, we now need to box this win away, with our focus already having shifted to the Connacht Championship and next Sunday’s provincial quarter-final against Roscommon. As we do, however, it’s with a degree of quiet satisfaction that we’ve closed out a fully deserved Division One title.
Mayo: Colm Reape (0-3, two frees and a ’45); Jack Coyne (0-1), David McBrien, Sam Callinan; Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Matthew Ruane, Diarmuid O’Connor; Fionn McDonagh, Jack Carney, Jordan Flynn (0-1); Aidan O’Shea, James Carr (0-1), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-7, five frees and two marks). Subs: Eoghan McLaughlin for McBrien, Tommy Conroy for Carr, Darren McHale for McDonagh, Bob Tuohy for Ruane, Padraig O’Hora for Coyne.
Our bumper Mayo Football Podcast Final Whistle show is online on Patreon. Recorded at Croke Park today, Rob and I savour the win and we hear post-match reaction from Stephen Rochford and analysis from Colm Keys of the Irish Independent, with Paddy Durcan’s acceptance speech too. Join the club here.
Who was our MOTM against Galway? Pick your top three performers
- Colm Reape (36%, 1,282 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (13%, 483 Votes)
- Jack Coyne (12%, 447 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (9%, 336 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (8%, 298 Votes)
- Sam Callinan (7%, 239 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (5%, 173 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (3%, 116 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (1%, 39 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (1%, 30 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 24 Votes)
- James Carr (1%, 23 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (1%, 22 Votes)
- Jack Carney (1%, 19 Votes)
- David McBrien (1%, 18 Votes)
- Bob Tuohy (0%, 13 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (0%, 10 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (0%, 9 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (0%, 9 Votes)
- Darren McHale (0%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,666