Well, the new pitch looked bloody gorgeous.
Setting eyes on the carpet-like playing surface for the first time today, the one thought that came into my mind was that we needed to put on a display to grace the new underfoot conditions. What we got, sadly, was a performance several levels below this.
I argued on the Final Whistle podcast after the game that this was quite possibly our worst Championship performance since Longford in 2010. It was certainly up there with the relatively few ineffective displays we’ve given over the last decade and more.
We lost today to, let’s face it, an average Galway team who, on today’s showing, aren’t going to light up this summer. In fact, Roscommon will most likely beat them in the Connacht final.
We should have beaten them too but when it came to the point where we needed to take the game to them after the break, we stalled completely. Once Galway started to tack on scores we attacked in the most pedestrian manner possible, running into the Galway shawl beyond the scoring zone and then getting caught on the break.
It was all so predictable. Everyone knew they’d come with a blanket approach – as this is what won them those matches under Kevin Walsh – yet we played as if it was the first time we’d ever encountered such a novel tactic. We wasted most of the second period, going scoreless for most of it before a late, late scoring burst turned a fairly comprehensive defeat into, on the scoreboard at least, a loss by the minimum margin.
Galway got the start they would have been dreaming about, in light of the tactics they’d decided to deploy. Shane Walsh opened their account with a move initiated on the throw-in and although we equalised soon after with a Cillian O’Connor free, they then hit us with 1-2 without reply to seize the upper hand in this contest early on.
Points from Rob Finnerty and Niall Daly were followed with a goal from Johnny Heaney. Rory Byrne’s kickout beforehand had gone out over the sideline and Aidan O’Shea should definitely have cut out the ball to Heaney but the Galway player grabbed it and poked it to the net.
That did, though, stir us into action. Ryan O’Donoghue opened his account from a mark and after Comer responded for them two more Cillian frees cut the gap to three.
A full 21 minutes passed, though, before we scored our first point from play, a super effort from out on the left wing by Eoghan McLaughlin. O’Laoi was ordered to the bin in the score’s aftermath, having dragged down Cillian as we strove to counter fast having turned the ball over.
From then to half-time, we had the better of the exchanges. Diarmuid O’Connor – who started the game instead of Kevin McLoughlin – blasted over a cracker off his left to cut the gap to one but 14-man Galway were now looking to waste as much time as possible. Walsh got a charitable enough free award but spent two or three minutes getting ‘treated’ before wasting more time shaping to take the free, which he duly scored.
Ryan then made his presence felt at the other end. He bagged a screamer from out on the right wing then added a fisted effort from close in. James Carr, showing well for the ball inside, took on his man, shrugging him off as he broke clear and firing over to level the game.
We would have been the happier of the two teams at the break. We’d reeled Galway back in and with a deceptively strong wind blowing diagonally towards the Albany end, the conditions were in our favour too. I fancied us to do it from there.
We got the first score after the break too, Aidan winning a restart and feeding James Carr who fired a beauty over.
But that was the last score we’d get for a good while. By the time we notched our eleventh point, from a Cillian free, they’d added six points at the bacon factory end and were by then on the road to a well-merited win.
By now, we’d all but stalled. Galway sat back and invited us on. We made our way with glacial slowness up the lovely new pitch, where we met almost their entire team camped inside the ’45 and sought in vain to punch a way through.
Losing the battle heavily around the middle, we also enabled Galway – on the occasions they broke out – to get scores with relative ease. It must be conceded, though, that Walsh’s three placed ball efforts – two of them ‘45s – were the kind of shots we simply didn’t have in our locker today.
After Cillian’s point Galway responded with two more, blasted over gleefully by Conroy and Heaney, as they surged six clear. It was obvious now that our goose was well and truly cooked.
To the lads’ credit, they then, finally, attacked the Tribesmen with intent, but, such was the way the visitors imploded in the face of these attacks, you’d really have to wonder why we didn’t have a proper go at them sooner.
Points from Lee Keegan, Ryan, Cillian (two frees) and Kevin McLoughlin (off his right!) hauled us back to within a point. Deep in stoppage time now, it would have been a tad outrageous if we’d forced extra-time but Aiden Orme’s effort from the left tailed wide. He would have been faulted by many for taking on the shot but, six minutes into injury time, I think it was the right option and he only missed narrowly.
That was, though, our final chance and within seconds Galway were celebrating a narrow but still thoroughly deserved win. It’s their third Championship win on the spin over us at MacHale Park, a venue that, new pitch notwithstanding, is still a place where we rarely perform at our best.
And, as we all know, we were far from our best today. Now, out of Connacht and with a six-week wait for the qualifiers, we’ve plenty of time to brood and, one hopes, to plan for a second coming in this Championship.
If we look on the bright side, our injury situation should be much improved by then but unless we can perform some kind of open heart surgery on our tactics it’s hard to see us improving to any great degree. And if we don’t improve, we won’t go much further. It could well prove to be, in an already condensed Championship, a short summer’s football for us.
Mayo: Rory Byrne; Lee Keegan (0-1), Oisín Mullin, Padraig O’Hora; Stephen Coen, Michael Plunkett, Eoghan McLaughlin (0-1); Aidan O’Shea, Matthew Ruane; Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1); Ryan O’Donoghue (0-4, one a mark), Conor Loftus; James Carr (0-2), Jason Doherty, Cillian O’Connor (0-6, frees). Subs: Enda Hession for Mullin, Aiden Orme for Doherty, Jack Carney for Loftus, Kevin McLoughlin (0-1) for Coen, Darren McHale for Carr.
Who was our MOTM against Galway? Pick your top three performers
- Ryan O'Donoghue (18%, 489 Votes)
- James Carr (14%, 391 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (14%, 385 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (10%, 270 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (9%, 258 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (9%, 255 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (9%, 253 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (4%, 99 Votes)
- Rory Byrne (3%, 75 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 37 Votes)
- Darren McHale (1%, 37 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (1%, 37 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (1%, 34 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (1%, 31 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 29 Votes)
- Oisín Mullin (1%, 21 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (1%, 20 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 16 Votes)
- Jack Carney (0%, 12 Votes)
- Enda Hession (0%, 10 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,400