From a Mayo perspective you can’t beat Galway often enough or by enough but after today’s utter destruction of the Tribesmen at Pearse Stadium it’s difficult not to feel just a little sated. The thrashing we handed out to Alan Mulholland’s hapless home side bore a strong similarity to the mauling we gave Leitrim in our first championship outing last year, such was the gulf in class between the sides at Salthill today. While this afternoon’s performance wasn’t perfect in every respect, it was good enough to have a massive seventeen points to spare over the Tribesmen, as we recorded our biggest win over them since 1907. As someone who is old enough to remember a good few bad days against the Herrin Chokers, it’s great to have been there today to see us destroy them in the emphatic way we did.
It’s easy to be wise after the event but anyone observing the two teams’ pre-match warm-ups couldn’t but be taken by the stark difference in how the two went about their respective pre-match calesthenics. Our prep was all cones, bibs and small-sided conditioned games with everyone working hard in what was obviously a carefully planned routine. Galway, by comparison, started with cave man stuff involving the entire panel doing dashes from the 21-yard line to the end-line and back again followed by some aimless pot-shots at the posts. Having watched all this from the stand – which seemed to be full of our supporters – I couldn’t wait for the action to start.
And when it did we tore into them with ferocity and never let them get any kind of jump on us early on. Points from Alan Dillon – in for Darren Coen from the start, with Tom Cunniffe also starting in place of Kevin Keane – and Donal Vaughan got us going and during this early period of the game the confident way we were moving the ball at pace already augured well for our prospects.
We were also tackling tigerishly all over the place, contesting every ball and executing a number of stirring turnovers. And when the ball passed our end-line, David Clarke’s varied kick-outs repeatedly became the starting point for a series of raiding attacks.
Meehan got Galway going from a free but Cillian O’Connor – who was magnificent today, picking up RTÉ’s Man of the Match award for his efforts – responded in kind to restore our two-point advantage. Conroy pointed for them and then Enda Varley, set up by Cathal Carolan, smashed over a sweet point from well out. Alan Freeman added another to stretch the gap to three but Meehan added a third free soon after for them.
The danger of an early exocet having been dealt with, we now began to move with menace and the first big breakthrough for us came when Cathal Carolan showed great persistence to chase a ball that he had almost lost control of but which he ended up poking into the corner of Manus Breathnach’s net.
Photo: Mayo Mick
Galway got the next score – a Cummins point from play – but we then tacked on three unanswered points – two from Cillian, the second a free, and another from play from Alan Dillon – to surge seven points clear and the gap was soon up to ten when Cillian cleverly set up Enda Varley whose piledriver put a fair old bulge in the net.
Photo: Mayo Mick
We were now rampant and Enda followed up his goal with a stunning left-footed point from way out. Galway managed to nick one back at the other end but then the house fell in on them again when another sweeping move ended up with Cillian sending Donie in on the unguarded goal for the Gaelic football equivalent of a try under the posts. Another Meehan free ended the scoring in the first half but it was transparently the case that Galway’s challenge had also been ended by that stage.
Photo: Mayo Mick
We’d picked up a number of yellows from the picky Marty Duffy in the first half and when we emerged after the break one of these – full-back Ger Cafferkey – had given way to Shane McHale. This switch seemed to be prompted by concerns that the card count at that stage left us in danger of losing someone to a stupid red. There were reds to come alright but, as Galway’s day went from bad to disastrous, it was two of their lads who had to make the long walk.
The first to go was Garreth Bradshaw for a strike on Cathal Carolan after what can only be described as an assault on Kevin McLoughlin shortly after the start of the second half. As we were breaking forward, the Knockmore man was wrestled to the ground and in the afters the Galway skipper threw a punch on Carolan. Linesman Martin Higgins had a word with Duffy and this was enough for Bradshaw to get a straight red, thus extinguishing any faint hopes the Tribesmen may have had of a recovery.
Photo: Mayo Mick
Despite this, they tacked on three unaswered points before Cillian popped over another free to open our second half account. But then Niall Coleman – in an act of quite staggering stupidity – punched Alan Dillon in the gut straight in front of Marty Duffy and even he could see that this one was a straight red.
With Galway now reduced to a rabble – Paul Conroy was damn lucky not to follow the other two eejits when he got into a tussle with Aidan O’Shea – the only question to be resolved was how big the humiliation was going to be. Another Cillian free and a point from play from Lee Keegan extended our lead, with Shane Walsh responding with a free at the other end for them.
James was now focused on emptying his bench, with Darren Coen coming on for Alan Dillon, Richie Feeney for Alan Freeman and James Burke replacing the unexpectedly muted Lee Keegan. But the biggest stir around the stadium – with all the intensity gone from the match – came as Andy Moran readied himself to make his first appearance for the county since last August, as he came on for Cathal Carolan with ten minutes left on the clock.
Photo: Mayo Mick
We continued to pile on the misery, with Richie Feeney, Darren Coen, Enda Varley and Cillian all pointing, but it was obvious in the way we were swarming all over them in those closing minutes that the only thing left on the lads’ agenda now was to complete the humiliation with a fourth goal. When it came, though, it was like one of those magic moments from a Spielberg movie with Captain Fantastic himself capping his return with a sweetly taken three-pointer. What a moment that was:
As I said at the top this wasn’t by any means a perfect performance but, by any measure, the result does represent a pretty serious statement of intent by our lads about this year’s summer campaign. Last year it wasn’t until the Down match that we started to turn up the gas and while I did in advance toss around in my head some idle thoughts about our chances of gutting Galway today, eventually I backed away from thinking that this might be what we’d see happen. I doubt that I was alone in this respect in relation to a performance that, to put it mildly, exceeded expectations somewhat.
We had a number of strong performers today. David Clarke bamboozled them early on with his varied kick-outs, he was brave on the few occasions when he needed to be and he pulled off a few important saves.
The full-back line was steady and composed, with Tom Cunniffe amply justifying his selection with a sparkling display in the corner. Donie performed very well – and not just on the scoreboard either – while Boyler was just outstanding, he’d have been my MOTM, but Lee Keegan’s performance was well below his usual high standard.
The two O’Sheas won the battles they needed to win at midfield, with Aidan growing in influence as the day went on, but the thought that this sector could be even better with Barry Moran’s return from injury shows how well endowed we currently are in the engine room.
Kevin McLoughlin was great, his three ‘dirty ball’ wins early on did much to steady us and get us on the offensive, Cillian O’Connor – a young player who is getting better and better and whose intelligence opened up so many scoring chances for us today – was simply superb and Cathal Carolan enjoyed a dream championship debut, scoring the day’s first goal and contributing handsomely besides to the win.
Enda Varley had his most productive day for the county at corner forward, with Alan Dillon – who started in the other corner before drifting out – returning to considerable effect in an attack where Alan Freeman also had his moments. Not everything went right for us in the inside line but neither did events go as badly as some of the doomsayers were claiming in advance that they might.
The subs all did well too. Shane McHale got a very useful 35 minutes of championship football under his belt, Richie made the positive contribution he always does when he came on, James Burke got a chance to show his considerable talents, Darren Coen lost his championship virginity with a lovely point and Andy’s cameo was, well, pure Hollywood.
Photo: Mayo Mick
In summary, today’s win was better than anything we could have expected and, with Galway now out of the way, the road to a hat-trick of Nestor Cup victories and football in Croke Park in August has started to peek out over the horizon for us. But first we need to focus on the improving Rossies in four weeks time and, as we do, do everthing we can to keep the lid on our expectations about what may lie ahead for us this summer after that one. Today’s win was sweet, for sure, but this campaign is only starting. Roll on the Rossies, roll on Game Two.
Mayo: David Clarke; Tom Cunniffe, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-1), Donal Vaughan (1-1), Colm Boyle; Aidan O’Shea, Seamus O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor (0-6, four frees), Cathal Carolan (1-0); Enda Varley (1-3), Alan Freeman (0-1), Alan Dillon (0-2). Subs: Shane McHale for Cafferkey, Darren Coen (0-1) for Dillon, Richie Feeney (0-1) for Freeman, James Burke for Keegan, Andy Moran (1-0) for Carolan, Jason Gibbons (blood) for Aidan O’Shea.