We’ve had bright sunshine for the last few Minor matches but this evening in Castlebar it was dull, overcast and a bit on the cool side.
Out on the pitch, though, in particular in what proved to be a rip-roaring second half, it was positively sizzling. After what had been a cagey enough opening half, this contest exploded into action after the break, with the advantage shifting one way, then the other and back again.
It needed something special to win it and, at the death, Mayo’s Tom Lydon produced the goods, banging over an exceptional point deep in stoppage time to see our lads home on a scoreline of 2-13 to 2-12.
We made one change ahead of throw-in. Full-back Eoin McGreal, who has been struggling with a muscle injury in recent weeks, didn’t start, with Seánie O’Reilly lining out instead.
We enjoyed the brighter start and within ten minutes were four points to one to the good. Colm Lynch fired over our opener in the first minute and Darragh Beirne finished a quick move for our second after they’d levelled. Josh Carey pointed after we turned over their kickout and then Tom Lydon landed our first free of the evening to push us three clear.
We continued to look comfortable enough until they scored their first goal of the evening. It was a poor score from our perspective, as their rangy full-forward Ruairí Kilcline looked isolated inside but he tapped down the long ball that was driven in and then latched on it to boot it past Conor Meaney to the net.
That score ignited the visitors. Roared on by a vocal Rossie following – they had more supporters at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park than we did – they took the game to us from then to the break, at which they deservedly went in a point in front.
They got the first two scores on the resumption too. At that stage, a goal to the good, they were looking the likelier to prevail.
A Tom Lydon free opened our account in the second half – this was our first score since the 24th minute – but we started the second period the way we’d finished the first, struggling to break down the deep lying Roscommon blanket.
Then, suddenly, we hit them twice, banging in two goals in four minutes to seize control of the contest.
Darragh Beirne got the first one. Shane Cunningham sent a lovely, raking ball in, after Rio Mortimer had pushed up aggressively to initiate the turnover, and Darragh met the pass in with his fist to guide to the net.
Shane Cunningham was also involved in the second half, energetically intercepting an attempted pass out of defence and quickly feeding Josh Carey inside. The Kiltane player collected the pass, turned and lashed it home.
But just as it looked like we’d got a stranglehold on the game, the visitors came roaring back into it. They scored the next three points, negating that second goal for us as they cut the gap to just two points.
Gavin Forry, whose persistence had created a goal scoring chance that they managed to scramble away, then fisted over after a move that saw him advance goalwards from out on the left wing.
They responded, though, with a well-worked goal. They moved the ball upfield rapidly, catching our backline out of position in the process, with the ball squared nicely for centre-back Carthy to smash it to the net to level the score with just six minutes to go.
The fat was rightly in the fire now. The exceptional Tom Lydon responded immediately, as we swept downfield from our restart and he thumped it over. He got the next one too, a delicious curler that just made it inside the posts, after we’d turned the ball over out the field.
Back, though, came the courageous Rossie lads. A point from play and a free, rather harshly brought forward for dissent after what had been a soft enough award in the first place, levelled the game once more as the clock went over into broken time.
It was anyone’s now and it was looking increasingly as if extra-time would be needed to separate the teams. We kept pushing, though, and Tom Lydon was inches away with an effort at the posts. He got a second chance, however, and this time he made no mistake, landing the point that eventually decided this enthralling contest in our favour.
So now it’s onto the Connacht final and a rematch with Galway. That’s set for Tuam Stadium next Friday evening (throw-in 7pm), with both teams also advancing to the All-Ireland quarter-final.
It was that All-Ireland series berth that made tonight’s game such an important one, which I guess was why it became the all-or-nothing contest it did. Well done to our lads and commiserations to an extremely brave Roscommon team after what was a cracking Minor match tonight.
Mayo: Conor Meaney; James Lavelle, Seánie O’Reilly, Yousif Coghill; Jamie Clarke, Rio Mortimer, Fionan O’Reilly; Tiernan Egan, Shane Cunningham; Colm Lynch (0-1), Tom Lydon (0-7, four frees), Dara Neary; Darragh Beirne (1-1), Josh Carey (1-3), Senan Guilfoyle. Subs: Eoin McGreal for Seánie O’Reilly, Gavin Forry (0-1) for Guilfoyle, Seán Walsh for Fionan O’Reilly, Thomas Tuffy for Neary, Ryan Gibbons for Carey.
Our Mayo Football Podcast Final Whistle show is now up on Patreon for club members. Rob and I are joined by Nigel Reape on it to review tonight’s game and we also look ahead to the big game tomorrow. Join the club here.