After three wins on the spin in the round-robin phase of this year’s Connacht U17 Championship coming into this game, Mayo’s meeting this evening with Galway at Tuam Stadium was expected to be a step up for them. If it was, then it was a challenge they were ready for as they blew their opponents away, winning emphatically by fourteen points on a scoreline of 1-15 to 0-4.
Having missed the team’s opening three matches over the last three weeks – I was driving up from the west when two of the games were on and I was away for the other one – I was really looking forward to seeing this young Mayo team in action. I’d heard they were good but what I saw on the Connacht GAA stream this evening went well beyond my expectations.
In what was initially a cagey contest, with both sides funnelling numbers back and crowding their backlines, Mayo laid the foundations for victory with an exhibition of resolute defending in the first half. Rio Mortimer – what a talent this kid is – and Lorcan Silke were excellent in a full back line where John MacMonagle put in an imperious opening half, repeatedly turning over the ball and getting his side moving.
Galway had the first score on the board before I settled down to watch the stream – in which Mike Finnerty was on commentary, with Declan O’Reilly riding shotgun – but that was their only score until the sixth minute of the second half. By then, our lads were all but out the gate.
We took a while, though, to trouble the scoreboard ourselves. It was only after a long period of cautious probing by both teams – with both of them missing half-chances for goals early on – that we eventually opened our account. We did it with a fine score too, Rio Mortimer feeding Jack Keane who struck it over sweetly from distance.
That score got us going and further points followed in quick succession. Niall Hurley (a mark) and Ronan Clarke, stroking it over languidly after he’d claimed possession when a long ball broke kindly for him, edged us two clear.
The lively Hurley was on the scoresheet again soon after, his Claremorris clubmate Rio Mortimer bagging another assist, as Niall skipped by the flailing Galway cover and pointed impressively.
The Mayo lads were now visibly growing in confidence, taking the game with more intent to what was already a slightly rattled home team. Diarmuid Duffy, whose storming runs forward were a feature of the Mayo attack, was taken out of it after he’d offloaded the ball and the Galway no.4 was black carded for the foul.
Mayo’s ‘keeper David Dolan trotted up to take the free, which was close to the ’45 metre mark. Despite the wind blowing against him he drove it over. Then on the stroke of half-time the Balla netminder repeated the dose, this time from further out on the wing, the ball dipping over and landing on the roof of the net.
With Galway still down a man for the opening seven minutes of the second half, the visitors opened the second period on the offensive. The scores arrived rapidly.
Diarmuid Duffy got the first one and then James Maheady exploded into the contest, driving over two points, one off each foot, the second of which, off his left from distance, was a real peach.
Galway, via an Eanna Monaghan free, eventually ended their scoring drought. By now, though, it was clear they were facing an uphill battle. Another Monaghan free was responded to with a third point from James Maheady at the other end.
Galway, via a Curley mark, replied to that one. That score, bagged on the 41st minute, was, though, the home side’s final one of the evening.
We then moved to put the contest to bed. Diarmuid Duffy’s eye-catching runs were already a feature of this game and when he bore down on the Galway goal with his latest one it was clear what his intent was. His shot was emphatic and the goal put us nine clear.
From then to finish, it was a canter for Seán Deane’s charges. Not that the lads eased off – far from it, in fact, as this hard-working unit simply kept going about their business, with Galway’s resolve utterly broken well before the finish.
Further scores from Niall Hurley, Diarmuid Duffy (two, the second an outrageous outside of the boot effort), Ronan Clarke, Rio Mortimer (which cannoned over off the left-hand post) and sub Dylan Gallagher closed out a seriously impressive win for the Mayo lads.
With four wins from four in the round-robin phase, Mayo now go forward to the Connacht final, where they may well end up crossing swords with tonight’s opponents once again. Galway still have another round-robin game to play and, assuming they win that, a semi-final the weekend after that before they can think about jousting with tonight’s victors for a second time.
The format of the U17 Championship means that Mayo are now guaranteed two more days out, as both provincial finalists go forward to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. This year it’s Connacht v Leinster so, with their place in the All-Ireland Series now secured, Seán Deane and his colleagues can start to turn their minds to the challenges that await there.
Tonight, though, the team’s management and the lads themselves can take pride in what was, by any measure, a very impressive outing. Following our recent travails at Senior level and the daft manner in which our U20 campaign became derailed, this big win by the U17s is a nice shot in the arm for the county, not least in light of the manner of the victory and the hints they’ve shown of emerging talent in the ranks.
Well done to the lads and here’s to more positive days head for them.
Mayo: David Dolan (0-2, frees); Rio Mortimer (0-1), John MacGonagle, Lorcan Silke; Liam Maloney, Colm McHale, Paul Gilmore; Jack Keane (0-1), Luke Feeney; James Maheady (0-3), Zac Collins, Diarmuid Duffy (1-2); Cathal Keavney, Ronan Clarke (0-2), Niall Hurley (0-3, one a mark). Subs: Dara Hurley for Collins, Dylan Gallagher (0-1) for Keane, Seán O’Dowd for Maheady, Oliver Armstrong for Feeney.
Club members on Patreon will be able to tune into our ‘Final Whistle’ podcast later on this evening. Mike Finnerty will be reviewing the game on it with Nigel Reape and the pod will also feature Mayo manager, Seán Deane.