MAYO ladies senior footballers were crowned Connaught champions following their magnificent victory over Galway in the final played in Tuam Stadium on Sunday.
In an outstanding final, Mayo fully deserved their win as they gave a display that we haven’t seen from the ladies senior team in years.
The victory was also achieved without two players selected to start but who received late injuries. The biggest blow arrived in the warm-up before the game when former All-Star player and centre back Martha Carter dislocated her finger and had to cry off.
But the team shrugged off the pre-match blow from the off and had Galway playing catch-up for most of the game.
Without a win in the national league, where they were relegated, Mayo sent out a loud and clear message that they are back, and back with a bang. While improvement will be needed for the All-Ireland series, there was every indication on Sunday that this team has not reached near its full potential yet and we will see further improvement.
While all the senior players in the side were outstanding, the contribution made by new, young players Ciara Hanahoe, Kathyrn Sullivan, Nicola Hurst, Clodagh McMenaman, Aileen Gilroy, Carol Hegarty and Aoife Herbert was most gratifying.
Mayo got off to a dream start as with less than 60 seconds gone they had Galway goalkeeper Tina Hughes picking the ball out of the back of her net. The goal came when midfielder Fiona McHale ran at the Galway defence before off-loading to Cora Staunton. Staunton beat off two defenders before planting the ball in the net.
Galway hit back with two great points - a Tracy Leonard free and one from play by Lorna Joyce. Mayo’s outstanding corner forward Lisa Cafferkey exchanged points on two occasions with Galway’s Joyce and Annette Clarke before Mayo opened up a three-point lead for the second time after Carol Hegarty and Aileen Gilroy landed points in the 10th and 14th minutes.
In between these scores Cora Staunton almost had a second goal when she hit a thundering shot that, luckily for Galway, went the wrong side of the post.
Galway’s best player, Edel Concannon, reduced the deficit to the minimum with two fine points. Staunton and Joyce exchanged points before Cafferkey put Mayo two in front in the 23rd minute. Cafferkey’s point came moments after she was denied a goal by the brilliance of Hughes.
In a two-minute spell, Galway turned their two-point deficit into a two-point lead after Concannon struck for a point and a great goal. However, just when it looked as if the home side might have an interval lead, Mayo hit back in style.
Cora Staunton landed a great point in the 29th minute before she scored her second goal of the game 60 seconds later. This time she was picked out brilliantly by Claire Egan with a long range free and beat off her marker before hitting a low drive to the net.
A pointed free by Joyce for Galway in the 31st minute made it a one-point game again. However, it was Mayo who had the final say of the half and what a big say it was as Aileen Gilroy scored a wonderful goal in the 33rd minute.
It all started with a magnificent up-field movement involving goalkeeper Yvonne Byrne, Claire Egan, Noelle Tierney, Aoife Herbert and ending with Gilroy sending an unstoppable shot to back of the net.
This goal gave Mayo a four-point advantage, 3-7 to 1-9, at the interval, which was fully deserved by their overall performance.
On the resumption Mayo continued to dominate in most areas of the field. However, they only added two points to their tally in the third quarter, both coming from Cora Staunton frees.
They could have had the game wrapped up by this stage as they had two great goal chances. Grace Kelly had a goal at her mercy two minutes after the break but was narrowly wide and in the 42nd minute Lisa Cafferkey cut holes in the Galway defence but could only watch in agony as her shot for goal went just the wrong side of the post.
As the game entered the final quarter Galway were still very much in the game as they had narrowed the gap to three points after points from Concannon, Joyce and Aoibheann Daly.
A minute into the final quarter it looked all over for Galway after Mayo scored a fourth goal. This time it was Staunton who was the provider when, after gaining possession, she turned and twisted three defenders before picking out Fiona McHale inside the defence. The midfielder made no mistake by hitting a powerful drive to the back of the net.
Galway replied with a pointed free by Leonard before Staunton scored the point of the game in the 50th minute. Again it was a magnificent up-field movement started by goalkeeper Yvonne Byrne and involved seven other players before Staunton finished off the movement.
However, Galway refused to throw in the towel and a goal by Daly and two points from Leonard brought them within a point of Mayo with five minutes remaining.
Just when Mayo seemed to be losing their way Staunton popped up with a point before she sent in a high ball into the Galway goal area which was brilliantly fisted to the net by Carol Hegarty three minutes from time.
After this Mayo just ran down the clock before recording a full deserved five-point victory.
It was a fantastic all-round team performance with every player playing their part. There were many Mayo players in contention for my player of the match including Yvonne Byrne, Kathyrn Sullivan, Noelle Tierney, Claire Egan, Fiona McHale, Aileen Gilroy, Lisa Cafferkey and Cora Staunton. However, in the end I went for Kathyrn Sullivan who was simply outstanding from start to finish and had her finest hour ever in a Mayo shirt.
Scorers for Mayo: C. Staunton 2-6, A, Gilroy 1-1, C. Hegarty 1-1, F. McHale 1-0, L, Cafferkey 0-3.
Scorers for Galway: E. Concannon 1-6, T. Leonard 0-5, A. Daly 1-1, A. Clarke, P. Glesson, L. Joyce 0-1 each.
Mayo: Y. Byrne, M. Corbett, C. Hanahoe, D. McDonagh, K. Sullivan, N. Tierney, N. Hurst, C. Egan, F. McHale, C. McManaman, A. Gilroy, C. Hegarty, A. Herbert, C. Staunton, L. Cafferkey.
Subs used: L. Ryder, G. Kelly, C. McManaman.
Galway: T. Hughes, S. Noone, N. Ward, N. Lohan, G. Conneally, R. McPhilbin, R. Walsh, P. Glesson, A. Daly, E. Concannon, N. Fahy, L. Cohill, T. Leonard, A. Clarke, L. Joyce.
Subs used: U. Carroll, M. Coyne, B. Hannon, M. Brennan.
Referee: J. Niland (Sligo).
Player of the match: Kathryn Sullivan…outstanding from start to finish.