Mayo capture the Nestor Cup after five-year wait
Mayo are Connaught senior football champions for the first time in five years thanks to a 0-14 to 0-13 victory over great rivals Galway in Pearse Stadium this afternoon.
It went right down to the wire and was a marked difference to the last time the teams met in Tuam for a league game a month ago, when Mayo won by 3-23 to 0-17.
That was a Galway team missing a number of top players, however, and today's game was always going to take on a different hue with Padraic Joyce able to call upon some of his top names again.
One of them, Shane Walsh, was arguably the game's standout player and was a huge threat to Mayo every time he got his hands on the ball. He scored seven points in total and two of them in the second half were simply sublime.
That said, Mayo were tigerish in defence. Chris Barrett, Oisín Mullin, Lee Keegan and Stephen Coen battle non-stop, while wing-backs Paddy Durcan and Eoghan McLaughlin drove forward time after time as well as carrying out their defensive duties.
At the other end there was a good spread of scores. While Cillian O'Connor wasn't the free-scoring machine he had been over the previous two Sundays, he did chip in with four important scores, including two frees in the second half when Galway were coming on strong.
Tommy Conroy scored three from play while Bryan Walsh, a half-time substitute landed two scores after replacing Ryan O'Donoghue at the big break.
The game won't be remembered as a classic but it there was great cut and thrust, with both teams giving everything to the cause. Matthew Ruane ran himself ragged and scored two fine points, one in either half, while Conor Loftus cut a more subdued figure than in recent weeks but still had some fine moments, as did Jordan Flynn, his replacement, and Keith Higgins, who helped see Mayo home.
Galway had chances to draw level but the aforementioned Shane Walsh missed two difficult frees from tight on the right-hand side in injury time.
He did kick one over from just outside 13 metres and it was very nearly a shot from the penalty spot he was taking as Eoghan McLaughlin took down Sean Kelly as he bore down on goal, the Mayo man earning a black card for his intervention.
But Mayo clung on, and a Mayo captain – Aidan O'Shea in this instance – lifted the Nestor Cup for the first time since 2015.
A lead of three points (0-8 to 0-5) at half-time was worrying, especially given the amount of possession Mayo had enjoyed.
There was plenty to admire about Mayo's play in that first half – the effectiveness of the tackling, the forcing of turnovers, the running off the shoulder – but there was also a marked failure to really put pressure on the Galway full-back line.
There was only one goal chance, and that came in the very first minute when Cillian O'Connor worked some space for a shot that Galway 'keeper Bernard Power blocked with his feet. Beyond that it was difficult for Mayo to make inroads against the Galway defence, even though the Tribesmen lost Johnny Duane to injury.
With Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor often dropping deep around the middle, there frequently wasn't much to aim for inside.
That said, Mayo didn't lack possession, but a tally of six wides didn't help the cause.
Still, some of the scores were excellent, especially successive efforts by Diarmuid O'Connor and Paddy Durcan either side of the quarter-hour mark, with Tommy Conroy (two), Cillian O'Connor (two, one free), Matthew Ruane and Ryan O'Donoghue also chipping in with scores.
Galway didn't get much ball into the forward division but were more economical when they did, Walsh was a danger. He scored three of their first-half points (two frees), with Paul Kelly and Dessie Conneely landing the other two, but Mayo were thankful that Walsh was a little of target at the end of the game as they did just enough to get over the line.
Mayo: David Clarke; Oisín Mullin, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan; Patrick Durcan (0-1), Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin; Conor Loftus, Matthew Ruane (0-2); Kevin McLoughlin, Ryan O'Donoghue (0-1), Diarmuid O'Connor (0-1); Tommy Conroy (0-3), Aidan O'Shea, Cillian O'Connor (0-4). Subs used: Bryan Walsh (0-2), Jordan Flynn, Keith Higgins.
Galway: Bernard Power; Seán Kelly, Seán Mulkerrin, Johnny Heaney; Liam Silke, Johnny Duane, Cillian McDaid; Cein D’Arcy, Gary O'Donnell (0-1); Paul Kelly (0-1), Paul Conroy (0-3), Michael Daly; Ian Burke, Shane Walsh (0-7), Dessie Conneely (0-1). Subs used: Ronan Steede, Gareth Bradshaw, Kieran Molloy, Damien Comer, Gary Sice.
*Pictured above, Lee Keegan in action against Sean Mulkerrin (left) and Liam Silke during the Connauht senior football championship final between Galway and Mayo at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile