It was never going to be easy, and near the finish, it looked as if Galway might be on the point of giving away the Golden Fleece, but in the end a mixture of defiance, resilience and natural forward skills helped the Connacht champions to a deserved two-in-a-row of provincial wins over their old rivals.
It was a tense Connacht semi-final at Pearse Stadium on Sunday, and while it wasn’t without a fair dollop of mistakes from both sides, this was still a hugely entertaining encounter between two teams utterly committed to the cause.
A lusty gale blowing in from the Atlantic had a big bearing on the match and when Galway went in only a point up at half-time – after playing with the storm at their backs – they faced into one mighty second-half battle to hold their advantage.
The first-half had been a fair cauldron of intrigue and changing fortunes. Galway had started with a lot of panache, kicking three super points in the early minutes, before being caught for a sucker goal from a rebound off the post.
Eight minutes before half-time, the match was to take another dramatic turn when Cavan referee Joe McQuillan issued a straight red card to Mayo defender Keith Higgins for a knee to an uncomfortable part of the lower body of Damien Comer. The offence happened right under the nose of the official, and the decision was a simple one, even if the action was out of character for Higgins.
A few minutes later, another twist was to unfold when Galway midfielder Tom Flynn was black carded for what initially looked like a deliberate off-the-ball obstruction of Cillian O’Connor – however on closer analysis, it was clear that the Mayo full-forward ran straight into Flynn, before falling to the ground.
The end result was that Galway lost possession; they also lost Flynn; and conceded a free that Cillian O’Connor pointed in what was a serious miscarriage of justice. Maybe it was a case of a bit of ‘evening out’ in the referee’s mind, but it was simply a wrong decision.
Mayo’s somewhat fortuitous goal; the sending off of Higgins; Flynn’s black card departure (he was replaced by Gary Sice); and Galway’s fragile one point interval lead – 0-9 to 1-5 – really left this match very finely balanced for the second-half. Galway probably should have been more ahead, but they had still played well and Mayo were a man down.
There was, though, serious intent in Galway’s play and this theme was reinforced with a whirlwind start to the second-half that delivered two early points from a Sean Armstrong free, after Comer was fouled, and a neat effort from sub Eamonn Brannigan.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.