Peadar points Mayo to Connacht crown

By Liam Carroll

Football

All roads led to Salthill last weekend, as Mayo fans set upon the N17 and the N84 praying that their team would clinch a first Championship victory over their next-door neighbours at the Pearse Stadium venue for the first time since 1967.

Few of the Mayo faithful in attendance today will remember that historic day where they knocked out then three-in-a-row champions Galway, which to put into perspective how long ago this achievement was followed two years later by the moon landing, and Ireland’s 1973 entry into the EEC.

In what was this year’s only provincial final between two first division sides, the bookies made an even money game. To reach the Connacht final, John O’Mahony’s Mayo side annihilated New York and Roscommon, while the Tribesmen defeated London and Sligo unconvincingly.

So much was at stake on Sunday. Not only would the victorious captain lay hands on the coveted Nestor Cup, but the winners would catapult immediately into the All-Ireland Quarter Finals, where they would avoid the bigger guns like the other provincial champions. The losers would face a mammoth task in rescuing their Championship aspirations as a mere six day turn around would be granted to the runners-up.

Mayo started the brightest, taking the first two scores of the game, aided heavily by the breeze. John O’Mahony’s side took full advantage of the wind in the opening period, sending in long balls to Barry Moran and the giant Aidan O’Shea.

Mayo’s tireless Kilcoyne had a fantastic chance on the fifth minute to grab the game’s opening goal, but his low shot dragged slightly wide of Adrian Faherty’s goal. Pat Harte’s effort on the 17th minute then cannoned after the crossbar after some great individual play from the Ballina midfielder.

Though, Mayo didn’t have to wait much longer to at last hit the net. Ronan McGarrity drifted a tricky high ball into the Galway full-back line and Barry Moran who caused problems for the Galway line all day rose the highest to steer the ball home. Alan Dillon then quickly stole another point and suddenly Mayo had found themselves with a 1-06 to 0-03 lead over the Connacht champions.

Nicky Joyce was Galway’s only real glimmer of hope in a frustrating first period for the Tribesmen. The Killernin man scored four points on his return to the Galway fold after being left out of the panel in their semi-final win over Sligo for disciplinary reasons.

It was a different story for the red and green of Mayo, as they marked a productive first 35 minutes where all of their six forwards went in at the break with their names etched on the scoresheet.

Despite leading by 1-9 to 0-7, one could never believe that the game was out of sight for the Tribesmen. The breeze coming in over Galway Bay was telling, and was a potential platform for Galway to keep the dreams of Connacht glory alive.

Galway began to eat into Mayo’s lead early in the first half with points from Nicky Joyce and a placed ball from Michael Meehan. As the contest began to get even more tense both sides were guilty of persistent fouling and some poor wides.

Mayo were almost out of sight with eight minutes remaining as substitute Conor Mortimer was played in with a superbly weighted pass from his man-of-the-match brother Trevor to open up a massive 2-11 to 0-10 lead. Mortimer’s goal celebration was somewhat unknown to the regular football spectator as he revealed a homemade t-shirt displaying “R.I.P. Michael Jackson”.

Galway fans would be forgiven for thinking that this opportunity of clinching the Nestor cup was out of grasp, but the Galway forwards had other ideas. Michael Meehan responded by kicking a beautiful free and had an effort on goal well saved over the crossbar by Mayo goalkeeper Kenneth O’Malley. Going into injury time Galway were trailing by three points.

Then the late drama unfolded.

The fatigue in the Mayo defence was evident as they foolishly gave away possession to the opposing midfield and the ball was boomed into Michael Meehan who made no mistake in turning Ger Cafferky and beating O’Malley with a low hard shot to the corner. Pearse Stadium was in raptures and fans were already making plans for a replay in Castlebar.

However, there was time for a final twist in the tale as Mayo won a long range free which Conor Mortimer quickly and intelligently offloaded to the flying Peadar Gardiner who dissected the posts to clinch a 42nd Connacht crown for the Mayo men.

There was an onslaught of Mayo fans onto the turf with Gardiner’s kick that will be written in Mayo folklore for years to come. John O’Mahony will know that his side were lucky to escape with victory after a second half where they were entirely off the boil and invited so much pressure from a very capable Galway forward line.

The game finished Galway 1-14, Mayo 2-12 which interestingly was the same score in the match- up between the teams last year, but it was Galway who had the latter score.

Mayo’s victory ensured that they would be entered directly into the quarter-final draw. Galway will attempt to reach the quarter-finals via the scenic route as they face Donegal in Sligo today.

Liam Sammon makes two changes to the team that was left broken hearted by Mayo last week. Kieran Fitgerald starts ahead of Niall Coyne at full back, and Matthew Clancy comes in at corner forward. Gary Sice loses out to Clancy as a result of Sammon’s shuffle.

Doherty’s Donegal were very much unfancied to reach this stage after losing to Antrim and stumbling over Clare and Carlow, but sent Derry packing even though the Oak Leafers went into last Saturday’s game raging hot favourites. Perhaps Donegal need a big named team to motivate themselves to produce a performance and if such is the case, Galway will find it difficult to penetrate the Tir Chonaill men.

In the other provincial final last week, Tyrone lay their red hands on the Ulster Championship for the twelfth time in their history as they defeated Division 4 side Antrim by 1-18 to 15 points. Like Mayo, Tyrone with provincial success booked their place in August Bank Holiday Weekend’s quarter finals, but Antrim will play Kerry on Sunday in Qualifier Round 4.

Kerry were lucky to escape with victory over Kevin Walsh’s Sligo side last weekend, and a Jack O’Connor plans a massive change in personnel for the clash with Antrim to avoid another lacklustre performance. Double All-Star winners Colm “Gooch” Cooper and Tomas O’Se are all set to miss out, as well as Twin Towers Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh who will be forced to sit out through injury.

This weekend’s football fixtures in full:

Qualifiers Round Four:

Saturday 5 p.m. Galway v Donegal in Sligo

Saturday 7 p.m. Kildare v Wicklow in Portlaoise

Sunday 2 p.m. Antrim v Kerry in Tullamore

Qualifiers Round Three:

Saturday 7 p.m. Meath v Roscommon in Navan

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