Joyce makes Mayo pay as Galway take pole position
Galway 2-9 Mayo 1-11
THE ULTIMATE paradox. It took a worsening of the weather to drag some quality out of this latest western stand-off in McHale Park, Castlebar.
A terrific finale saw Galway squeeze home as Padraic Joyce pounced on David Clarke's undercooked quick kick-out in injury-time to condemn the Mayo goalkeeper to the ultimate punishment.
It was a sickening way for Mayo to lose a game they should have coaxed something from as they had been on the front foot at the other end only a minute earlier when a promising move had broken down.
But in defeat, Mayo may actually take more from this than Galway do in victory. Their hunger and energy in the second-half, in pursuit of a three point deficit against a stiffening gale and driving sleet and snow, will stand them well in the weeks and months ahead.
The win puts Galway in pole position to claim a place in the Division 1 final as they prepare to welcome Kerry to Salthill next weekend.
Their level of performance tapered off somewhat from the Derry game seven days earlier but given the familiarity built up between these players and teams over the last few years that was no surprise.
Traditionally Mayo and Galway have a reputation for purity but they seem to bring the worst out of each other lately and there is a cynical, negative undertone to any meeting between them now. Over 30 frees in the first alone yesterday that point was very much illustrated.
The two goals, first from Mayo's Andy Moran on 21 minutes after a superb sweeping move involving five players that lanced open the Galway defence and then Fiachra Breathnach's equally impressive effort after Michael Meehan's slide rule pass some 12 minutes later at the other end, were like shafts of sunlight creeping through a mass of dark cloud. It was awful stuff.
Mayo led by just a point, 1-4 to 1-3, having played with the wind and that left them in a perilous state, exposed to the potential of a much bigger beating.
However, the second-half was illuminated by some wonderful commitment as the free count dropped and the play flowed.
Joyce was the truly the architect of so many productive Galway moves and as he passed the milestone of his 32nd birthday this week questions parked against his competitiveness at this level now have to be removed.
Liam Sammon's admiration for Joyce was pronounced afterwards, erasing doubts that he had other ideas for the former Footballer of the Year at one stage.
"He had a wonderful game. Any time he got that ball he was a threat. His leadership, everything about his play were great, he's playing super football. Age doesn't come into it," beamed Sammon.
His delivery to and understanding with Meehan was once again a feature of Galway's play and was the cornerstone of Mattie Clancy's goal four minutes into the second-half after Clarke had saved superbly from Meehan.
That left Galway two points clear (2-3 to 1-4) and when Meehan followed up with a point after the impressive Darren Mullahy was hauled down the signs for the home side were ominous. But Mayo battled bravely against the elements and poured forward with such fury and abandon that three of their defenders -- David Heaney, Colm Boyle and Kieran Conroy -- scored points from within 25 metres.
Ultimately that movement left them a little exposed at the back where they had trouble curtailing Meehan though Keith Higgins had some success when he switched back.
Twice in the closing stages Mayo forged ahead by a point but Galway had their measure with Joyce restoring the lead on both occasions.
Mayo manager John O'Mahony admitted the events of the last few minutes will provide the focus for much reflection. But he had a different take on where the game may have been coughed up.
"I would have felt the period just before half-time was just as crucial for us. We had a five point lead and we let it back to a point.
"It's still a very good learning field for both Galway and ourselves," said O'Mahony who estimated that just six of his team figured in last year's championship meeting with Galway.
"Of all the League games that was as close to a championship encounter as we will get at this time of year.
"Our attention turns to securing safety now and beating Tyrone. It's going to be a monumental game for us."
Scorers -- Galway: M Meehan 0-4 (3f); F Breathnach, M Clancy 1-0 each; P Joyce 0-2; G Sice, C Bane, P Conroy 0-1 each. Mayo: A Moran 1-0; A O'Malley 0-3 (3f); C Mortimer 0-2 (1f); J Gill, A Dillon (1f), T Parsons, D Heaney, C Boyle, K Conroy all 0-1 each.
Galway -- P Doherty; K Fitzgerald, F Hanley, D Burke; G Sice, N Coyne, D Mullahy; J Bergin, B Cullinane; D Dunleavy, P Joyce, D Meehan; M Clancy, M Meehan, F Breathnach. Subs: C Bane for Coyne (7), P Conroy for Bergin (38), N Joyce for Bane (47), E Hoare for N Joyce (64).
Mayo -- D Clarke; T Cunniffe, K Conroy, C Byle; D Heaney, T Howley, K Higgins; R McGarrity, T Parsons; J Gill, A Dillon, P Harte; C Mortimer, A O'Malley, A Moran. Subs: B Moran for Harte (44), P Kelly for Cunniffe (46), M Ronaldson for B Moran (65).
Ref -- D Fahy (Longford).