Late Mayo surge denies Sligo in tense showdown
MAYO 0-12 SLIGO 0-10
A CONTROVERSIAL point six minutes from time swung this disappointing Connacht Senior Football Championship final in favour of Mayo at sun-drenched Hyde Park on Sunday last.
The sides were level at nine points each and the destination of the Nestor Cup was still very much in the balance when Mayo's adventurous wing back, Colm Boyle, got on the end of a forceful move involving Andy Moran and Aidan O'Shea and dispatched a stunning shot which appeared to squeeze just inside the upright.
However, television footage later threw doubt on the legality of the score and luckless Sligo were left to reflect on what might have been after a game which fell short in terms of exceptional football but lacked nothing in intensity or endeavour.
Boyle's score gave Mayo the lead for the first time since the 4th minute and came at a crucial stage of an evenlycontested encounter. A minute later, Cillian O'Connor landed a brilliant '45' and suddenly the defending champions, who had looked so ragged for long stretches of the game, had some breathing space.
Sligo, heroic to the last, refused to throw in the towel and a pointed free by Mark Breheny cut the gap to the minimum with three minutes remaining. However, their hopes of securing their second Connacht title in five years were finally shattered when O'Shea set up Lee Keegan for the insurance score.
It was a cruel blow to Sligo who gave it their all in the energy sapping conditions but just came up short. Mayo were probably the better side over seventy minutes of uninspiring football but they were pushed all the way by the Yeats County and it was only in those dramatic closing stages that they finally stamped their authority on the exchanges.
If Boyle's contentious score was a defining moment, the introduction of Aidan O'Shea in the 42nd minute was no less influential in turning the game in Mayo's favour.
Sligo had matched Mayo's physicality and work rate up to that point but the Breaffy man added a new dynamic to his side's play and his ability to win clean possession and distribute the ball intelligently was instrumental in giving the defending Champions the upper hand in the last quarter.
With the breeze at their backs, Sligo took the game to Mayo with admirable conviction in the first half. They led 0-4 to 0-1 after 20 minutes and held a two point advantage, 0-5 to 0-3, at the end of a low scoring first period, during which both sides showed a lack of imagination in the final third of the field.
Mayo struggled to develop any sort of rhythm in the opening period and were guilty of some very poor finishing. They shot a total of eight wides in the first half, although this was due in part to Sligo's tigerish defending, best illustrated by the lion-hearted Ross Donavan, who made a succession courageous blocks.
Mayo also had a goal disallowed after 8 minutes. Andy Moran swept the ball to the net from close range but referee, Cormac Reilly, ruled that Enda Varley's handpass which set up the score was illegal. Sligo came under increasing pressure in the second half but never looked like caving in. Indeed, the sides were level on four occasions in the second period and the game had the look of a draw before Mayo's late, late surge got them over the line.
Sligo had to reshuffle their pack even before the game started as wing forward, Pat Hughes, failed a late fitness test on an injured hamstring and was replaced by David Maye.
The switch seemed to unsettle the side in the early minutes as Mayo struck for the lead score in the 4th minute, a fine effort by Danny Geraghty after a four man move.
Maye, to his credit, quickly settled into the game and marked a wholehearted effort with two excellent points against the breeze in the second half.
Despite falling behind early on and surving Moran's disallowed goal, Sligo gradually played themselves into the game. Alan Costello put them level with a massive 45m free and then Breheny curled over a free to edge them in front in the 15th minute. Two quality scores from play by David Kelly and Adrian Marren put the Yeats County three in front but it took some brave defending, couple with sloppy finishing by Mayo, to keep them ahead.
Marren sent over from a free in the 31st minute to help Sligo to a 0-5 to 0-3 lead at the interval and the early stages of the second half continued to be very tight as Andy Moran and Breheny swapped points.
O'Shea's introduction injected renewed urgency into Mayo's play and a point from a free by O'Connor and from play by the hard working Barry Moran had the sides all square at six points each by the 44th minute.
Although Mayo were playing with more fluency, dogged Sligo just wouldn't go away. Twice they edge in front with scores from Marren and Maye ('45') but each time Mayo hit back to keep the game in the balance.
Then Maye landed a brilliant 47m free following a foul on the industrious Brendan Egan and Sligo once more had the advantage.
Now it was all down to who could muster the stronger finish and three unanswered points by O'Shea, Boyle and O'Connor gave Mayo decisive momentum at a crucial stage.
Breheny's late free kept Sligo's hopes alive but Mayo were in no mood for compromise and made sure of the victory when Keegan rounded off a penetrating run with a well-taken score.
Mayo midfielder, Barry Moran, was sent off for a second bookable offence in injury time but by then the defending Champions were already home and dry.
D Clarke, K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan (0-1), D Vaughan, C Boyle (0-1); B Moran (01),D Geraghty (0-1); K McLoughlin, C O'Connor (0-3, 2f, 1'45'), A Dillon (0-2); E Varley (0-1,1f), A Moran (0-1), J Doherty. SUBS: A O'Shea (0-1) for Geraghty (42 mins), M Conroy for Varley (47 mins), A Freeman for Doherty (61 mins)
P Greene, N Ewing, J Martyn, R Donavan; C Harrison, M Quinn, P McGovern; S McManus, T Taylor; A Costello (0-1, 1f), D Maye (0-2, 1 '45', 1f), B Egan; M Breheny (0-3,2f), A Marren (0-3, 2f), D Kelly (0-1). SUBS: E O'Hara for McManus (47 mins), E Mullen for Taylor (59 mins), S Coen for Costello (63 mins), J Davey for McGovern (66 mins), D Rooney for Quinn (70 mins) VENUE: Hyde Park ATTENDANCE: 23,457 REFEREE: Mr. C Reily, Meath.