Brilliant Joyce lightsup Galway
Galway 2-12 Mayo 1-14
It came down to a simple statistic that these Galway players didn't want on their watch.
Galway are well used to contesting Connacht finals, but losing three in a row is something they are wholly unaccustomed to. Not since 1937 had they suffered that particular ignominy.
But that's what was staring at them in the most inglorious of circumstances midway through the second half as a seven-point lead evaporated against a rampant and ravenous Mayo spurred on by a fervent home support.
Even at the peak of his career in the late 1990s and earlier part of his decade Padraic Joyce never had a championship day against Mayo like this.
Mayo have taken pride in their ability to quell Joyce in the past on days that count but yesterday he lit all the little bonfires that eventually overwhelmed Mayo.
The Indian summer Galway's most celebrated player is enjoying continues, but Galway needed every morsel of his experience with those two valuable scores in the 53rd and 57th minutes that checked Mayo's lengthening stride just as his own team's tank looked to have emptied.
Both points brought parity for Galway, the first after Aidan Kilcoyne's goal, the second after Pat Harte had restored Mayo's advantage and while Mayo did lead again, Joyce had given leadership and a sense of defiance when others may have been invoking memories of 2006 and 2007.
Galway closed the game out with three unanswered points between the 66th and 69th minutes which were surely the legacy of their captain's earlier intervention.
In defeat however Mayo can take some consolation that things could have been a lot worse.
Just as they had done 14 months earlier in Salthill Galway hit them for two first-half goals that helped to open a seven-point lead.
Mayo's defence was in shreds and Kieran Conroy and Colm Boyle, the most inexperienced of the original sextet, were deemed the fall guys, whipped off for their inability to hold Nickey Joyce and Cormac Bane.
But others were leaking too and Galway might have had four goals as Nickey Joyce drew a great save from David Clarke and Padraic Joyce snatched a shot from a good position created by his cousin's surging run.
With Trevor Mortimer pulling up with a hamstring minutes earlier, Mayo were in some chaos and John O'Mahony must have felt like a city trader with the red graphs all shooting downwards at an alarming rate.
Ironically, Mayo were a picture of contentment early on, leading by 0-3 to 0-2 with Trevor Mortimer showing signs that he could make indentations in a flakey half-back line that missed the sweeping habits of Declan Meehan.
But the landscape changed when the elder Joyce first found his range with a point and then slalomed through a gap, that three closing defenders looked to have sealed off, stepped on to his trusted left and fired past Clarke.
Michael Meehan held possession up for a Cormac Bane point before Meehan and Mattie Clancy combined to tee up Fiachra Breathnach for a second goal on 28 minutes.
That was O'Mahony's cue for change as Aidan Higgins and Peadar Gardiner were ushered in, both to telling and immediate effect.
Whether the Mayo management had erred in placing so much faith in Conroy, a recognised club midfielder who had done well as a full-back up to this and Boyle, more noted as a wing-back, is something that will be debated in the days to come. But it underlined that that transition period O'Mahony talks of is still in its early stages.
There was much to admire about Mayo's response even before the break as their best player, Dillon and captain Ronan McGarrity pointed to reduce the gap to four 2-4 to 0-6.
A furious exchange of points marked the early stages of the second half with impressive Galway corner-back Gareth Bradshaw even getting in on the attack.
But Mayo were swarming midfield and winning most of the breaks with Dillon as the main influence, though Pat Harte, Tom Parsons, Tom Cunniffe, Kilcoyne and Conor Mortimer all threw their shoulder to the wheel with impressive force.
Billy Joe Padden was on the field now and he cut the deficit to three before Dillon punished a foul on Mortimer 48 minutes in.
Dillon had a hand in the crucial goal two minutes later, his probing free turned back inside by Parsons for Kilcoyne to finish.
Mayo sensed one of their greatest provincial final days in the making, but Galway had their own hurt to tap into and they reasserted themselves just as many of the 31,789 felt they might implode.
They were helped by Kilcoyne's spurning of a second goal chance with his hand at his opponents' throat on 59 minutes.
Armstrong, substitute Paul Conroy and Bane, Joyce's wing man in attack, all hoisted points in the closing flurry, leaving Mayo searching for a goal that was as distant as an oasis in the desert at that stage.
Galway prevailed, but both sides will recognise that Connacht is the least likely resting place for Sam Maguire in 2008.
Scorers -- Galway: P Joyce 1-3, C Bane, M Meehan (2f) 0-3 each, F Breathnach 1-0, G Bradshaw, P Conroy, S Armstrong 0-1 each. Mayo: A Dillon 0-7 (5f), A Kilcoyne 1-0, B J Padden, C Mortimer 0-2 each, T Mortimer, R McGarrity, P Harte 0-1 each.
Galway -- P Doherty 7; G Bradshaw 7, F Hanley 8, D Burke 7; N Coyne 5, D Blake 6, G Sice 7; B Cullinane 7, N Coleman 5; M Clancy 5, P Joyce 9, F Breathnach 6; C Bane 8, M Meehan 7, N Joyce 7. Subs: K Fitzgerald 6 for Coyne (35), S Armstrong 6 for Clancy (ht), P Conroy 6 for Coleman (53), M Lydon 5 for N Joyce (56), N Coleman for Breathnach (73).
Mayo -- D Clarke 7; K Conroy 5, K Higgins 7, C Boyle 5; T Cunniffe 6, D Heaney 7, J Nallen 6; R McGarrity 6, T Parsons 7; A Dillon 8, P Harte 7, T Mortimer 6; C Mortimer 7, A O'Malley 5, A Moran 6. Subs: A Kilcoyne 6 for T Mortimer, A Higgins 7 for Boyle, P Gardiner 7 for Conroy, B J Padden 7 for O'Malley, M Ronaldson for Parsons (69).
Ref -- David Coldrick (Meath).