When James Horan departed as Mayo manager in 2014 following his first spell in charge, he left behind an unblemished record against Galway in all competitive fixtures.
Three championship games and one league meeting were all won by an average of just under 10 points; it was a case of Galway submission as much as it was Mayo dominance back then.
More than four years on, however, and he is, of course, facing a much different dynamic.
He may still point to an unbeaten record, though, as it took penalties to divide the sides yesterday in this FBD semi-final in Tuam after they ended level at full-time.
However, after five successive defeats to the Tribesmen in all competitions, this was one they would have felt added incentive to win. Unwanted records like that can have a corrosive effect on a team if they linger for too long, irrespective of the status of the competition.
It can’t be too irrelevant if over an estimated 6,500 are drawn to Tuam Stadium on the second Sunday in January for a pre-season provincial semi-final. As Galway manager Kevin Walsh rightly pointed afterwards, this now reflects a buoyant province with three teams competing in the top flight.
It made for a great atmosphere and got a predictable end with Mayo, for the second successive weekend, losing a substantial lead to be dragged into a penalty shoot-out. The novelty is wearing thin.
In the end, Galway goalkeeper Maghnus Breathnach saved twice from Diarmuid O’Connor and Andy Moran, allowing Thomas Flynn to step forward and convert their fourth penalty to win it, after Liam Silke, Johnny Heaney and Barry McHugh (below) had all been successful. Brian Reape and James Kelly had scored for Mayo.
For Breathnach, it justified his decision to make himself available for this fixture, despite his club An Spidéal’s All-Ireland intermediate semi-final just six days later.
Walsh had four Corofin players available as well, suggesting afterwards that future involvement before their club semi-final in five weeks would be down to themselves.
Clearly, this is a team that few in their position want to disengage from for too long.
Galway were without their three chief attacking pillars, Damien Comer, Ian Burke and Shane Walsh, but got a significant impact off the bench from Michael Daly which brought them back into contention in the last quarter. Daly’s 2018 was badly disrupted by injury, but on this fleeting evidence, there’s a big season ahead for him.
Mayo were never behind but struggled in the last quarter after building a lead that stretched to six points, 1-5 to 0-2, at one stage in the first-half, when Jason Doherty scored the only goal.
It was a measure of compensation for Doherty, who judged the bounce from Michael Plunkett’s delivery better than Declan Kyne to collect over the defender and beat Breathnach from close range on 28 minutes.
Earlier in the half, Doherty had caught cleanly from a similarly long delivery and had peeled away in pursuit of goal when referee Paddy Neilan signalled for the mark.
The opportunity was lost, naturally provoking a reaction afterwards from Horan, who wasn’t being convinced by two of their nine points being sourced from marks – Doherty’s in this instance and Conor Diskin earlier on.
“If he wasn’t pulled back there, we had a two-on-one for goal, so I’d say you might get a couple of marks and scores from it, but you’d reduce the number of goal chances,” Horan said.
“Even there, David Drake caught a defensive mark and if he’d attacked with it, he was gone. But you win it and you stop, everyone resets, so it’s slowing down the game from that point of view.”
His opposition to the handpass restriction has been well flagged and here there was sufficient evidence of the confusion it generates.
By our count, eight sequences went to four handpasses, but only half were detected. Beyond that there were the occasions when a player had possession in a good position with an overlap on to, potentially, create a goal chance, but had to stop and redirect to kick, thereby losing the momentum.
One Mayo move in the 54th minute that saw Stephen Coen have to check back before being turned over was the perfect example, while Liam Silke might have used the option of a further handpass when he blazed wide later on. However, while managers and players dislike the uncertainty, supporters seem to warm to the slightly more chaotic play on view and the fact that players are being asked to think a little differently.
“It is very hard for referees and it’s unfair to put them in that situation,” said Walsh.
“I think there was even a sideline that went backwards that wasn’t pulled either. It’s impossible for referees to see all that.
“I wouldn’t mind if it was going to improve the game, you would take a chance on it. I do appreciate that people are trying to make it a better spectacle, but I do question the wisdom of what was put in front of us.”
Mayo led by 1-5 to 0-3 at the break, scoring their goal when Galway’s Frankie Burke was sinbinned.
Donal Vaughan was black carded in the second-half, but Mayo looked like they would prevail and getting Andy Moran and Lee Keegan on for the second-half was evidence of how they wanted to.
Cillian McDaid, in his first game since returning from AFL, showed plenty of power in the opening half, Thomas Flynn was industrious, while Barry McHugh’s opportunism was notable.
For Mayo, Brian Reape made good decisions on the ball, scoring three points, while Fionn McDonagh had his moments, but once again the team’s failure to close out the deal will be irritating.
Scorers – Mayo: J Doherty 1-4 (3f, 0-1m), B Reape 0-3, C Diskin 0-2 Galway: B McHugh 1-6 (4f 0-1 45), J Daly 0-2 (1f), M Daly 0-1
Mayo – R Hennelly; K Higgins, B Harrison, D Drake; C Boyle, M Plunkett, J McCormack; D Vaughan, D O’Connor; F McDonagh, C Loftus, F Boland; C Diskin, B Reape, J Doherty. Subs: A Moran for Loftus (h-t), C O’Shea for Boland (48), S Coen for McCormack (53), L Keegan for Doherty (63), J Kelly for Drake (72).
Galway – M Breathnach; D Kyne, SA O Ceallaigh, L Silke; K Molloy, J Daly, D Wall; K Duggan, T Flynn; C McDaid, M Farragher, J Heaney; F Burke, M Boyle, B McHugh. Subs: P Cooke for Duggan (h-t), S Kelly for Molloy (42), M Daly for Farragher (49), G O’Donnell for Wall (52), E Kerin for J Daly (60)
Ref – P Neilan (Roscommon)