Connacht SFC quarter-final: Another setback leaves Mayo on the brink
Galway 1-12 Mayo 0-12
What now for Mayo? Can they resurrect their All-Ireland ambitions, as they did after early Connacht championships exits in the last two seasons, or will their dream of ending the All-Ireland drought be blown up on the landmined roads that criss-cross the qualifiers?
Those were the questions being posed among the sell-out crowd of 31,235 as they left Elverys MacHale Park after watching Galway complete their first Connacht three-in-a-row success over their great rivals since 1982-83-84.
They did it by using the same template that took them to the Allianz League final last month, locking down the approach routes to their own goal and hitting on the break. Mayo did the same when reduced to 14 men after Diarmuid O'Connor was sent off on a straight card for elbowing Paul Conroy in the 29th minute.
It led to long periods of turgid action, with the ball being handpassed endlessly across the pitch by whichever side was in possession. Ugly to watch and, frankly, not very productive either, it typified everything that has gone wrong with the modern game.
Not that Galway will mind as their conservative approach, which continued after O'Connor's departure, helped them to keep their goal intact for the eighth time in nine league and championship outings this year.
It's a case of the ends justifying the means but serious questions would be asked if Mayo had won. Surely more use can be made of an extra man, even if the opposition are backing off in a defensive funnel.
The hit on Conroy ended his day, but Galway were able to replace him with Peter Cooke, who turned in a solid performance.
Mayo did all they could to disguise the numerical disadvantage and looked as if they might get away with it when the game was level in the fourth minute of added time (eight minutes were played after a lengthy stoppage for a very serious leg injury suffered by Tom Parsons in the 49th minute) before Johnny Heaney struck for the tie-breaking goal.
It was the creative highlight of a second half which, up to then, had yielded only nine points (0-5 to 0-4 to Mayo).
Having played with the wind, Galway led by 0-7 to 0-6 at the interval after a half which meandered along in a defensive haze.
Given Galway's style of play, playing against the wind isn't usually a problem so their supporters would have expected the numerical advantage to make a substantial difference in the second half.
It didn't as Galway found it very hard to unpick a Mayo defence which, after a nervous start, coped well with the threat of Damien Comer. He scored two points in the first 20 minutes but found it hard to make much progress from there on amid the heavily-populated territory in front of the Mayo goal.
A key factor in Galway's success was the impact of subs Cooke, Eamonn Brannigan, Ian Burke and Sean Kelly. The loss of Conroy, who is having a fine season, might have created a problem in different circumstances but Cooke was an able replacement alongside Ciaran Duggan who, in addition to getting in a huge amount of work, kicked two excellent points.
Brannigan's pace and Burke's subtle touches brought added value to Galway, whereas Mayo's subs, which included Cillian O'Connor, made no real difference.
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O'Connor didn't start due to a hamstring injury but was despatched into the action as a replacement for Parsons. He scored two points (one free) but it wasn't enough to save the day on this occasion.
His younger brother, Diarmuid, who was also sent off against Galway in the league clash in February, will rue yesterday's incident with Conroy for a long time as it may well have cost Mayo the chance to stay on the provincial route to the 'Super 8s'.
He could have no excuses, nor will there be any sympathy for him. Good discipline is crucial for success and, on this occasion, O'Connor didn't pass the test.
Just as Donal Vaughan's rash intervention, which led to his dismissal against Dublin in last year's All-Ireland final, may have cost Mayo victory, O'Connor's exit added to a workload that his colleagues just couldn't carry.
But then, hurting themselves has been a problem for this Mayo squad for quite some time and may well be the reason why they won't be the group to break the All-Ireland hoodoo.
Granted, yesterday's challenge was made all the more difficult by the absence of Lee Keegan, whose running game would have posed a different type of test for Galway. That was unavoidable - not so with Diarmuid O'Connor's indiscipline really will have infuriated Stephen Rochford. It was the second time in 11 months that a rash act against Galway cost Mayo, who had Keith Higgins sent off for striking Comer in last year's Connacht semi-final.
Now Mayo must re-group and prepare for the first round of the qualifiers on June 9. And even if they win there, it will take three more games to reach the 'Super 8s'. It just might be all too much for a squad who have taken so many knocks over the last six years.
Meanwhile, Galway can plan for a different route, starting against Sligo in the Connacht semi-final.
Are they the real deal? Time will tell but beating Mayo will do them for now.
Scorers - Galway: J Heaney 1-0, S Walsh (1f) 0-3, C Duggan, D Comer, B McHugh (2f) 0-2 each, S Armstrong, S Kelly, T Flynn 0-1 each. Mayo: C Loftus 0-3 (3f), K McLoughin, C O'Connor (1f), A Moran 0-2 each, D O'Connor, K Higgins, T Parsons 0-1 each.
Galway - R Lavelle 7; D Kyne 7, SA O Ceallaigh 7, E Kerin 7; G O'Donnell 7, G Bradshaw 6, C Sweeney 6; P Conroy 6, C Duggan 8; S Walsh 7, J Heaney 7, T Flynn 6; B McHugh 6, D Comer 7, S Armstrong 6. Subs: P Cooke 7 for Conroy (29), E Brannigan 7 for Kyne (49), I Burke 7 for Armstrong (57), S Kelly 7 for Flynn (63), J Duane for Bradshaw (67), A Varley for McHugh (74), T Flynn for Cooke (75 b/c).
MAYO - D Clarke 7; E O'Donoghue 6, C Barrett 6, K Higgins 7, S Coen 7, C Boyle 6, P Durcan 7; S O'Shea 6, T Parsons 6; K McLoughlin 7, A O'Shea 6, D O'Connor 3; C Loftus 6, J Doherty 5, A Moran 7.
Subs: C O'Connor 6 for Parsons (49), D Drake 5 for Loftus (59), J Durcan 5 for Doherty (63), C Hanley for S O'Shea (67), D Vaughan for Moran (72), B Harrison for O'Donoghue (72).
Ref - C Lane (Cork).