Galway 0-17 Mayo 3-23
For Pádraic Joyce, there was no other way to describe it. The worst day in Galway football he had experienced in 43 years as player, follower and now manager.
To sugarcoat it as something different would have been patronising, and so far his tenure in charge of his native county has not been based on falsities. If it needs to be said, Joyce’s propensity is to say it.
“Probably the most embarrassing day of my career,” he reflected. “I am 43 years of age and I have never seen a performance as bad, to tell you the truth.”
They were destroyed in the first half of this Division 1 game in Tuam Stadium by a Mayo team that was reinvigorated, creative and clearly reaping the benefits from a spell off the inter-county treadmill. No one saw it coming.
Their infusion of new faces has reshaped them somewhat too. Westport’s Mark Moran is the latest recruit, and on his debut he scored 1-2 and bobbed and weaved impressively from centre-forward until Gary O’Donnell, who had replaced Johnny Duane after he limped off, got to grips with him.
But by then the game was over, Mayo’s first-half dominance all-consuming as they won every battle and played with a sense of refreshment and drive that really augurs well for the weeks ahead, if the games remain in place.
For Joyce, there was gallows humour, even in the midst of such disappointment. When asked about the prospect of games beyond the weekend just gone he acknowledged at half-time that he wished there wouldn’t be. The GAA could lift the country with the games, but no one was getting a lift in Galway from this, he added. It had been that bad, and he took full responsibility.
And as for Jim McGuinness returning to coach the team after his involvement last weekend? Joyce suspected his old IT Tralee teammate would have the phone knocked off for that one.
“We were a mile off it. It was like men and boys all day. I will take responsibility for that as the manager. I’m not going to throw the lads under the bus. I prepared them, I got them on the pitch and I will take full responsibility.”
But he had to question motivation against their biggest rivals in a game that could have kept them in the hunt for league honours. All Kerry need to do next weekend is secure a home win against Donegal and it’s theirs now.
“We stood off our men and did not get involved, we did not make any contact, we did not show anything. There were lads off the pitch at half-time who had not broken sweat,” he reflected.
“When you are playing your fiercest rivals, if you need to motivate lads they are in the wrong game. We should not have had to be motivating lads. Mayo were up for the game, I don’t know why we could not be up for it. It is a psychological thing. I don’t know what it is but you are fighting a losing battle when you go so far behind early on.”
Mayo were sublime in that first half, opening up Galway for two goals, both involving Aidan O’Shea in the build-up for Moran first and then Paddy Durcan. But the space Cillian O’Connor was afforded to run unchecked on to an O’Shea ball before he put Moran in for the opening goal on 12 minutes summed up Galway’s attitude.
They weren’t helped by the loss of Damien Comer, a late call-up for Michael Daly beforehand, after just three minutes with a hamstring injury that now threatens his season.
O’Shea was pivotal to most of Mayo’s best moves, and, in addition to those assists, he worked his way to three points, was fouled for two frees and put the pressure on the hapless Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh for two more that O’Connor calmly stepped up to.
But with runners from the back coming from everywhere – Oisín Mullin, Durcan and Eoghan McLoughlin – Galway were left bewildered early. The pressure on Connor Gleeson’s kick-out was intense too and it coughed up scores for visiting side keen to make a quick statement on the seasonal restart.
Playing down the quality of a performance that has you 16 points clear of the division pacesetters at the break is hard to do, but Mayo manager James Horan felt compelled to do it nonetheless, focusing on emerging players.
“We’d five U-21s on there and we brought on two more so a lot of the young players that have come through are really talented,” he reflected.
“We have Tommy Conroy and obviously Oisín (Mullin) as well that made debuts earlier on. Mark (Moran), as he has been for Westport all season, he’s very comfortable on the ball and a two-sided player so he did extremely well,” added Horan.
The second goal was a hallmark of great teamwork on 28 minutes. Mullin made the incursion into enemy territory and found O’Shea who held the ball with perfect precision so that Durcan didn’t have to break stride. The finish was powerful, sending Mayo 2-10 to 0-7 clear.
Maybe Galway were caught up in an atmosphere that felt more like a challenge match but they had few willing to bail water as the ship was sinking. Paul Conroy, Rob Finnerty and Cillian McDaid were among the exceptions.
Naturally, it tapered off after the break, a 2-17 to 0-7 lead offering the luxury to control rather than press and for much of it that’s what Mayo did.
Conor Loftus, impressive around the middle, did get in for a third goal when Gleeson came for but didn’t claim a Moran ball over the top.
The physical difference was quite noticeable throughout and that’s not something that Joyce and Galway can fix quickly.
They were without Shane Walsh and there were improvements after the break but nothing to really take from ahead of Dublin’s visit next weekend. “The only positive news of the day is the only way is up. We can’t go any lower than that. We have a choice to do it.”
Mayo: C O'Connor 0-10 (8fs), P Durcan, M Moran C Loftus (0-1m) all 1-2 each A O'Shea, T Conroy 0-3 each, S Coen 0-1 (m)
Galway: R Finnerty 0-7 (6fs) P Conroy 0-3, L Silke 0-2, M Barrett, G O'Donnell, C McDaid, A Varley, C D'Arcy all 0-1 each.
Mayo - D Clarke; O Mullin, D McBrien, L Keegan; P Durcan, S Coen, E McLoughlin; M Ruane, C Loftus; F McDonagh, M Moran, D O'Connor; T Conroy, A O'Shea, C O'Connor. Subs: B Walsh for McDonagh (45), P O'Hora for McBrien (50), R O'Donoghue for D O'Connor (56), D Coen for C O'Connor (56), J Flynn for Ruane (66)
Galway - C Gleeson; C Campbell, S A O'Ceallaigh, J Heaney; L Silke, J Duane, C McDaid; C D'Arcy, D Comer; E Brannigan, J Maher, J Leonard; R Finnerty, P Conroy, I Burke; Subs: M Daly for Comer inj (3), G O'Donnell for Duane (9), A Varley for Brannigan (30), T Flynn for Maher (h-t), M Barrett for D'Arcy (57).
Referee - M Deegan (Laois)