John Brennan reports
For the first time since 2015, Mayo are Connacht SFC champions after a titanic struggle against neighbours Galway this afternoon at Pearse Stadium.
There was late late drama as Galway spurned a handful of chances, with Mayo hanging on by a thread. It could have been a whole different ball game had Eoghan McLaughlin rifled past Bernard Power, with the Corofin man pulling a stunning save. Shane Walsh and Paul Conroy dominated the closing period with some massive scores and Mayo were living on edge.
Playing with the aid of a strong breeze, Mayo raced into an early five point lead. Dessie Conneely flashed over early doors, but a flurry of scores from Tommy Conroy, Cillian O’Connor and Patrick Durcan left Mayo in cruise control. Galway through Shane Walsh settled, but Mayo kept them at arms length thanks to super efforts from Ryan O’Donoghue and Matthew Ruane.
Mayo were somewhat wasteful though with a handful of wides. Championship debutant Paul Kelly from Moycullen cut the gap to three at the break, and wind assisted Galway set themselves up nicely for a second half assault.
Within thirty seconds of the restart, Garry O’Donnell reduced the margin to two, but Mayo were starting to put on the squeeze. Both Matthew Ruane and Tommy Conroy extended the gap to four points, before Johnny Heaney fired agonisingly wide. James Horan refreshed his deck, with a score from Bryan Walsh, but Galway were growing in momentum.
Both Shane Walsh and Paul Conroy were keeping Galway in the mix and three points without reply pared the gap to two points. Cillian O’Connor added to his growing tally with a brace of frees, but Kilkerrin/Clonberne’s Shane Walsh gave Padraig Joyce’s side a glimmer of hope.
When Eoghan McLaughlin burned up the ground with ten minutes remaining, he could have killed this game as a contest, but Power was called into action with an outstanding save. Bryan Walsh tagged on a single to push the gap out to three points, as the Ballintubber youngster impressed off the bench. Galway quickly reduced the margin to a solitary point, but some wastefulness down the homestretch ensured that Mayo would advance as Connacht champions.
They will entertain either Tipperary or Cork in a couple of weekends time, and it is now back-to-back All Ireland semi final appearances for James Horan and his charges.
D Clarke; O Mullin, C Barrett, L Keegan; P Durcan (0-1), S Coen, E McLaughlin; C Loftus, M Ruane (0-2); K McLaughlin, R O’Donoghue (0-1, mark), D O’Connor (0-1); T Conroy (0-3), A O’Shea, C O’Connor (0-4, 3f).
B Walsh (0-2) for R O’Donoghue, J Flynn for C Loftus, M Moran for T Conroy, K Higgins for K McLoughlin, F McDonagh for M Ruane.
B Power; S Kelly, S Mulkerrin, J Heaney; L Silke, J Duane, C McDaid; C D’Arcy, G O’Donnell (0-1); P Kelly (0-1), P Conroy (0-3), M Daly; I Burke, S Walsh (0-7 4f), D Conneely (0-1).
R Steede for C.Darcy, G Bradshaw for J Duane, K Molloy for G O’Donnell, D Comer for I Burke, G Sice for P Kelly
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone).