Connacht SFC Q-Final: Heaney goal breaks Mayo resistance
Connacht Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final
GALWAY 1-12 MAYO 0-12
By John Harrington at MacHale Park
14-man Mayo’s stubborn resistance was finally ended by a thunderbolt of a goal from Galway’s Johnny Heaney in the 74th minute of this absorbing Connacht Quarter-Final.
Until that moment it looked like extra-time would be required as Mayo hung on grimly for dear life and Galway seemed incapable of making their numerical difference count.
But then the dam finally burst when three Galway substitutes – Adrian Varley, Ian Burke, and Sean Kelly - combined slickly to put through Heaney who blasted the ball to the roof of the net.
The greater impact made by Galway’s subs was a decisive factor, but Mayo will also probably feel that they had little or no luck on the day.
Cillian O’Connor wasn’t deemed fit enough to start the match, his brother Diarmuid O’Connor was red-carded after 28 minutes, and the highly influential Tom Parsons was stretchered off early in the second-half.
In a match of very fine margins, that was a lot of adversity to overcome.
We knew coming to Castlebar that a tight, claustrophobic contest was always likely, and so it proved from the off.
Whenever Galway lost possession they were quick to filter between 10 and 12 outfield players behind their own ’45 yard line.
While Mayo were also adopting a safety-first approach with Keith Higgins taking up a sweeping role between both lines of his defence.
Mayo opened the scoring with a Conor Loftus free, but some of their shooting in the opening minutes was poor as Paddy Durcan, Colm Boyle, and Aidan O’Shea quickly racked up three poor frees.
At the other end of the field Galway were a lot more clinical.
When they counter-attacked at pace they stretched the Mayo defence, and by the 16th minute had moved 0-4 to 0-1 ahead.
Damien Comer scored the pick of their points in this period, and whenever the ball came his way he buzzed with danger thanks to his ability to suddenly accelerate and leave marker Chris Barrett in his wake.
His second point of the afternoon – a super left-footed effort on the run – restored Galway’s four-point lead after Diarmuid O’Connor briefly reduced the deficit to three.
As the half progressed though it looked like Mayo were starting to get Galway’s measure.
Higgins was sweeping to great effect, Seamus O’Shea, Parsons, and Aidan O’Shea were starting to exert themselves in the middle-third, while Kevin McLoughlin was probing cleverly.
Galway were content to let Mayo have the ball until they reached their ’45 yard line, at which point the Mayo ball-carriers were usually greeted by a phalanx of tacklers.
But thanks to Mayo’s ability to retain possession and move the ball around patiently, they started to pick their way through the padlocked Galway defence.
Two frees from Conor Loftus and a brilliant long-range effort by McLoughlin had them level by the 25th minute, and now the home supporters in MacHale Park were really starting to find their voice.
But just when it looked like the beaten 2017 and 2016 All-Ireland Finalists were really starting to build momentum they suffered a real body-blow when O’Connor was red-carded.
He raised his elbow while trying to run past Paul Conroy and floored the Galway number 11 right in front of referee Conor Lane who reached for his red-card.
Salt was applied to Mayo wounds when Ciaran Duggan then almost immediately put Galway two points ahead, but the home team reasserted themselves again and a brilliant Andy Moran point ensured they trailed by just one, 0-7 to 0-6, at half-time.
Mayo still had the bit between the teeth at the start of the second-half as Keith Higgins and Parsons hit two inspirational in quick succession after storming through the heart of the Galway defence.
Shane Walsh equalised for Galway, and then Mayo suffered another serious set-back when Parsons was forced off with what looked like a serious knee-injury.
He’d been having a brilliant match in the Mayo engine-room up until that point, and his departure made an already tricky task that bit more difficult.
But like a wily old prizefighter, Mayo managed to stay in the fight against a younger, more energetic looking opponent by using all of their considerable ring-craft.
Some of their defending was heroic as they completely shut down the threat of Damien Comer, and an increasingly desperate looking Galway kicked four wides in a row before Ciaran Duggan finally kicked their first point in 15 minutes to push them into a 0-10 to 0-9 lead.
But Mayo simply refused to go away. Cillian O’Connor – on for the injured Parsons – immediately cancelled out Duggan’s effort with a brilliantly driven point from long distance.
And when Sean Kelly pushed Galway ahead once more, Kevin McLoughlin hit a beauty in injury-time to level the game yet again.
It was always likely to take something really special to finally end Mayo’s stubborn resistance, and Heaney delivered it late on.
He had the option of fisting a simple point over the bar, but he showed bottle to back himself and thump the ball to the roof of the net.
Galway’s supporters exploded with joy, while Mayo’s slumped in their seats.
The Tribesmen move purposely into a Connacht semi-final with Sligo, while Mayo must negotiate a long and winding path through the qualifiers.
It looks like a hard road from here to the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals, but as they showed again today their resilience remains undimmed.
Scorers for Galway: Johnny Heaney 1-0, Shane Walsh 0-3 (1f), Damien Comer 0-2, Barry McHugh 0-2 (2f), Ciaran Duggan 0-2, Thomas Flynn 0-1, Sean Armstrong 0-1, Sean Kelly 0-1.
Scorers for Mayo: Conor Loftus 0-3 (3f), Andy Moran 0-2, Cillian O’Connor 0-2 (1f), Kevin McLoughlin 0-2, Diarmuid O’Connor 0-1, Keith Higgins 0-1, Tom Parsons 0-1.
GALWAY: Ruairi Lavelle; Declan Kyne, Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh, Eoghan Kerin; Gary O’Donnell, Gareth Bradshaw, Cathal Sweeney; Thomas Flynn, Ciarán Duggan; Shane Walsh, Paul Conroy, Johnny Heaney; Seán Armstrong, Damien Comer, Barry McHugh. Subs: Blood-sub Peter Cooke for Paul Conroy (28), Eamonn Brannigan for Declan Kyne (40), Ian Burke for Sean Armstrong (57), Sean Kelly for Thomas Flynn (62), Johnny Duane for Gareth Bradshaw (68), Adrian Varley for Barry McHugh (73), Thomas Flynn for Peter Cooke (75).
MAYO: David Clarke; Eoin O’Donoghue, Chris Barrett, Keith Higgins; Paddy Durcan, Colm Boyle, Stephen Coen; Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Conor Loftus, Jason Doherty, Andy Moran. Subs: Cillian O’Connor for Tom Parsons (48), David Drake for Conor Loftus (59), James Durcan for Jason Doherty (62), Cian Hanley for Seamus O’Shea (68), Donal Vaughan for Andy Moran (71), Brendan Harrison for Eoin O’Donoghue (72).
Ref: Conor Lane (Cork)