Cliona Foley reports from Glennon Brothers Pearse Park
MAYO REACHED THEIR first TG4 All-Ireland ladies SFC semi-final in seven years but only by the skin of their teeth after a nail-biting battle with Westmeath in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park Longford yesterday.
The Connacht champions looked home and dry when they pulled four points clear in the third quarter.
But a dramatic late Westmeath goal from midfield star Johanna Maher cut the gap to the minimum with four minutes left and it took a brilliant individual insurance point from Niamh Kelly to make Mayo’s victory safe.
Westmeath had one late chance when top scorer Leona Archibald won a free and took it quickly to Maud Annie Foley but, with another goal needed, her shot drifted wide just ahead of the buzzer.
This year’s beaten Division 2 finalists really put it up to Mayo throughout. They only trailed by two points (1-3 to 0-4) at half-time and Mayo’s first goal, on 26 minutes, was a lucky one when a Cora Staunton shot came off the cross-bar and fell into Doireann Hughes’ path.
They sides were level a third time seven minutes into the second half when the Midlanders got hit with a second sucker punch, after ace poacher Staunton stepped up quickly to take a 14m free and sent a rocket from her hands straight into the net.
That gave the stuttering Mayo attack the confidence they needed and they kicked on, with good points from Aileen Gilroy, Sarah Rowe and three more from Staunton pushing them clear.
The Westmeath defence, where Fiona Claffey and Laura Brennan were outstanding and had held Staunton to just 0-2 (1f) by half-time and they might have pushed on if they had not persisted so long in chasing goals.
But Staunton eventually found her rhythm and Niamh Kelly was excellent throughout.
Mayo looked ring-rusty after their six-week lay-off and this was probably the ideal preparation for their first All-Ireland semi-final since 2009.
Scorers for Mayo: C Staunton 1-5 (1-1f), D Hughes 1-0, A Gilroy 0-2, N Kelly, G Kelly and S Rowe 0-1 each.
Scorers for Westmeath: L Archibald 0-6 (4f), J Maher 1-1, MA Foley 0-2, L Brennan and L McCarton 0-1 each.
Y Byrne; L Ryder, S Tierney (Capt), N O’Malley; M Corbett, M Carter, O Conlon; F McHale, C McManamon; N Kelly, A Gilroy, D Hughes; S Rowe, C Staunton, D Caldwell.
Subs: G Kelly for Clodagh McManamon (half-time), S Mulvihill for Caldwell (40), R Kearns for Ryder (40), N Moran for O’Malley (49), L McManamon for Mulvihill (59).
S Keegan; T Durkan, D Dunne, A Martin; J Rogers (Capt), F Claffey, L Brennan; J Maher, F Coyle; K McDermott, M Foley, L Archibold; C Blundell, L Walsh, L McCartan.
Subs: T Fagan for Coyle (52), C Kelly for McDermott (52), S McGrath for Maher (59).
Referee – G Corrigan (Down).
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