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Galway's collapse, how Mayo clicked into gear and Joyce's future

5 talking points after today’s Connacht SFC final in Croke Park.

lee-keegan-celebrates-with-his-daughter-lile-in-the-j-j-nestor-cup Mayo players and Lee Keegan's daughter Lile celebrate with the J.J. Nestor Cup. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

1. Galway’s second-half collapse

PERHAPS IT WAS the half-time scrap in the tunnel that served to give Mayo focus, but whatever it was they were a side transformed after the break. 

Trialing by 2-5 to 0-6 at the interval, Mayo were ponderous in possession and being ripped open at the back. James Horan performed surgery on his team, using Oisin Mullen to cut out the threat of Shane Walsh and Padraig O’Hora managed to keep Damien Comer quiet.

He introduced two players who helped turn the tide in their favour. Eoghan McLaughlin’s injected real pace with his driving runs from deep and Kevin McLoughlin’s intelligence in possession contributed to their improved attacking performance. 

Aidan O’Shea moved inside and as the game wore on Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy started to get better quality of deliveries. That pair finished with 1-6 between them and Matthew Ruane also contributed handsomely with 1-2 from midfield. 

Mayo hit 1-6 without reply after the restart and didn’t concede a score between first-half stoppage-time and the 62nd minute. Galway failed to score from play after half-time and Mayo’s superior conditioning was evident in warm conditions. 

aidan-oshea-celebrates-after-the-game Aidan O'Shea celebrates after the game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

2. Mayo lift rare silverware at Croker

Mayo’s 48th Connacht title pushed them one clear of Galway on top of the roll of honour as the most successful side in the province. 

It was Mayo’s first trophy to win at Croke Park since their 2019 Division 1 final win over Kerry in 2019. The experience of lifting silverware at the venue cannot be underestimated for this young team as a host of players won their first decider there.

It was the first Connacht final to be played on Jones’ Road since 1923 when Galway beat Sligo in the replayed final. 

For the first time since the 1930s, Galway have lost three successive provincial finals. 

shane-walsh-dejected-after-the-game Shane Walsh looks on after the final whistle. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

3. Mayo attack clicks in second-half

The opening 35 minutes was a low-scoring affair and offensively, Mayo struggled. They used Aidan O’Shea as a third midfielder and while he forced a couple of important turnovers, Conroy and O’Donoghue were isolated inside. 

They managed to shut down Paul Conroy’s influence in the second-half and their running game clicked into gear. Ruane roared into the contest and helped provide a steady supply of ball into the full-forward line.

Mayo’s athleticism is well-suited to Croke Park, with players like Mullen, McLaughlin, Durcan and Ruane all highly impressive on the ground.

While they passed sideways far too often during the opening period, Mayo were direct after the break and that’s when they’re at their best. They went 22 first-half minutes without a point but once the ball was thrown in for the second period, they cut loose.

4. Will Joyce stay on for year three? 

Padraic Joyce’s initial two-year term as Galway manager has come to an end following today’s defeat and he’ll take stock before entering discussions with the county board over his future.

When he took over from Kevin Walsh at the end of 2019, he declared that winning an All-Ireland was his ambition for this group of players. He hasn’t had the benefit of a backdoor after successive Connacht final defeats to Mayo that ended their seasons in 2020 and 2021.

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The nature of the second-half collapse is of concern for Tribe supporters. They put themselves into a wonderful position at the interval, but didn’t score from play after first-half stoppage-time.  

Once Horan made his adjustments, Galway had no answer to Mayo’s pace and power.

ryan-odonoghue-scores-a-goal-that-is-later-disallowed Ryan O'Donoghue scores a goal that was later disallowed. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

5. Looking ahead for Mayo

Only once in Horan’s seven seasons as Mayo manager have they failed to lift the JJ Nestor Cup. That lone defeat came in 2019, in the first year of his second stint as boss. 

Mayo have reached the All-Ireland semi-final stage in all seven of Horan’s seasons as manager, showing remarkable consistency under the Ballintubber man. Presuming Dublin will account for Kildare in the Leinster final, it will be the third season in-a-row they’ve clashed with Mayo in the All-Ireland series.

The loss of Cillian O’Connor is a significant one, but Mayo are moving well and in far better form than Dublin at this stage of the season. They’ve reinvigorated the team with youth, while Ryan O’Donoghue looks comfortable on the free-taking duties.

If Dublin emerge from Leinster as expected they’ll hold the favourites tag for the last four meeting, but Mayo’s athleticism gives them a decent chance of dethroning the champions. Write this group off at your peril.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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