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Why Mayo's third quarter blitz of Galway suggests there's more to come

Matthew Ruane typified Mayo’s energy in the second period of yesterday’s Connacht SFC final.

MAYO WERE SO vastly superior to Galway in almost every aspect of the second-half, the Connacht final felt over as a contest long before the final whistle. 

It was hard to see that outcome at half-time when the Tribesmen went in five ahead. Mayo spent much of the opening period carrying the ball into contact, with their runners left isolated.

Aidan O’Shea’s free role in midfield gave Galway a cover defender in front of Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy. Their attacking play lacked that punch and directness we associate with Mayo.

Galway were hurt by the losses of Robert Finnerty and Sean Kelly, plus the heavy knock Shane Walsh received at the end of the first-half left his shoulder in a bad way. 

Mayo’s turnaround

James Horan pushed O’Shea back into the edge of the square for the start of the second-half and as a result it freed up Conroy and O’Donoghue beside him. 

In the third quarter, Mayo were a different animal. They got their running game going by attacking in pods of twos and threes. They like to send one runner ahead of the ball carrier, with another lagging behind who runs at a different angle to open up the play.

Often times it was Lee Keegan who provided that late punch.

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They looked fired up and angry. You could see it in O’Shea’s clenched fists after the penalty was awarded within a minute of the restart. 

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The Mayo skipper was involved in a half-time altercation with Johnny Heaney that sparked a brawl in the tunnel as the teams left the field. If Mayo weren’t geed up by their under-par first-half showing, that melee focused minds further. 

Whether it was simply down an attitude change or not, Mayo simply outworked Galway in the third quarter. They out-tackled the Tribesmen by 14-6 during that spell and won it by 1-4 to no score, turning a five-point deficit into a two-point lead.

The quality of Mayo’s tackling was superior too. Out of their six tackles, two frees and a penalty were awarded against Galway. Just four of Mayo’s tally were whistled by referee Conor Lane.  

Padraig O’Hora demonstrated some outstanding tackling with perfectly timed dispossessions on Dylan McHugh…

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…and Paul Conroy in quick succession.

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They pressed right up on Galway, putting pressure on goalkeeper Connor Gleeson. Lane awarded a hop ball after Gleeson dallied on a free for too long at one stage during the second period. 

The introduction of Kevin McLoughlin was key. The Knockmore man had six possessions during the third quarter, only second to Aidan O’Shea (7) and on par with man-of-the-match Matthew Ruane. 

Fellow half-time sub McLaughlin made a couple of telling bursts forward, with one setting up a scoring opportunity that Diarmuid O’Connor hacked wide. 

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Here’s a good example of Mayo’s fast transition when they started motoring. Padraig O’Hora, who excelled at full-back, helped turn over Walsh with McLoughlin. 

The ball moves through Keegan to McLaughlin on the flank and he injects the pace. Mayo come alive as Keegan and Ruane burst forward to offer support.

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The move concludes with O’Donoghue finding Conroy. The corner-forward takes it by a handful of defenders and reduces the gap to a point.

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Mayo’s half-backs Stephen Coen and Oisin Mullin were on the ball five times apiece as was covering defender Michael Plunkett in that pivotal third quarter. Their half-backs weren’t on the ball enough and driving at Galway enough in the first period, but things changed after half-time.

McLoughlin and McLaughlin both probably would have started the game had they not battled injury coming into it, but they certainly put themselves in the frame to start the All-Ireland semi-final against the Leinster champions in three weeks.

Ruane class

Ruane kicked an early point but really came to life after the restart. Paul Conroy had been dictating matters but ran out of legs on Conor Loftus, while Ruane started to dominate his match-up against Matthew Tierney. 

He made several key interventions in the second-half.

36:02 - Mayo work a short kick-out and Mullin plays a one-two with Coen. The All-Star defender feeds Ruane, who keeps the momentum going forward.

McLoughlin comes deep for a handless and with his first touch delivers a precise 40-metre pass into O’Shea’s chest. Ruane takes off from well outside the 45, anticipating that the target man will claim the ball.

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O’Shea is unselfish in that he immediately looks for the run of a team-mate, which is provided by his fellow Breaffy man.

By the time O’Shea releases a hand pass, Ruane is inside the Galway penalty area, where he gets hauled down. 

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Ruane made up an incredible amount of ground in a short few seconds to create the goal opportunity. O’Donoghue dispatches the spot kick and Mayo are back in the game. 

47:26 - Ruane comes onto the ball in midfield after a pass by Jordan Flynn, who smartly steps in front of his marker Tierney. It allows Ruane carry it forward to the edge of the D and slot over. 

52:13 - Ruane is involved in the move for Conroy’s point that moves Mayo three clear. 

66:01 - His relentless energy eventually results in a goal. Ruane’s ability to make those lung-bursting runs forward makes him a difficult man to track with for 70 minutes. Some slack Galway defending allows the midfielder twist and turn his way through the defence. 

His low finish past Gleeson was composed and went through the goalkeeper’s legs.

“He is just mad to learn and keep developing, working hard on a few parts of his game,” remarked Horan about the Breaffy midfielder afterwards.

“His mobility can be very deceiving, he is very, very quick and has a very good step.

“He creates a lot of pace around the middle and today he was doing a lot of grunt work as well, so a very good performance for him.”

Mayo are such well-conditioned athletes that a side like Galway might stick with them for 35 minutes but they’ll eventually blow them away.

They’ve always been the team that could physically match Dublin for 75 minutes, but this team has undergone significant transformation in the space of a few years. 

Of the side that started the 2017 All-Ireland final, only Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan and Aidan O’Shea started yesterday, with McLoughlin introduced off the bench.

Fresh faces like Mullin, Ruane and McLaughlin have arrived on the scene and look every bit the athletes Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle were.

When Mayo are fully tuned in and get their running game going from deep, they’re match for anybody in the country. But if they put in another first-half showing like that, they won’t survive to tell the tale. 

- Originally published at 6:06pm

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Kevin O'Brien

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