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Peadar Gardiner provided the final twist in this afternoon’s Connacht SFC decider as his injury-time point saw Mayo lift the Nestor Cup for the first time since 2006.
The maroon majority in the 25,627 Pearse Stadium crowd were sent into raptures by Michael Meehan’s brilliant, late goal, which tied up the game at 1-14 to 2-11.
But, just moments later, the unmarked Gardiner, profiting from a quickly-taken free out to the right, lobbed over the match-winning score to end Mayo’s 42-year wait for a Championship win at the Salthill venue.
John O’Mahony’s men had the wind advantage in the opening half and their long ball tactic, hoovering it in towards Barry Moran and teenager Aidan O’Shea, paid dividends as the half progressed.
These great rivals were level on two occasions before Mayo began to cut loose. They were 0-02 to 0-00 to the good after David Heaney had raided down the left for the opener and Aidan Kilcoyne swooped onto a breaking ball for a close range second.
As expected, Galway moved Declan Meehan from right corner forward back to centre-back, with Diarmuid Blake switching out wide to mark Pat Harte.
The ever-alert Kilcoyne drilled a goal-scoring chance wide after Galway failed to deal with a high ball, before Nicky Joyce, back from exile, shrugged off Liam O’Malley’s challenge to land the defending champions’ opening point.
Some great individual play by Joe Bergin and Declan Meehan teed up Joyce for his second, and Heaney and Padraic Joyce tagged on further points as the pace began to quicken.
The 19-year-old O’Shea displayed his brute strength as he rampaged through for a well-taken score and Mayo moved 0-05 to 0-03 ahead when a rasping left-footed shot from Harte bounced over off the crossbar when it could so easily have resulted in a goal.
That green flag was just around the corner, however, as Mayo continued to cause all sorts of problems for the Tribesmen’s defence and the injury-enforced withdrawal of Niall Coyne did little for the stability of Liam Sammon’s side.
Fiachra Breathnach was brought on in his place, joining the attack and Garreth Bradshaw was dropped back into the full-back line.
Three minutes later, Mayo were celebrating their first goal. Ronan McGarrity drifted a high ball in towards the Galway square and full-forward Barry Moran rose highest to palm the ball to the back of the net.
Moran then teed up Alan Dillon for a point and a buoyant Mayo had suddenly cantered into a 1-06 to 0-03 lead. With Galway’s attack particularly quiet up until that point, Michael Meehan and Padraic Joyce began to roam and find some space.
Meehan collected a pass out wide and drove in from the end-line to end Mayo’s burst of 1-03 without reply.
The Joyces combined for Nicky to point when a goal was frustratingly out of his grasp, and the same player plundered his fourth point off a Michael Meehan assist.
Nicky Joyce was certainly providing the scoring thrust for his side and dual player Keith Higgins was switched across to mark him coming up to the half-hour mark.
Mayo answered back to Galway’s mini-revival, with team captain Trevor Mortimer getting past Gary Sice to dink a sweetly-struck point over off his right, the influential McGarrity followed up with a skyscraper of a score and Dillon made it a double-scores lead, using a decoy runner to telling effect.
In between, Higgins put just enough pressure on Nicky Joyce as Galway almost worked their most prolific forward through on goal, and Joyce had the final say of the half as the deficit was cut back to five points (1-09 to 0-07).
That was the only pointed free of the first 35 minutes, and a measure of Mayo’s productiveness up front was the fact that all six of their starting forwards and their two midfielders were on target by the break.
Galway, on the other hand, were largely reliant on Nicky Joyce (0-05) for their first half scores, but Michael Meehan took on some of that responsibility in a thrilling final quarter.
The second half was a fractured affair, with both sides kicking some poor wides and the hard tackling and familiar Championship heat disrupted the early pattern and turned it into a war of attrition.
Mayo brought on Donal Vaughan and Conor Mortimer for the second half, and the latter intercepted a line ball for Galway and split the posts to make it a six-point game.
Michael Meehan, Padraic Joyce and Paul Conroy were all guilty of some wayward shooting as Galway struggled to eat into that lead and the Mayo defence continued to smother and pressure their men into mistakes.
Although both sides found scores hard to come by, Galway managed to claw their way back to 1-10 to 0-10 with Nicky Joyce kicking two frees and Meehan driving a placed ball over from a central position.
O’Mahony and his selectors adopted a have what we hold approach for the closing stages, benching target man Moran and bringing Mark Ronaldson, more recognised as a forward, in as an extra sweeper in defence.
The changes almost invited Galway forward but a timely free from Conor Mortimer, Mayo’s first point for a full 20 minutes, settled things back down.
Mayo were almost out on sight, two minutes later, when Finian Hanley got caught the wrong side of Trevor Mortimer and the Mayo skipper raced through from the left before sending a well-weighted pass over for his brother Conor to fist past Adrian Faherty and ripple the net.
At 2-11 to 0-10 down and with time running out, Galway needed something inspirational from their attack and they got it with a superb run of four points and then Meehan’s well-taken goal.
Meehan seemed to find an extra gear, amidst a tiring Mayo defence, as the Caltra clubman kicked a free and then wormed his way into space for a shot on goal.
Net minder Kenneth O’Malley was equal to the shot, pushing it over for a point, and then Bergin produced the assist for a Sean Armstrong point.
Nicky Joyce missed a free but redeemed himself with a point from play. Injury-time arrived and just as Mayo tried to play keep-ball and wind down the clock, the ball was lost between McGarrity and Conor Mortimer and Galway countered.
The ball was fed in to Meehan, he turned and shipped a tackle from Ger Cafferkey before finding enough space to place a low shot beyond O’Malley and register the goal that Galway so needed.
However, Mayo had time for a final sting in the tail. In a dramatic final attack, they won a long range free which Conor Mortimer wisely played short and with Galway out of shape, Gardiner flew onto the pass and curled a superb point over on the run to secure a 42nd Connacht crown for his county.
Galway scorers: N Joyce 0-08 (0-03f), M Meehan 1-04 (0-02f), P Joyce, S Armstrong 0-01 each
Mayo scorers: C Mortimer 1-02 (0-01f), B Moran 1-00, D Heaney, A Dillon 0-02 each, A Kilcoyne, A O’Shea, P Harte, T Mortimer, R McGarrity, P Gardiner 0-01 each
Galway: A Faherty; N Coyne, F Hanley, D Burke (capt); G Bradshaw, D Blake, G Sice; P Conroy, N Coleman; J Bergin, P Joyce, N Joyce; S Armstrong, M Meehan, D Meehan.
Subs used: F Breathnach for Coyne (19 mins), C Bane for Conroy (50), M Clancy for Bradshaw (61).
Mayo: K O'Malley; L O'Malley, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; P Gardiner, T Howley, A Moran; D Heaney, R McGarrity; P Harte, T Mortimer (capt), A Dillon; A Kilcoyne, B Moran, A O'Shea.
Subs used: C Mortimer for Kilcoyne, D Vaughan for L O’Malley (both half-time), M Ronaldson for B Moran (52 mins), T Parsons for Heaney (67).