Five of the best

The Monday of the Connacht final and the sense of tension and anticipation is very heightened. By this time next week we’ll have an altogether better idea of where things are at.

I’m going to have an extensive look at the match this week, time permitting. We should have a team picked Wednesday and so we’ll go through that and the match-ups subsequently. We’ll look at what the local papers have to offer tomorrow but before that I’m gonna go back over a piece I did last March and run it again.

Ahead of the league win against Galway in Tuam (which, by the way, will have been the turning point for both counties if we do go on and win on Sunday – contrast the results and performances since but more anon) I compiled a list of my top five wins over the Herron Chokers.

That league success that followed was pretty special too because we did look dead and buried but it was, nonetheless, just a league win. Each of the victories I have listed below were altogether more significant and, it must be added, are not a definitive list, merely my own ‘best memories’.

There’s something very satisfying about beating Galway because we’ve to work very hard to do it, unfortunately.

Lets hope I’ll need to update the list after Sunday, Maigh Eo abú!

 

5, Connacht semi-final, draw and replay, 1989

For TIALTNGO the Mayo Galway rivalry became a personal experience for the first time back in the heady days of 1989. A draw in Tuam Stadium in the first round of the Connacht Championship was my first ever championship experience and TIALTNGO remembers that game for one reason – I was of the firm opinion that Mayo had been cheated of victory by a breaking of the rules.

THE ASSASIN: Lacken's Michael Fitzmaurice kicked nine points over the course of Mayo's two championship games against Galway in 1989 when we beat the Herron Chokers after a replay. THE ASSASIN: Lacken’s Michael Fitzmaurice kicked nine points over the course of Mayo’s two championship games against Galway in 1989 when we beat the Herron Chokers after a replay. 

I think it was Fergal O’Neill who got a Galway goal late on with what appeared to be his head and in an unusual outbreak of old man syndrome for someone so young, I screamed that ‘it’s not soccer we’re playing’. But it was more than an observation, I wanted to know why the referee wouldn’t strike out the goal and couldn’t believe that my uncle and father weren’t supporting my argument.

I eventually let it go when we won the replay quite easily but kept wondering out loud what was the point in a replay when it was clear we won the  first time out!

Regardless, its hard to forget your first ever championship experience, regardless of how young you were.

 

4, Connacht Final, 2006

IT wasn’t the best of games ever between the two counties but any Mayo-Galway game that goes down to the wire and is won by a late Mayo point, well that’s quite special, isn’t it?

Somehow we weren’t out of sight at half-time despite a near total level of dominance with Ronan McGarrity giving a masterclass. But we went in behind by a point and it looked like it was going to be another case of Mayo letting Galway win a game they hardly deserved.

A MOMENT IN TIME: All of McHale Park waits as Conor Mortimer sends the ball goalwards and eventually over the bar to win the 2006 Connacht title at the death against our old friends. A MOMENT IN TIME: All of McHale Park waits as Conor Mortimer sends the ball goalwards and eventually over the bar to win the 2006 Connacht title at the death against our old friends. 

But Mayo stuck at it and Kevin O’Neill came off the bench to equalise late on. All of which meant that when Billy Padden and Finian Hanley collided in front of the tunnel at McHale Park (they actually looked as if they were sprinting up the tunnel from my viewpoint), the dubious free awarded to us gave Conor Mortimer a chance to point a 13metre from the right sideline. As soon as the ball left his boot people on the stand side knew it was there. I was on the opposite side so I had more waiting to endure. One of the best warmest days that summer had the perfect finale.

 

3, National League Final, 2001

Our record against Galway in Croke Park is flawless. We beat them in the league semi-final in 2007, John O’Mahony’s first year back in charge. But O’Mahony was on the receiving end of our other victory in HQ when we won our first senior national title since 1970.

AT LAST! Noel Connelly finally experiences that winning feeling at HQ after we beat Galway in the 2001 League Final. AT LAST! Noel Connelly finally experiences that winning feeling at HQ after we beat Galway in the 2001 League Final. 

In what was  probably the most competitive Connacht championship ever, four teams from the province made the league semi-finals (Leitrim being the odd team out).

We beat Roscommon in one semi-final with Sligo losing to Galway in the other. Our NFL victory felt like it could be a breakthrough but Roscommon would go and win the Connacht title (we won’t go there) and feckin Galway would win the All-Ireland through the back door.

But for that April day in Croker, coming not long after Crossmolina’s great club success, we were buoyantly optimistic. Marty McNicholas kicked what turned out to be the winner as we triumphed 0-12 to 1-8.

 

2, Connacht semi-final, 2004

The way we sauntered through Connacht in 2004 was amazing. New York was always going to be straightforward but the ease at which we saw off Galway in the Connacht semi and Roscommon in the final was glorious.

Galway came into that game having beaten us in the ‘02 and ‘03 championships and there was a feeling that 2004 could be John O’Mahony’s last crack at Sam but Mayo emphatically dashed those hopes on a wonderful day.

THE SPOILS OF VICTORY: Ciaran McDonald wears the jersey of the vanquished after plotting a wonderful win over Galway in the 2004 Connacht semi-final. THE SPOILS OF VICTORY: Ciaran McDonald wears the jersey of the vanquished after plotting a wonderful win over Galway in the 2004 Connacht semi-final. 

I didn’t begrude Galway a moment of their success once they overcame us but there was something so fulfilling about being able to completely overwhelm them with our own wonderful, flowing game and win 0-18 to 1-9.

We quite simply blew them away. Ciaran McDonald was back and how – pulling the strings on the ‘40 with a performance that  had the entire country purring while Conor Mortimer produced his best ever performance against Galway, helping himself to eight points. Magic, pure magic.

1, Connacht Final, 1999

Its hard to trump the 2004 Connacht Final but the emotion after the 1999 victory in Tuam was out on its own. We may have ended the Tuam Hoodoo in 1997 but that was a game in which we expected to win. Come 1999 it was a different matter.

We had reached the All-Ireland finals of ‘96 and ‘97 but fell agonisingly short. Then, as we all know, Galway came along in 1998 and went all the way. The whole order of Connacht football had been knocked on its head, despite our oh so close efforts.

HIGH KING OF CONNACHT: John Maughan is chaired from Tuam Stadium after that great day in 1999. HIGH KING OF CONNACHT: John Maughan is chaired from Tuam Stadium after that great day in 1999. 

Suddenly everyone in Mayoo was cursing that John O’Mahony was ever allowed leave the county and John Maughan was lambasted left, right and centre. We travelled to Tuam in 1999 expecting Galway to augment their status of kings of the west.

The wet day produced a terrible minor final which we missed thanks to our bus being stuck in traffic. But we got there for the senior game and as we took our place behind the top goal, we wondered why as Galway produced a stunning first half as we anticipated the end of an era for Mayo.

But with one of the most uplifting second half performances seen by a Mayo team, we stormed back into it. Ciaran McDonald and Pat Fallon were sprung from the bench to great effect and James Horan kicked five wonderful points from play.

We won by four in the end and John Maughan was chaired around Tuam Stadium. All was right with the world and the sky seemed to be our limit. Cork would dash those dreams but they couldn’t wipe the memory of the wet Sunday in Tuam when we felt like world beaters.

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