BY MICHAEL GALLAGHER
At Elverys MacHale Park
A rip-roaring TG4 Connacht SFC Final gave the Castlebar crowd everything they craved and more when a ferocious Mayo team put Galway to the pin of their collar on Sunday afternoon.
Sizzling scores, yellow cards, a red card, a penalty save, exhilarating excitement and two teams who ran themselves ragged produced a provincial final of the very highest quality.
Tracey Leonard had the chance to win it for Galway with 15 seconds left but she missed her free kick and Mayo deservedly came away with the ball before the final whistle sounded. The sides will do it all again on 7 July.
The first half was ferociously competitive with Mayo laying down a serious marker of intent. Galway got off to a flying start with a fine goal from Louise Ward when she waltzed through and blasted to the net, but from then on it was nip and tuck.
Rachel Kearns was moving well at full-forward for Mayo and kept Galway honest at the back but the yellow card flashed at wing-back Ciara Whyte left Mayo under pressure and they trailed 1-4 to 0-2 after the first quarter. Roisin Leonard, Tracey Leonard, Sarah Conneally and Olivia Divilly all pointed, but Mayo’s ferocious tackling was frustrating Galway.
The Green and Red powered back into it with Sinead Cafferky, Sarah Rowe and Kearns to the fore in attack. Galway were held scoreless for a long period but eventually Tracey Leonard got then back on the board with a brace to leave Galway four points clear at the break, 1-6 to 0-5.
Conneally kicked another Galway point straight after the restart but Mayo were on a mission and responded explosively as two goals arrived inside 60 seconds. Rachel Kearns volleyed home after a sizzling run from Kathryn Sullivan and Éilish Ronayne scrambled home another one when Grace Kelly’s effort dropped short.
That spurred Galway into life and points arrived from Tracey Leonard, Megan Glynn and Aine McDonagh to leave them two clear again.
Mayo swept down the pitch again and had the chance to go in front after 43 minutes but substitute ‘keeper Dearbhla Gower saved Sarah Rowe’s penalty.
That didn’t deter the Green and Red and when Grace Kelly raced 50 yards to plant the ball in the net after 50 minutes the home side were one clear, 3-6 to 1-11.
That set up a grandstand finish and Mayo were dealt a huge blow when team captain Niamh Kelly was red carded and Galway were handed the initiative, but all they could muster was a single point from Tracey Leonard before the final hooter sent the thriller to a replay.
SCORERS – Galway: T Leonard 0-6 (4f), L Ward 1-0, S Conneally 0-2, A McDonagh 0-1, R Leonard 0-1 (1f), O Divilly 0-1, M Glynn 0-1. Mayo: R Kearns 1-2, É Ronayne 1-0, G Kelly 1-0 each, S Rowe 0-2 (2f), S Cafferky 0-1, N Kelly 0-1.
GALWAY: L Murphy; S Molloy; S Lynch, F Cooney; B Hannon, S Burke, C Cooney; L Ward, A McDonagh; O Divilly, T Leonard, M Glynn; L Coen, R Leonard, S Conneally.
Subs: M Seoighe for Coen 41, D Gower for Conneally 43, O Murphy for Hannon 50, N Ward for Cooney 51, S Conneally for Murphy 53.
MAYO: A Tarpey; N O’Malley, R Flynn, D Caldwell; É Ronayne, Ciara McManamon, C Whyte; Clodagh McManamon, S Cafferky; R Durkin, T O’Connor, N Kelly; S Rowe, R Kearns, G Kelly.
Subs: K Sullivan for O’Connor 20, F Doherty for Whyte h-t, D Finn for Clodagh McManamon 38, E Needham for Ciara McManamon 45, N Moran for Durkin 51.
Referee: John Niland (Sligo).Tweet