By Brían Mangan
A Frank Irwin penalty in the second period of extra time ultimately proved to be the key score in a magnificent Connacht Minor Final in which Mayo edged out old rivals Galway by a single point. In the end it was sheer determination that earned them the victory in a game of high drama, and they will now progress to face the Leinster runners up in the All Ireland Quarter Final on the last weekend in July. It was as good a game as you could hope to see in which Galway played their part, and they will look to pick themsleves and go again when they play the Leinster Champions on the same weekend.
The first half went by in a blur, with Galway racing into a 6-2 lead in the fifteenth minute with Cian Hernon and Ethan Fiorentini very influential in the half back line. Mayo battled back admirably to reel in Galway and kick 8 of the next 11 points however to leave the sores level at 9 all at the half time whistle. Mayo started with big Ray Walsh at the edge of the square and it was obvious from the first minute that their tactic was to rain ball down on top of him and get their speedy forwards off him feeding on the breaks. In the first period Tomo Culhane accounted for 6 of Galway’s scores, 5 of them coming from frees and he was definitely Galway’s main threat up front. Mayo spread their scores more evenly, with Ethan Henry, the industrious Ciaran Mylett and the classy Frank Irwin all kicking a brace. Mayo would have been kicking themselves in the dressing room at half time however as they led by 2 in injury time only to give away two careless frees on the stroke of half time, which Culhane easily converted.
The second half picked up just where the first half left off, with end to end action and full blooded commitment from the first minute. Some of the football played was top quality, with the points kicked towards the end under the most intense of pressure a joy to witness. Both teams had their spells of dominance and at different periods in the half they both looked like winners, but Tomo Culhanes ice cool equaliser at the death meant for a fair result. Ethan Henry sent the huge Mayo crowd wild a minute before when he kicked what looked like the winner with his third 45 of the match deep in injury time, but they were unable to hang on. Full back Ruairí King raced 60 metres to lash over the opening score 2 mins into the 2nd half, and from here on in it was helter skelter and never let up. Ethan Henry kicked some super scores for Mayo, and he seemed to respond with a score at the most crucial times whenever Galway edged in front. James McLaughlin also stormed into the contest in the second half, lording it at midfield and winning everything that came near him. Dylan Brady kicked a huge score for Galway in the 18th minute, but such an exciting game was inevitably going to to result in extra time, 0-15 each the full time score.
Somehow, extra time managed to surpass normal time for excitement. In the 3rd minute of the first half, Tomo Culhane rifled home a penalty after his exquisite pass made the space for Niall Cunningham, who was hauled down. Galway were now 4 up, and looked set for victory. The outstanding Dylan Thornton pointed his second however on the stroke of half time to leave the score 1-17 t 0-17, just a goal between them and the game very much alive. Paul Walsh got the first score of the game at the beginning of the second half, surprising considering he scored 4-1 in the previous game. Then came the crucial score, and it was another penalty. A high ball in saw John Grady pushed in the square, and Frank Irwin made no mistake, rifling the penalty home high to Hallerans left. The physical toll of the game eventually caught up to the players at the very end, with many going down with cramp after the incredible effort put in. Try as they might Galway couldn’t get the point that would force penalties, and Mayo held out for a famous win after the game of the year, their first since the competition changed to U17.
Galway: D Halleran, J McGrath, R King (0-1), L Tevnan, C Hernon, E Fiorentini, D McNulty (0-1), J McLoughlin (0-1 45’), D O’Flaherty, E Nolan (0-1), D Cox (0-2), D Brady (0-1), N Grainger (0-1), T Culhane (1-9, 1-7fs), W Seoige (0-1) SUBS R Burke, N Cunningham, D Kennedy, S McGrath, C Gallagher, D Cox, A Naughton, J Webb, N Grainger
Mayo: L Jennings, O McHale, O Tunney, A Cosgrave, S Dempsey (0-1), R Keane, E Gilraine (0-1), P Heneghan, E Henry (0-6, 0-3 45’s), C Mylett (0-2), R Hughes, D Thornton (0-1), P Walsh (0-1), R Walsh, F Irwin (1-2, 1-0 pen) SUBS R Morrin (0-2), J Grady (0-1), E Murphy, C O’Connell, C Reid, S Callinan, C Mylett, R Hughes