Reigning Connacht champions Galway moved a step closer to defending their title as they held off a Mayo fightback at Pearse Stadium to emerge 0-15 to 1-11 victors, with manager Kevin Walsh hailing his side’s resilience.
The Tribesmen’s Sean Armstrong kicked six points to advance his side to the 9 July showpiece final, where they’ll await the winners of Roscommon and Leitrim.
“Any time you win you’re happy, but we made a decision not to let this game define our season anyway,” said Galway boss Walsh.
“Last year was really huge that we had to stop the rot and this year it was important we performed. By tomorrow regardless of results we would sit down and assess how we went.
“But having said that it’s great to get them back-to-back as well, so that this team is tested and we are tested and were tested. The resilience was shown in bucketloads today.”
Galway looked set to cruise into the decider when Mayo’s Keith Higgins was sent off nine minutes before the break following an off the ball incident with Galway’s Damien Comer.
The Tribesmen took full advantage to open up a four-point cushion, with the reliable Armstrong knocking over all four of those scores from placed balls to give Galway a deserved 0-9 to 1-5 half-time advantage.
But Mayo refused to lie down in the second half and finished strongly, with three Cillian O’Connor scores bringing Mayo to within just a point with two minutes remaining. But they couldn’t find an equalising score despite six minutes of added time being played.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford, said: “Playing with 14 men doesn’t help especially when you’re playing against the Connacht champions and now a Division One team so we ended up playing over 50 minutes in tough, tough conditions,” said Rochford.
“We hit the post, we hit the crossbar, we had a ball cleared off the line and we had two shots in those closing minutes. We didn’t have a malfunction.
“We didn’t have a situation where there was no life in us maybe compared with where we were this time last year. We had umpteen chances to not just draw that game but win it. They are small margins.”
Scorers for Galway: Sean Armstrong 0-6 (3fs, 3 ’45s), Damien Comer 0-2, Gary Sice 0-2 (2f), Gareth Bradshaw 0-1, Johnny Heaney 0-1, Shane Walsh 0-1, Michael Daly 0-1, Eamonn Brannigan 0-1.
Scorers for Mayo: Cillian O’Connor 0-6 (5fs), Kevin McLoughlin 1-1, Patrick Durcan 0-1, Fergal Boland 0-1, Diarmuid O’Connor 0-1, Andy Moran 0-1.
GALWAY: Ruairi Lavelle; Cathal Sweeney, Declan Kyne, David Wynne; Gary O’Donnell, Gareth Bradshaw, Liam Silke; Paul Conroy, Fiontán Ó Curraoin; Thomas Flynn, Shane Walsh, Johnny Heaney; Michael Daly, Damien Comer, Sean Armstrong.
Subs: Gary Sice for Thomas Flynn (31, black card), Eamonn Brannigan for David Wynne (half time), Danny Cummins for Michael Daly (70), Michael Lundy for Sice (70+2).
MAYO: David Clarke; Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Patrick Durcan, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan; Tom Parsons, Diarmuid O’Connor; Fergal Boland, Seamus O’Shea, Stephen Coen; Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor, Andy Moran.
Subs: Aidan O’Shea for Seamus O’Shea (48), Danny Kirby for Andy Moran (48), Jason Doherty for Kevin McLoughlin (58), Evan Regan for Fergal Boland (61), Colm Boyle for Donal Vaughan (69), David Drake for Diarmuid O’Connor (70+2).
REFEREE: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).