Galway and Mayo shared the spoils as they battled out a 1-10 to 2-08 draw in their Allianz National Football League Division 1 opener.
There was a sense of a big occasion at MacHale Park with two rivals clashing under the Saturday night lights and the level of effort and intensity was perhaps an indication of the added importance the National Leagues now hold.
A reimagined All Ireland Championship for 2023 will see the eight provincial finalists compete for Sam Maguire along with the eight next best counties based on League ranking.
It was a fast-paced opening period befitting of a Mayo-Galway tie, both teams going back and forth committing men to the attack.
Damien Comer returned straight to All-Star form, opening the scoring for Galway with a well-placed point.
Galway’s talismanic no. 14 then claimed a mark inside the opposing 65 after a monstrous kickout from Conor Gleeson, finding Cillian McDaid for Galway’s second.
The Tribesmen edged out the first 10 minutes but they fell behind through a James Carr goal, his thunderous effort cannoning into the top corner off the crossbar.
Not to be outdone by their hosts, Galway claimed a goal of their own after a perfectly placed pass dropped just right for Matthew Tierney to palm the ball past Colm Reape.
Cornerback Eoghan Kelly saw the black card but his time in the sinbin was managed tactically by Galway, and Mayo only kicked 0-01 with the man advantage.
Wides were hard to come by and efficiency on both sides was top notch – not until a wayward Galway free on 32 minutes did either team manage a miss.
The home side showed signs of uncertainty in Kevin McStay’s first game as Mayo manager whereas a degree of continuity among Padraig Joyce’s All-Ireland finalists carried them to a 1-05 to 1-03 lead at the halfway point.
Mayo bite back
Mayo stumbled to a prolonged scoring drought to close the first half but took just 10 seconds of the second to break it.
That Matthew Ruane point was the first of three unanswered as Mayo cantered ahead and placed a stranglehold on the game.
A trademark run upfield from fullback for captain Seán Kelly swung the metronome back in Galway’s favour as he slotted the ball into the bottom corner off the post.
Reinforcements soon followed for Mayo – star man Aidan O’Shea was thrown straight into full forward off the bench.
The Green and Red built some momentum from there but it was undone by a black card of their own for Ruane. Both teams were reduced to 14 when McDaid was guilty of a deliberate pulldown of his own.
With just a point separating the sides in the closing stages the affair became cagey. A scoring lull of over 10 minutes was broken by a Ryan O’Donoghue free – all square with five minutes to go.
Though introduced in the first half for Galway after Rob Finnerty was carried off injured, Peter Cooke announced his return to intercounty action after two years away by stepping up for a crucial free in the dying embers of the contest.
The midfield man from Moycullen didn’t let the occasion phase him and put Galway ahead going into added time. Frees were traded and it looked like Comer would prove to be the match winner when he kicked one of his own.
But Mayo landed one last punch as O’Donoghue rubberstamped a 0-05 performance with a stellar leveller from long range deep into the five added minutes.
Galway open their home campaign against Roscommon next while Mayo will make the journey north to face Armagh at the Athletic Grounds.