From 2017 All-Ireland final to mass player walkout, Mayo now clawing their way back to the top
THE LAST TWO years have been a rollercoaster ride for the Mayo ladies.
Mayo have been on a whirlwind journey.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
From an All-Ireland senior final appearance in September 2017 to a mass player walkout and a row rumbling on last summer, the Green and Red have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows over the past 23 months or so.
Yet, here they find themselves in their second All-Ireland quarter-final in as many years — with a massive chance to progress this time around.
Peter Leahy’s side come into Saturday’s meeting with Armagh at Pearse Park in Longford [throw-in 1pm, live on TG4] off the back of a massive win over three in-a-row Ulster champions Donegal.
Mayo should be full of confidence after their 1-22 to 3-12 win, which saw them claim top spot in Group 4 and surprisingly knock Maxi Curran’s All-Ireland contenders out of the race for the Brendan Martin Cup.
It was a result that showed this rising Mayo side definitely mean business.
To understand the significance of it, however, and the importance of being back in an All-Ireland quarter-final, one must rewind the clock.
24 September 2017
Heartbreak for Frank Browne’s Mayo in Croke Park. On the fourth successive time of asking, Dublin finally delivered the All-Ireland title after a dramatic decider in front of 46,286 at HQ.
12 points separated the sides at the death, but it was late goals that saw the Sky Blues over the line. Mayo were contesting their first final since 2007 and bidding for their first title since 2003 and although it didn’t go their way, it was good to be back at the top table.
Niamh Kelly dejected after the 2017 All-Ireland final.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
In the weeks and months that followed, there were a few developments within the county. A certain Cora Staunton secured a move to the AFLW, leading her club Carnacon to All-Ireland glory before heading Down Under.
Before heading off, she said time and time again that she was yet to make a decision on whether or not she’d be back in the Green and Red of Mayo for a remarkable 24th season.
Browne stepped down, and Leahy — who was drafted in as a coach mid-2017 took the reins as manager.
28 January 2018
Mayo started their 2018 season on a winning note, with Leahy guiding his side to a 0-11 to 0-7 win over his native Westmeath. It was early days, of course, but the Kelly sisters — Niamh and Grace — led the charge, as they do to this day.
From there, they navigated their way through the group stages successfully and beat Cork on a scoreline of 1-20 to 3-12 in the semi-final. Sarah Rowe fronted the scoring that day — again, as she more often than not does to this day.
After ending the Rebels’ six in-a-row bid, Dublin stood in their way in the decider.
6 May 2018
Mick Bohan’s side came up trumps again, securing their first-ever Division 1 crown after a 12-point win. Again, the score difference was in double figures but it didn’t exactly reflect the game.
It was all about championship from there, a Connacht decider against Galway fast-approaching and the All-Ireland campaign thereafter. On 6 June, Leahy confirmed to The42 that 11-time All-Star Staunton was back in the set-up after an excellent debut season Down Under.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Understandably, that was the whole talk ahead of the provincial decider.
24 June 2018
After being named on the bench, the Carnacon star was a late change to the starting team. Despite her 0-6 tally and Fiona Doherty’s goal, Galway were two-point winners in Castlebar as they sealed a sixth Connacht title in seven years.
Onto the All-Ireland series, Mayo were still walking tall.
10 July 2018
A day that sent shockwaves around ladies football circles.
“Mayo rocked by departure of 10 players including Staunton ahead of All-Ireland championship opener,” as the headline on The42 read.
It’s well-documented at this stage, the departed group — which increased to 12 players and two backroom team members — initially cited “player welfare issues” as the reason for their departure.
The row rumbled on through the summer; statement after statement and twist after turn, with things getting messy as it spilled onto the club scene.
Leahy, and the group that remained, were determined to do their talking on the pitch however.
14 July 2018
They did just that in Clones, putting a week of upheaval behind them as they recorded a thrilling 3-23 to 4-13 win over Cavan. Rowe and Grace Kelly shone, combining for 3-13 and the scenes and outpouring of emotion at the final whistle said it all.
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No matter what had happened, this unit was marching on.
Having lost stalwarts like Fiona McHale and Sarah Tierney in the walkout, the younger members of the squad stood up and were counted. They’ve continued to do so to this day.
The scenes at full-time in Clones.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
The off-field controversy may have ultimately marred their 2018 campaign, but Mayo did everything they could to compete. A 3-11 to 1-8 loss was the outcome of their other group clash against Dublin, but that fantastic win over the Breffni saw them into an All-Ireland quarter-final.
12 August 2018
Galway were ruthless in their last eight battle, firing five goals as the curtain came down on Mayo’s season. All things considered, it went relatively well.
The fallout and controversy continued as autumn fell but a line was soon drawn under the saga. Leahy was re-appointed as manager in early November, with an agreement made that he’ll remain in charge until 2021.
3 February 2019
The order of the year: rebuild. And that started on a high with a 2-11 to 0-12 league win over Tipperary. Operating now without Rowe, who had headed to the AFLW herself, Mayo had unearthed a few gems through the winter and found a nice balance to go forward.
A league campaign of trialling and testing followed; one of the highlights when they rattled the Dubs at Croke Park, running them to two points.
They missed out on a semi-final spot but the positives that they took from the campaign were definitely plentiful. Rachel Kearns starred, and several other youngsters and first-time county players made a name for themselves. Things were looking good.
23 June 2019
A rip-roaring Connacht final in Castlebar saw Mayo and Galway finish level. Progress, for sure. Rowe had returned in the latter stages of the league and she was back pulling the strings in the forward line alongside the Kelly sisters, Kearns and Sinead Cafferky.
Manager Peter Leahy.
Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO
Again, they gave a top side a rattle; the Tribeswomen just off the back of a Division 1 league final loss to Cork. Slowly but surely, Mayo were showing that they were back. Or perhaps, had never gone away.
6 July 2019
Unfortunately, Leahy’s charges never hit the heights of the performance they delivered in the drawn game as Galway ran out 3-7 to 0-9 winners in the replay.
They could take solace in the fact that this had happened before, however. Many-a-time over the past few years, Mayo had lost in Connacht and emphatically bounced back for the All-Ireland stages.
The provincial losers were pitted into a fairly daunting Group 4 alongside red-hot Donegal and 2018 All-Ireland intermediate champions Tyrone, an ever-rising slick and youthful side.
13 July 2019
After the long lay-off between the league and provincial campaign, the games were coming thick and fast. And much like their men’s side, Mayo seemed to enjoy the week-on-week element and being on the road.
Their visit to Healy Park saw them emerge three-point winners over the Red Hand; Kearns (2-3), Grace Kelly (1-3) and Rowe (0-4) again dominating the score-sheet. It was a brilliant game of football but one perhaps, that Tyrone should have done better in after missing four goal chances in the second half.
Mayo would definitely take the result though, drawing first blood in a difficult group.
The following week, Tyrone produced one of the shocks of the summer so far at Cusack Park, leaving things wide open as it all came down to Mayo-Donegal.
The Ulster champions had to win to to keep their All-Ireland dream alive.
27 July 2019
Standing tall: Mayo.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Not many would have predicted it, but Mayo recorded a massive win over Donegal, knocking the Tír Chonaill side out of the competition in the process.
It finished 1-22 to 3-12 at O’Connor Park in Tullamore and once again, the Mayo forwards sparkled on the big stage. The full-forward line of Rowe, Kearns and Grace Kelly combined for 1-20 in a real coming-of-age performance for the side.
If they hadn’t already, this result surely confirmed that Mayo are on their way back to the top.
Another huge test against Armagh ensues this weekend; with the Orchard county coming into this one off the back of a huge one-point group stage win over Cork.
Both sides will be looking to make a huge point this weekend, with a coveted Croke Park All-Ireland semi-final spot up for grabs.
One thing’s for sure though; no matter how the result goes, one just has to admire how this Mayo side have bounced back over the past 13 months.
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