Meehan the clear difference for Galway
Galway 1-15 Derry 0-15:“It’s great we can be happy with the win, and still be a little bit disappointed,” says Galway manager Alan Mulholland, sounding a bit like he’d just unexpected the expected.
Indeed it was one of those oddly conflicting games in Pearse Stadium: not an epic by any means yet decorated with some wonderfully skilful football, mainly in the blissful return to form of Micheál Meehan, then countered by a typically brave Derry comeback that ultimately sustained interest until the end.
With both teams, by the way, playing the better football into the wind, as opposed to with it – and why all early league results should carry a small-craft warning.
Yet for Meehan, fit and healthy enough to start his first league campaign in four years, scoring 1-5 was the perfect reminder to Galway supporters that Salthill is still his favourite playground, even if only a couple of thousand supporters showed up. Galway expectations will inevitably rise again, after that collapse of last summer, although Meehan’s performance isn’t the only thing Mulholland is happy about.
“I’m very encouraged by what we saw,” he adds, “but it’s about sustaining the performance that bit more. We hit 1-15, after hitting five points against Sligo, in the FBD League, and certainly we played some great football in the first half, and that’s something we can build on.
“So we’re improving, slowly. Lads just weren’t quite able to pick up where they left off, for the second half, and that’s definitely something we have to work on. Like we let Derry walk in 10 or 11 points in the second half, us playing with the wind, and that’s not going to be good enough at this level.”
Still, Galway’s freewheeling football in the opening 35 minutes made Derry look like a team lost at sea – or at least lost in misty rain blowing in off Galway Bay.
Michael Martin, Seán Armstrong and Danny Cummins were all feeding off Meehan’s buzz and with that worked Galway into a commanding position. Five points clear after the first 15 minutes, Meehan’s perfectly natural peripheral vision was the clear difference, with Martin, playing very well at centre forward, adding three points of his own, all from play.
Galway should have been further ahead at the break, not just 0-8 to 0-5, but briefly picked up where they left off after Martin produced a charging run at the Derry goal, saw his shot belt back off the crossbar, with who else but Meehan being in the right place at the right time fire in the rebound. Now six points clear, Galway now saw things go downhill from there, especially around midfield, the only consolation being that all four substitutes scored, which helped keep their noses in front until the end.
Cummins had two great goal chances that might have broken Derry’s spirits, but when Eoin McNicholl saved them spirits seemed to soar instead, with Eoin Bradley, Enda Lynn and substitutes Barry McGoldrick and Gerard O’Kane leading the way back into contention. With 20 minutes to play they were just a point in arrears, only for Meehan to put an end to Galway’s scoring drought.
With all that in mind Derry manager Brian McIver also had mixed emotions about the afternoon: “I would say, by the end of it, we did have some very good individual performances, but we gave so much silly ball away in the first half that we really made it very hard for ourselves. We were lucky we didn’t give away a few more goals, too.
“And certainly for the first 15 minutes Galway were a lot sharper on the ball, but I felt maybe our boys were a little nervous. When you have a few players making debuts nerves will always be a factor, particularly away from home. But we’ll learn from that.”
Victory for Mulholland gives Galway a definite head start in the race for promotion, even with plenty of miles still to run: “We were edgy going into this, wanted to beat Derry. But I still think they’ll be in the mix for promotion.”