Champagne display by champions

 

This Church & General National Football League opening match presented only one real challenge to Galway's manager, John O'Mahony - how to respond cautiously to a 23-point win.

In fact this task posed little difficulty for the man who was able within an hour of winning the All-Ireland to point out that on recent precedent, Galway would find it impossible to retain the title.

Yesterday, after watching his players put six goals past a hapless Leitrim side, O'Mahony commented:

"We're aware of the irony of Kerry winning their first league match last year and ending up in Division Three."

There was a poignant element to the match at Pairc MacDiarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon.

A minute's silence was observed before the throw-in to remember Shane McGettigan, the young Leitrim footballer killed in a work accident in the US last August, as well as Joe McInerney, the chairman of the Leitrim supporters' club in New York, who died at the weekend. McGettigan had played in the championship match between the counties in June.

For O'Mahony there was additional sadness in watching the dire straits in which the county he led to a Connacht title four years ago now finds itself. In a county with as few resources as Leitrim, the years after a rare visit to the top table always risked being difficult.

So it proved for a young and inexperienced side, bereft of 10 of their championship team for a variety of reasons - injuries, taking of breaks and retirement. "These are tough times for Leitrim," said O'Mahony. "They were missing players today and in Leitrim - as I know better than anyone - you can't afford to be short anyone."

Although they battled away, Leitrim fell frequent victim to their inexperience and lack of cohesion as a team. Failure to clear the ball decisively or even to find a team-mate meant that possession was never fully exploited, particularly in the opening 20 minutes when the team actually enjoyed the better of exchanges.

During this comparatively fallow period, Galway were still in a different class when it came to using the ball, and the residual fitness and confidence generated by their championship success was obvious. Given the pressure they were under, Leitrim produced some good performances with corner backs James Phelan and Derek Kelleher giving spirited accounts of themselves and midfielder Jason Ward bullocking around the middle and taking two good points from play.

After 13 minutes Leitrim led by 03 to 0-1 and the margin should have been more substantial, but poor distribution and the sharpness of Galway's full backs, including Richie Fahy and Brian Silke in place of All-Ireland final corner backs, Tomas Mannion and Tomas Meehan, limited them.

In the 18th minute, a bout of keep-ball ended with Michael Donnellan kicking a point to push his team in front, 0-4 to 0-3. Donnellan had begun to dominate the match with his pace and penetration. None of his opponents could keep track of him and he was integrally involved in the menace Galway were posing.

In the 19th minute, the tactics varied and a long ball from Ray Silke was carried on by Donnellan around the goalkeeper before being switched to Padraig Joyce who finished to the net.

Defeat was already flowing Leitrim's way. Within a three-minute spell from the 25th to 28th minute, they were engulfed. First, Joyce moved stealthily on to the end-line to gather a cleverly-slipped ball from Paul Clancy. Toying with the ball and cover, Joyce waited for the opening before cracking home the second of what was to be a hat-trick.

Within a minute, Donellan burst through the middle, exchanged passes with Niall Finnegan before driving home a third. Two minutes later Joyce was narrowly - and temporarily - denied a third goal, but Clancy made amends shortly after and by half-time Leitrim trailed by 14 points, 0-4 to 4-6.

There isn't much left to say about the second half. Galway continued to move the ball slickly with Kevin Walsh continuing to be prominent in the middle and they added almost casually to their total.

Leitrim had introduced a number of interval changes, moving starting centre back Pat Farrell into attack, bringing Adrian Charles in at full back and Ciaran Duignan into the forwards.

It made little impact but the struggle deserved better than to be dismissed by a couple of late goals although Joyce's hat-trick goal - volleyed in from a volleyed cross by Derek Savage - brought a final touch of quality to proceedings in the last minute as Leitrim supporters in the 2,000 crowd left scarified by the cold and thoughts of the future.

Galway: M McNamara; R Fahy, G Fahy, B Silke; R Silke, D Mitchell, S de Paor; K Walsh, F Gavin (0-1); P Clancy (1-3), S Walsh, M Donnellan (1-3); D Savage (0-2), P Joyce (3-0), N Finnegan (1-4, one point from a free). Subs: R Doyle for R Silke (40 mins); T Joyce for de Paor (42 mins); D Meehan (0-1) for Donnellan (44 mins).

Leitrim: G Phelan; J Phelan, J Honeyman, D Kelleher; J Tiffoney, P Farrell (0-1), P Guckian; D McNulty, J Ward (0-2); F McBrien (0-2), F Davitt, C Carroll (0-1); D Brennan (0-1), A Cullen, A Rooney (0-1). Subs: A Charles for Rooney, C Duignan for Guckian (both half-time); P McDermott for Carroll (50 mins).

Referee: J Bannon (Longford).