‘It was a horrendous thing to do’ - Pádraic Joyce unhappy at stamp on Damien Comer

League champions never recovered from first-half red card for Gareth McKinless for challenge

All-Ireland SFC Group 1: Galway 2-14 Derry 0-15

The respective momentum of the two teams in Salthill on Saturday evening was unambiguously established by the end. Galway, their rehabilitation picking up pace after coming late to win the Connacht final, raised their game once more to see off Derry’s league winners before 7,602 spectators.

That it was comfortable in the end owes plenty to the home side’s re-emergence but was aided and abetted by the visitors’ self-inflicted wounds.

For Pádraic Joyce there was a familiar balancing consideration, injuries. The withdrawal of key players Damien Comer, Seán Kelly and Rob Finnerty may have been largely precautionary but the Galway manager was fuming over the foul on Comer that saw Derry’s Gareth McKinless red-carded.

Asked about the prognosis, an angry Joyce said that they were as yet uncertain.


“Don’t know, but he got a nasty stamp in the ankle so ... he got on with that but it just gave way in the end there now. It was a horrendous thing to do, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Derry paid a heavy price for the incident both at the weekend and likely the weekends to come. Already the team had lost the half-back line that delivered the league title in March against Dublin with the late replacement of Conor Doherty and Eoin McEvoy, whose counterattacking yielded a hat-trick in the final. Wing back Pádraig McGrogan had already been ruled out with an injured ACL.

McKinless was the remaining piece in the jigsaw, having come on against Dublin at half-time. The recklessness of his 21st minute sending off left the team disorientated. They had already borrowed a centrefielder and half forward, Brendan Rogers and Ciarán McFaul, to fill out the half-back line.

The impact on Galway was equally immediate. Three unanswered points created a buffer in what had been a tit-for-tat contest.

Paul Conroy – a deserved man of the match with a considered display and three points from play – Finnerty and John Daly put them 0-8 to 0-5 ahead. And although the reliable Shane McGuigan kicked a miracle point while falling, and on an advantage, the two-point half-time lead, 0-8 to 0-6, looked likely only to expand in the second half.

Instead, Derry came out energised – McGuigan was back in front of goal to block his raiding marker, Johnny McGrath – and closed the gap by the 40th minute with points from Conor Glass and Lachlan Murray, who put in a decent shift with three points from play.

After a Finnerty free had re-established Galway’s lead, the home side struck for the first of two crucial goals.

After all his travails in the Ulster defeat by Donegal, it was a kick-out from Derry goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch that went astray, straight to Matthew Tierney, who passed to Shane Walsh, whose pop pass to captain Seán Kelly opened up the route to goal. Replacement Donncha Gilmore heroically blocked but Kelly was on hand to finish the rebound to the net.

With four points of clear water between the teams, Galway were in command. It was a match made for Walsh in particular, his pace able to exploit gaps created by turnover ball and the deficit in the opposition ranks.

He also played in Cein Darcy for the second goal, executed in a 1-2 with Daniel O’Flaherty, after a 65th-minute intervention from goalkeeper Connor Gleeson had kept out a snapshot by McGuigan.

It was a terrific opening to Galway’s All-Ireland campaign and for good measure, 2022 Footballer of the Year nominee Cillian McDaid made a first appearance this season, off the bench.

Last year established the importance of winning your group and avoiding the preliminary quarter-finals. Ironically, the Connacht champions made a similarly successful start last year but a narrow defeat in the final fixture against Armagh effectively derailed their season.

They will also face the Ulster finalists in this season’s concluding match and Joyce expressed the hope that it would be held in Croke Park.

“We’ll worry about them when the time comes. Obviously, the venue will be the big one there – we’re looking to try and get the game in Croke Park if we can. See where it goes, we’ll focus on Westmeath first.”

Harte faces into a difficult couple of weeks. Derry have fallen back from league winners and All-Ireland contenders to fighting for the best position they can get in the playoff stages. He wasn’t sure when he’d be getting back Doherty and McEvoy and he was also short important bench options, Cormac Murphy and Niall Loughlin.

He talked up the quality of his team’s performance and obliquely referenced his record with Tyrone in the old qualifier system.

“Sometimes you have to go the road you’re sent as fate would have it. I’ve been down a few of those roads before and we managed rightly.”

GALWAY: C Gleeson; J McGrath, S Fitzgerald, J Glynn; D McHugh, J Daly (0-2), L Silke; P Conroy (0-3), M Tierney (0-1); J Heaney (0-1), J Maher, S Kelly (capt; 1-0); R Finnerty (0-4, 2f), D Comer, S Walsh (0-2).

Subs: C Darcy (1-0) for Comer (47 mins); C McDaid for Maher (58); D O’Flaherty for Kelly (62); C Ó Curraoin for Finnerty (65); L Ó Conghaile (0-1) for Heaney (67 mins).

DERRY: O Lynch; C McCluskey, C McKaigue, D Baker; B Rogers (0-1), G McKinless, C McFaul (0-2); C Glass (0-1), E Bradley (0-1); E Doherty (0-1), P Cassidy (0-1), D Cassidy; N Toner, S McGuigan (0-4, 2f), L Murray (0-3).

Subs: D Gilmore (0-1) for D Cassidy (h-t); E Mulholland for Toner (48 mins); C McGonagle for Murray (68); S Downey for McFaul (70).

Referee: B Cawley (Kildare).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times