Galway end jinx as they beat Kildare to take Division Two title

Manager Kevin Walsh hails his side after they won a ‘pressure game’ at Croke Park

Galway celebrate their AFL Division Two victory over Kildare. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Galway celebrate their AFL Division Two victory over Kildare. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Galway 0-18 Kildare 0-16

They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn, and after ending a near 16-year losing streak in Croke Park, Galway might feel like they’re heralding a new era. Time will tell.

For now their manager Kevin Walsh seemed less concerned about losing records than simply winning out a tight game: himself part of the Galway team that last won here – in the 2001 All-Ireland final win over Meath – what impressed Walsh was the nature of the victory, not just the meaning of it.

“Winning a pressure game, that was the beauty of this, in that they really got to feel what pressure means,” said Walsh. “After last week, player’s families and friends and club mates were all talking about this game, so it’s in the bag now.

“And with 10 different scorers, that’s good to see. And not conceding a goal again. I think we’ve been taking some flak, up to now, about things at the back. And I’m not sure Kildare even got close to a goal here. If you look at the stats, we’ve conceded the least out of Division Two, so all that makes it very satisfying.”

Typically these Division Two finals are less about the winning and all about the taking part, but Kildare also had added incentive – their losing record against Galway going back 32 years already, and still counting. Not that manager Cian O’Neill saw that as the only down side to this defeat.

“Both teams, I felt, were nervous, and it was a nervy first half,” said O’Neill. “It’s just a pity we didn’t perform as well as we can. The key thing will be how they learn from this. Galway are a serious outfit, really well organised, and it’s important they’re congratulated.

“But we’d be very disappointed to lose such a tight match, just couldn’t close it out. We battled back very hard in the second half to go three points up, then stopped playing, lost the edge, went 10 or 12 minutes without a score. What killed us were the turnovers, and their ability to counter-attack off of them.

“Again, this is a young team, a very young team, and they’ve exceeded all expectations in terms of promotion, finishing in the top two. This is part of the learning experience. Not just the fact we lost the match.”

So, even with both teams already upgraded to top flight football for 2018, there was open enthusiasm about the way both teams played – in a quite glaringly open game of football. Galway spread that best over the 70 minutes, saving the best until last. Paul Conroy led by example at midfield and was part of that impressive range of 10 scorers, while substitute Michael Daly closed the deal with two points off the bench, including the sealing score.

Shane Walsh and Sean Armstrong hit three each, with captain Gary O’Donnell and Johnny Heaney also adding points when Galway needed them most.

Tied up at half-time, on six points each, Galway’s enthusiasm for the game gradually soared as it came to its climax: Kildare had gone three points up on 55 minutes, then sat back and invited Galway on to them again. Once Daly levelled it on the hour, Galway then hit the next two points, opening just enough daylight to see them over the line.

Indeed Galway began with a level of enthusiasm Kildare found hard to match – looking perfectly comfortable in Croke Park despite their long loss record.

Conroy’s shot from long range opened their account, and on eight minutes a quite dazzling counter-attack involving Sean Armstrong and Gary Sice and finished by Eamonn Brannigan doubled their advantage.

Kevin Feely – taking over Kildare’s free-taking from the injured Neil Flynn – struck clean between the posts on 10 minutes. That stirred Kildare’s attacking instinct.

Kelly, moving out to centre forward, promptly made his presence felt with two excellent points in succession, and another Feely free put Kildare in front for the first time on 20 minutes. Kelly finished with five, all from play.

Not sure a mere footnote to the Division Two season then; but it leaves Galway on a firm footing for the rest of the season, especially if they get back to Croke Park.

GALWAY: R Lavelle; C Sweeney, D Kyne, D Wynne; G O’Donnell (capt) (0-2), M Farragher, L Silke (0-1); P Conroy (0-2), F Ó Curraoin; J Heaney (0-2), E Brannigan (0-1), T Flynn; G Sice (0-1, a free), S Armstrong (0-3, one free), S Walsh (0-3). Subs: M Lundy for Sice (53 mins), G Bradshaw (0-1) for Farragher (55 mins), M Daly (0-2) for Brannigan (58 mins), D Comer for Armstrong (63 mins), I Burke for Walsh (68 mins).

KILDARE: M Donnellan (0-1, a 45); M O’Grady, D Hyland (0-1), O Lyons; J Byrne, E Doyle (capt), K Cribbin (0-1); K Feely (0-4, three frees), T Moolick (0-1); F Conway (0-1), N Kelly (0-5), P Cribbin; C Healy, F Dowling (0-1), B McCormack. Subs: C McNally (0-1) for P Cribbon (39 mins), D Slattery for McCormack (44 mins, inj), P Kelly for K Cribbin, E Callaghan for Dowling (both 65 mins).

Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary).

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