Galway make fair start on a foul day as Tyrone tamed
Newcomer's skipper Damien Comer sets the tone with goal after 22 seconds in Tuam
Galway and Tyrone players scuffle suring the Allianz League Division One game at Tuam Stadium. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Galway 1-9 Tyrone 0-8
There is always the danger of the newbies to Division One suffering from altitude sickness on their first day out, so the signs were encouraging for Galway on Sunday.
In their first top-flight league match since 2011, they looked comfortable. One local fan walking his son through the general greyness and drizzle gave a walking education on just where Galway stood in the greater things. “Apart from Kerry and Dublin, Galway have won more All-Irelands . . . ”
In the city, Galway’s All-Ireland hurling champions were entertaining the crowd. But in Tuam’s stadium, where it always feels as if it’s around 1965, Galway football remains king.
Boosted by a brilliant goal after 22 seconds and then a point from captain Damien Comer, the home team had both the know-how and the appetite for the necessary January sludge-work to enjoy a heartening win.
They held the Ulster champions to 0-3 in the first half and coughed up no clear goal chances over the match. Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh gobbled up any high ball that came his way and looked at home at full back, Shane Walsh glided across the squelchy surface and Comer has, over the past two seasons, become a hugely influential force on this team. He really is a sight when he goes at defences at full speed and has the vision and touch to make use of the space he clears through pure strength.
Elsewhere, Eamonn Brannigan kicked two nice points from play and Peter Cooke had good moments – including winning the throw-in which set the move in motion for the Comer goal.
But the win wasn’t quite as emphatic as it might have been: after Shane Walsh kicked his obligatory sublime point in the 54th minute, Galway led by 1-7 to 0-4. They had enjoyed a one-man advantage since the 23rd minute and with that score, the game looked beyond the Ulster champions.
Instead, Kevin Walsh’s team had to play and think their way through a concerted Tyrone push for in the final quarter, when seasoned players like Tiernan McCann, Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte began to punch holes in the Galway defence to reel off four quick points to leave just two between the teams.
Niall Sludden clipped a shot off the post during that period, as the old stadium fell ominously quiet. A clever steal – or, from Tyrone’s perspective, a loose pass – gave Gareth Bradshaw clear ground to thunder through and lay the ball off for the reliable Comer to ease the pressure on his team with a well-taken point. After that, Galway pulled clear again but a needless and tetchy six minutes of added time saw a series of squabbles which resulted in two further Tyrone men, Michael McKernan and Harte, leaving the field on black cards.
“It was a great start but in fairness when teams get a start like that they can go on the back foot and start defending,” Walsh said.
“Our boys didn’t do that. Something we have been trying to push is that we go forward as much as possible. Sometimes we have been criticised for that but for the style of Galway football it is important we bring the game to opponents and there was a lot of that today.”
Walsh made one late change, inserting Adrian Varley to the starting line-up and leaving him isolated at inside full forward against Ronan McNamee. Galway sought to play him early and often and the exchanges became sufficiently intense to persuade Harte to mix things up, withdrawing his full back early.
“There was just too much aggression between him and his man and someone was going to lose the plot there,” said the Tyrone manager. “It was to save being down a man. And suddenly we were down a man anyway! That game was volatile at times and you could have lost players very easily.”
So technically, Tyrone finished with 12 men on a day when little went right. Like the crowd still filtering through the turnstile, they seemed stunned by Comer’s early goal and were in a different gear for the first 15 minutes.
Given the rottenness of the day, the jig seemed up when they lost Darren McCurry, who responded to a late challenge as he kicked a badly needed point for the visitors and was shown a red.
The pitch was soft and a veil of drizzle moved across field and Tyrone’s slick handling and inter-play fell apart too often, with passes mis-timed and players slipping. And yet for all that, they hung around in the match. “In the second half of the first half we played a lot of good football but couldn’t take our scoring chances,” Harte said reasonably.
“We had three scores from 10 attempts and that is not going to win a lot of games. If we had have been better in that department we could have slipped ahead at half-time. For the first 10-12 minutes we were flat but after that I thought we put up a brave battle.”
It was a gritty last quarter performance on a day that Tyrone might have decided was not for them. Had they managed to squeeze the scoreboard by another point in that last 10 minutes, then they might have taken something from the day. Instead, they headed back up the road thinking about a Saturday night visit by All-Ireland champions Dublin. Omagh should be lively that night.
GALWAY: 1 R Lavelle; 2 D Kyne, 3 S A O’Ceallaigh, 4 E Kerin; 5 C Sweeney, 6 G Bradshaw, 7 J Heaney; 8 P Conroy, 9 P Cooke; 10 S Kelly, 11 S Walsh (0-4, three frees), 12 E Brannigan (0-2); 13 P Sweeney (0-1), 25 A Varley, 14 D Comer (1-2).
Substitutes: 18 P Cunningham for 25 A Varley (55 mins), 23 T Flynn for 13 P Sweeney (60), 20 J Duane for 10 S Kelly (65), 24 G O’Donnell for 12 E Brannigan (70), 17 S Armstrong for 11 S Walsh (73).
TYRONE: 1 N Morgan; 2 M McKernan, 3 R McNamee, 4 HP McGeary; 5 T McCann (0-1), 6 P Hampsey, 12 K McGeary; 8 M Donnelly (0-1), 10 C McCann; 15 C McAlliskey (0-1, free), 11 N Sludden, 9 P McNulty; 13 D McCurry (0-1), 7 P Harte (0-2, both frees), 14 C McShane (0-1).
Substitutes: 17 M Bradley for 3 R McNamee (21 mins), 26 R O’Neill (0-1) for 15 C McAlliskey (46), 23 D McClure for 9 P McNulty (47), 25 R McNabb or 12 K McGeary (50), 22 R Donnelly for 10 C McCann (56), 18 L Brennan for 11 N Sludden (66).
Referee: C Branagan (Down).