Galway move past Roscommon with the real business awaiting
Kevin Walsh’s side seal Connacht league title in an entertaining clash in Tuam
Eamon Branningan shoots for Galway in their Connacht league final wni over Roscommon. Photograph: Inpho
Galway 2-09 Roscommon 0-13
“Look it, it is great to get the turkey out of the system,” said Kevin Walsh as the guards ushered the traffic out of Tuam town. It seemed to catch the mood of the day as the January crowd filed away pleased with having caught a terrific contest and not a single shower of rain. Now, onto the real thing.
As Michael O’hEither (possibly) said, Tuam stadium is to Gaelic games what CBGB is to punk music. Games have a habit of crackling into life in the old arena, even in the maudlin days of January. The highlight of the afternoon was a hugely brave and honest bit of ball-winning by Brian Murtagh as Roscommon desperately sought a late point while the crowd happily forgot that this final was supposed to mean nothing. When it comes down to it, Roscommon and Galway can’t help it.
By then, Galway had abandoned the traditional open man-on-man defence by dropping every player back except for substitute Shane Walsh. Suddenly there was no space for the measured, chipped balls which the Roscommon engine room had been playing to their energetic full forward line. They sought a gap to no avail and with referee Declan Corcoran checking the wristwatch, it fell to Niall Daly to launch a speculative shot under pressure from distance. It trailed inches wide of Thomas Dolan’s left post. The celebrations were perfunctory. The match had been highly enjoyable but the general consensus was that the hour was just enough.
“The last thing we needed was extra time,” smiled Kevin McStay as his thoughts turned to next Sunday.
“We were happy enough with the second half. That is the second day now we didn’t play in the first half. And once the game was gone we kind of relaxed and played.”
Both McStay and Galway manager Kevin Walsh fielded teams jam-packed with novices and then stood back to watch what was a really entertaining, open match with several fizzing scores. The two early goals plundered by Damien Comer gave Galway a gap that they just about minded in the end. All that we learned from Galway is that either Walsh put the jerseys in a very hot wash-n-dry cycle causing alarming shrinkage or his big midfield pair of Thomas Flynn and Fiontain O Curraoin have hit the weights room over the summer.
Both men gave imposing, dynamic performances around the middle third while Paul Conroy, wearing number eight, had a heavyweight afternoon and when Roscommon were pressing hardest, it was to the St James’ man that goalkeeper Thomas Dolan twice looked to deliver two vital kick-outs. Twice Conroy obliged and his meat fetch and delivery for Johnny Heaney’s second point was the score which settled an anxious period of play for Galway. They played attractive football through the first half and settled after Comer’s two fisted goals.
The Annaghdown man and captain AdrianVarley were in ferocious form on the edge of the Ros’ square, with Varley and Tom Featherston engaged in a riveting personal duel all afternoon. Senan Kilbride banged over two economical points for Roscommon but they were slow to warm to this and trailed by 2-5 to 0-6 at the break.
But for all the cribbing about the FBD, both the teams and the occasion kept forgetting about the unimportance of the day and the match flared into a really enjoyable contest. Tactically, it was a day to make the traditionalists weep with joy: both Walsh and McStay limited their instructions to: go play.
Galway couldn’t work a score for fifteen minutes after half time and saw their lead erased through a series of frees - some of which were more easily given in January than they might be in June. So their second half scores felt like siege-breakers: Varley thumped a fine point after latching on to Paul Conroy’s pass before Heaney’s relieving score.
“Yeah, it was a crucial moment,” said Kevin Walsh.
“It was a serious point. I think he took one with the left in the first half as well so that was great to see that. The difficulty in the second half was the breeze and maybe there is a bit of a fear of winning and you sit back and start to do things individually a bit. That happens. There is a lot of fellas out here for the first time.
“Apart from the goals there were a fair few dubious frees and they had to fight hard at the end. And it is important for these lads to learn how to hold out a game. What happens now is that some fellas have stepped up in this kind of league and they deserve their chance in the national league. It doesn’t mean they are going to perform in it. It is up to them to step up and show that they can do that. With the list of injuries we have no choice but for some of them to step up.”
Walsh has ten regular names on his injury list as he prepares for next week’s league opener in Portlaoise and there was the sense that his mind was already there even as Varley headed to the dressing room with the first silverware of the year. He was understandably reticent to endorse the notion that it is vital that Galway emerges from division two this season.
“I’m not so sure about that. Everyone wants to get out of division two but it is more essential that people are able to step up and we can assemble a team going forward so the panel is strong enough to deal with injuries.”
Onwards, then, to more serious business.
Galway: T Dolan; D Wynne, K Kyne, E Kerins; L Silke, G O’Donnell, J Heaney (0-2); P Conroy, T Flynn; E Tierney (0-1), E Hoara, F Ó Curraoin; D Comer (2-1), A Varley (0-3), E Brannigan. Subs: S Walsh for E Hoare (48 mins), S Ó Curraoin for E Brannigan (59 mins).
Roscommon: G Claffey, R Stack, T Featherston, N Collins; B Murtagh, N Daly (0-1), R Daly; E Smith, C Shine, S Oates (0-1), K Kilcline, C Murtagh (0-4 frees), C Connolly (0-3, two frees), S Kilbride (0-2), C McHugh. Subs: S McDermott for N Collins (h-t), N Kilroy for K Kilcline (39 mins), U Harney for S Oates (45 mins), F Cregg for C Murtagh (56 mins). Referee: D Corcoran (Mayo).