Galway prove too strong for novice Leitrim side
Tribesmen win by double scores in Carrick-on-Shannon, but can they halt Mayo’s march?
Galway goalscorer Damien Comer gets a pat on the head from his team-mate Michael Lundy during the Connacht SFC quarter-final match against Leitrim at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in carrick-on-Shannon. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Galway 1-13 Leitrim 0-8
Some championship matches are about winning. Others are about making a statement. This one fell flat somewhere in between.
Achtung Mayo? Maybe. Galway came and softly conquered a mostly apprentice Leitrim team, and with that all thoughts immediately shifted to their semi-final date against the Connacht champions: Galway will have home advantage against Mayo in four weeks time, but they’ll also need to sharpen up considerably on their shooting - and perhaps their discipline too.
By the end of this Leitrim found themselves with 40 frees (not including the one or two we may have missed), and while that count appeared to come as a genuine surprise to Galway manager Kevin Walsh, it also reflected a somewhat frustrating afternoon. Galway were definitely the better team, yet they couldn’t always get the better of Leitrim.
It didn’t help that it was a game that had more nibble than bite. Afterwards, Walsh emphasised the fear he had coming to Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada, knowing from his own experience how testing a venue it could prove. Galway played like that for much of the first half, overtly apprehensive and with that affording Leitrim more time of the ball than they could actually handle.
So, while it was strangely tight for the first 20 minutes, once Galway settled their nerves and found the heads the game shifted entirely in their favour. Just after the half hour they got the break they’d threatened when Damien Comer latched onto a neat pass from Peadar Og O Griofa. What happened next was textbook forward play: Comer rotated, eyed up his target, and shot directly into the Leitrim net. It put Galway up 1-7 to 0-3, and left Leitrim with an unassailable mountain to climb.
It was a pity, because up until then Leitrim had played with great heart, and soul; they just lacked a little muscle. Kevin Conlan, Fergak Clancy and Sean McWeeney epitomised their attitude by hitting back with three points before the break, although for the rest of the game they were all swimming against the tide.
Leitrim started the second half with a decent goal chance - which Donal Wrynn sent wide - and then went the next 28 minutes without a score (a free from Conlan). Substitute Paddy McGowan added one more before the end, but in truth two points in the second half was about a fair enough return on their investment.
So, what signs then that Galway can halt Mayo’s quest for a fifth Connacht title in succession (and sixth in seven years)? Once they got their mojo working, Galway certainly had plenty of scoring options - but as Walsh also admitted afterwards, they didn’t also take the right one. At times their forward movement was like a bag of liquorice all sorts: some very sweet and tasty ones, with a few not great ones mixed in too.
Indeed it was midfielder and captain Paul Conroy who ended up contributing most of their scores (0-6, five from frees) - and their acclaimed half forwards only scored 0-1 between them.
Michael Lundy hasn’t quite transferred his Corofin club form to the county, although he did break forward for one trademark point in the first half; Danny Cummins was winning ball by the bucket full, but again it took him a while to make something of the mix - hitting two second half points (just before he was replaced); and Shane Walsh will know better than anyone that he has more to offer, his personally expressive style not showing up very much here. Indeed Walsh was replaced on 51 minutes, by Patrick Sweeney, who showed up his potential by adding a point from play.
Again, the Galway manager kept emphasising that this was a game to win, not so much make that statement. It’s hard to know exactly what Walsh feared (Galway now boast the perfect 10 over Leitrim: a 10th successive championship win in the last 20 years) and at times in the first half Galway appeared to show Leitrim a little too much respect. Darren Sweeney and Shane Moran - Leitrim’s midfield pairing - was actually outshining their more esteemed opposition, even if they couldn’t sustain that for very long.
Leitrim manager Shane Ward had nothing but praise for his team (which included five debutants, and another six on the bench), and instead reserved his criticism for Galway - accusing them of playing “negative” football in the second half.
“They are certainly big men,” Ward said of the Galway team, “but I don’t know how many times their physio was on the field, how many times big men (went down), who were hit by supposedly small men. They seemed to be hurt quite a lot, which doesn’t add up. And I thought Galway were very negative in second-half, at one stage they had 15 men behind their own 45. Everyone is talking about the negativity of Ulster football, but the questions have to go a lot further afield than that.”
Still, Leitrim can and should take some heart. They’ve only won a single qualifier match in the 14-year history of football’s “back door”: that was in 2012, when they beat Wicklow. It’s not shaping up to be a great summer for Leitrim, but for now there is still time to win a match, and make a statement too.
GALWAY: 1 B O’Donoghue; 2 J Duane, 3 F Hanley, 4 C Sweeney; 5 L Silke, 6 G O’Donnell (0-1), 7 S Denvir; 8 F O Curraoin, 9 P Conroy (capt) (0-6, five frees); 10 G Sice, 11 S Walsh, 12 M Lundy (0-1); 13 P Og O Griofa (0-1, a free), 15 D Cummins (0-2), 14 D Comer (1-1).
Subs: 24 P Sweeney (0-1) for Walsh (51 mins), 20 T Flynn for O Curraoin (61 mins), 25 A Varley for Cummins (66 mins), 23 M Martin for Sice (68 mins); 17 G Bradshaw for C Sweeney, 22 for Denvir (both 72 mins).
LEITRIM: 1 C McCrann; 2 M Murphy, 3 R Gallagher, 4 N Woods; 5 S McWeeney (capt) (0-2), 6 G Reynolds, 7 T Mulvey; 8 D Sweeney, 9 S Moran; 10 D Beck, 15 F Clancy (0-1), 12 K Conlan (0-3, two 45s, one free); 13 R Kennedy (0-1), 14 J McGrail, 11 D Wrynn.
Subs: 22 C McGilheany for McGrail (41 mins), 19 J Connolly for Mulvey (50 mins), 17 P McGowan (0-1) for Moran (53 mins), 18 B Prior for Murphy (55 mins), 23 S Quinn for Wrynn (64 mins), 20 A McLoughlin for Beck (68 mins).
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)