Galway 0-13 Roscommon 1-10
Who dares wins. For reasons that were understandable, neither county quite reached that state of mind in this fretful Connacht final in Salthill.
What a monsoon. The West coast of Ireland July weather made a disgrace of itself once again and made any kind of quality football all but impossible. Caution - and maybe an underlying fear - was the governing mood of the day for two teams trying to assert themselves after half a decade of Mayo dominance.
Memories of last year’s final, where Mayo waltzed their way to 6-25 seemed to belong to a different planet as Roscommon and Galway probed and recycled and played their way though not just the opposition defence but through the recent years of disappointment. It was an Alternative Ulster.
Galway will rue the closing five minutes of this match. After substitute Enda Varley cracked a great 67th minute point, an old, familiar roar of approval and certainty erupted around Salthill.
The crowd of 24, 322 had been strangely muted all afternoon, in part because of the low-octane rhythm of the game and in part because they just didn’t know what was going to happen.
Both of these teams are still figuring themselves out but Varley’s point seemed to indicate to maroon followers that normal service had resumed. Kevin Walsh’s team appeared to have Roscommon cracked at that moment.
They had shipped Roscommon's reasonable first half return of 1-6 and stayed in touch with fine points into the breeze delivered by Danny Cummins and Johnny Heaney. A three point deficit was negotiable and with all bar Cummins at times falling inside their 45 metre line, they reduced the flow of Roscommon attacks to a mere trickle.
Gareth Bradshaw and Galway's captain Gary O'Donnell both had terrific games and Galway have a pair of livewire corner backs in Eoghan Kerin and David Wynne. Roscommon's attacking play was a treat to watch throughout the spring but as the second half wore on, they seemed lost as to how to weave a path through the Galway collective.
The sight of Cathal Cregg’s 47th minute shot skewering wide summed it up. Cregg is a consummate ball player but he was shooting under pressure here and because Roscommon were all out of options. Just minutes before that, Galway had bullied their way into the lead through a fair, aggressive hit by Bradshaw which spilled a ball loose for Cummins to fire over. It was Galway’s first lead, 0-12 to 1-08. But it felt like more than a single point.
Then came Varley’s dashing, thumped point on the run. It was a score that was vintage Galway in its flamboyance and authority. Had Galway closed the match out, their 45th title would have been written down as an assured performance by a young team growing in stature and street smarts.
But Roscommon have been doing some learning too. They didn’t quite bring the carefree attacking spirit of spring into the arena here but when they click they are impressive to watch and significantly created the only game’s only goal when they exhibited faith in their running game.
Ciaran Murtagh used a free to find Enda Smith with a good diagonal ball before the Galway defence had time to fully assemble and as the Boyle man turned to gallop, he found corner back Niall McInerney and wing-back John McManus on either shoulder in support.
The chance seemed to disappear when McManus could only get fingertips to the ball but it spilled in front of Smith, who slotted home. They will cherish that goal all week: it kept them alive here. Roscommon's Niall Daly and Conor Devaney landed fine first half points; isolated moments of technical excellence on a heavy, cagey day.
Both sides conceded the short kick-out for most of the day. Both had four wides apiece at half time. Both came out with a defence- first mentality. And you can’t forget about the weather here. It was truly, epically miserable.
At half time, a lone entertainer braved the field and sang The West’s Awake and played a brass solo as the masses huddled under umbrellas. It was a terribly moving scene that seemed to capture the pointless delusion of ‘the Irish summer.’ This was FBD-type weather but there was so much riding on the occasion.
Should Galway have seen it out? That will be the talk around the county in the coming days. Go back to the 46th minute: a brilliantly swift counter out of defence spearheaded by Eamon Brannigan and finished by Cummins. Then a brutishly magnificent point from a free by Paul Conroy: they wrestled the momentum in their favour here.
Did Roscommon show bottle to stick around? They showed plenty, particularly their put-upon back six, which absorbed huge pressure in the final quarter as Galway, emboldened now, began to press up.
Cathal Cregg delivered a huge point in the 68th minute but it didn't register much noise in the stadium. It was as if most people figured the day was done. Roscommon then won the break and Donie Smith drew a free from Kerin by having the courage to run directly. He then showed huge composure to convert it into that Atlantic spray.
The edginess that was below the surface was everywhere now. This was the legacy of Mayo’s period of domination. Any team has to learn how to go and win a major game. Neither Roscommon nor Galway were quite there on this occasion.
Damien Comer got a fist to Gareth Bradshaw's speculative shot to force a sharp save of Darren O'Malley and then the pendulum swung to the other end, with the Roscommon players throwing the ball around the periphery of the Galway defence and thinking about winning the thing outright.
Time ran out. They will do it all in Castlebar next weekend: the GAA will discuss the bells and whistles of it on Sunday night. This game will soon be forgotten.
GALWAY: 1 B Power (0-1, 45), 2 E Kerin, 3 D Kyne, 4 D Wynne; 5 L Silke, 6 G O'Donnell (0-2), 7 G Bradshaw (0-1); 8 P Conroy (0-1 free), 9 T Flynn; 10 G Sice (0-2 frees), 11 D Comer (0-1), 12 J Heaney (0-1), 13 E Brannigan; 15 D Cummins (0-3), 14 S Walsh.
Substitutes: 24 A Varley (0-1) for G Sice (59 mins), 25 P Sweeney for D Cummins (65 mins), 18 C Sweeney for J Heaney (69 mins).
ROSCOMMON: 1 D O'Malley (0-1 45), 2 S McDermott, 3 S Mullooly, 4 N McInerney, 5 D Murray, 6 S Purcell, 7 J McManus; 8 N Daly (0-2), 9 C Compton; 10 F Cregg (0-2, 1 free), 14 E Smith (1-0), 11 C Murtagh (0-2, 1 free); 15 C Cregg (0-1), 12 D Keenan, 13 C Devaney (0-1).
Substitutes: 19 D Smith (0-1 free) for E Smith (42 mins), 26 U Harney for C Compton (52 mins), 25 T Corcoran for D Keenan (64 mins),
Referee: C Lane (Cork).