Roscommon seize the moment to produce spectacular Salthill coup
Galway surrender their Connacht title following inexplicable second-half collapse
Roscommon’s Enda Smith celebrates with supporters after the Connacht final victory over Galway at Pearse Stadium. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho
Here was a Roscommon day that seemed to come straight out of the dream-factory of their totemic goalkeeper Shane ‘Cake’ Curran.
This Connacht final was madcap, it was spirited and ultimately, it finished in another famous Roscommon raid. A June afternoon began in a Salthill monsoon and ended with a pitch invasion by ecstatic Primrose supporters.
They are becoming old hands at these Salthill coups, repeating the stunning triumph against the odds they enjoyed in 2017.
“We sort of brought the crowd in to help us,” Anthony Cunningham smiled of that 77th minute when Galway, having lost all co-ordinates, pressed desperately to produce a goal to try and rescue a day that went badly, badly wrong over the second half.
On the scoreboard, they were a goal adrift and threatened Darren O’Malley’s goal with two late, dangerous pot-shots. But emotionally, they had been ravaged after their handsome half-time position disintegrated in the rain and in the sun.
With Damian Comer still on Galway’s crowded injury list, it fell to Conor Cox, the Listowel man who has had a storming year at full-forward, to nail the two late scores that completed a perfect day out for the Rossies.
This could have been a tame day. Roscommon trailed 0-10 to 0-5 at the break and hadn’t bothered the umpires for the closing 20 minutes before tea. They could have disappeared here and accepted their role. Instead, they registered 1-2 in six rampant minutes and Galway never recovered, managing just two points – and one from play – after the restart. It was a complete reversal.
“The Mayo match was a great confidence boost and when we were in trouble there today they went back to that reservoir and said: ‘we have done this before’.” Cunningham said, as a chorus of cheers echoed through the Roscommon changing room and he sat back in a venue he has known since he was youngster.
“We haven’t conceded a goal yet. We were rocked by Galway there and they are a top class team. Kevin has done tremendous work and they have been standard bearers in Connacht as much as Mayo. And when you do get rocked it is very hard to coach or teach that. You are just hoping that their character will respond.
“And right through the Daly brothers, Conor Hussey, Shane Killoran midfield, Tadhg [O’Rourke] there a great catch at the end. So the middle third did well and then we used the ball more intelligently up front. And Diarmuid [Murtagh] slipped a goal which really put is in the driving seat.”
A perfect Father’s Day, then, and birthday weekend for Anthony Cunningham but the Galway chamber may fast-track some legislation to prevent their county men from managing against them. On Saturday night, Mattie Kenny’s Dublin team sent the maroon hurlers crashing out of the All-Ireland. Less than 24 hours later, Cunningham, their All-Ireland winning hurler and former manager, completed a black weekend for Galway GAA.
But this was a significant addition to Cunningham’s diverse coaching CV and a defiant response to a fighting league performance which ended in relegation from Division One. That mattered little by tea-time on Sunday.
For Galway, this final was as bewildering as it was disappointing. They mixed methodology and organisation with efficient point-taking in the first half.
But the team appeared to be overcome by a kind of collective paralysis when Murtagh fired his maiden championship goal, transforming the tone of the day into one they knew and perhaps dreaded: Roscommon in fiery and wicked mood, throwing themselves into it with abandon. The Galway attack stagnated, they had just nine in the second half and kicked a lone wide.
“The second half we just didn’t seem to get our hands on the ball,” acknowledged Kevin Walsh.
“We overturned the ball maybe two or three times at the start of the second half, when we were attacking, and the next 20 minutes we didn’t seem to get our hands on the ball. I could be reading it wrong, obviously you probably had more time to watch it. One things for sure, it wasn’t a consistent performance.”
The review will make for painful viewing. The home team were second to everything and seemed uncertain what to do when they did get their hands on the ball. Conviction and certainty ebbed away. The locals fell silent.
When Cathal Cregg, in the midst of a ferocious second half, came thundering through a cluster of Galway shirts to win a ball and a free, it felt as if the day had turned decisively.
The pitch was saturated and the sun came out and by the end, Roscommon had taken ownership of the seaside stadium. Conor Cox signalled the celebration. The provincial show may be out of fashion but try telling the Rossies it doesn’t matter.