Tuam raiders bury Tribesmen

 

Say hello to a little masterpiece, a perfect blend of vigour, colour and movement. Roscommon came to the heartland of Galway football yesterday and set it alight, producing enough fire and brimstone to ensure 1998 doesn't become a folk song just yet.

This may not be the greatest victory in Roscommon's history but none of their supporters coming out of Tuam Stadium could remember better. Littered match programmes were picked up as souvenirs. The flags were a sell-out. And no better excuse for loitering in the streets.

Of course, the championship will always move in mysterious ways but no one had the courage to say they saw this coming. Roscommon were down with injuries and down on their luck, especially if the 1998 Connacht final affair was the measuring point. Galway were on the rebound and out to prove a point, none more than the returning Michael Donnellan.

Yet one could only wonder how any team in the country would have beaten Roscommon here yesterday. They gave as good as they got from the start and before long it was clear nothing was going to stop them. Not Donnellan, not Padraig Joyce, not Ja Fallon. Nobody.

So where do you begin? With the sparking Francie Grehan, Seamus O'Neill and Conor Connelly, with Fergal O'Donnell and Frankie Dolan flat to the boards, and with Nigel Dineen shooting sharp and fiery. With every man on the team busy being reborn or killing off all avenues of hope for Galway, and every man contributing to the overall effort.

Defensively, they soaked up as much pressure as anyone could have thrown at them but to a man, they held up with the minimum of fault. Denis Gavin and Martin Raftery in the two corners were gradually building a fort, and John Whyte didn't leave room for a view. Grehan was the inspiration of the half backs, but the efforts of Clifford McDonald and Paul Noone were likewise majestic.

"There were so many moments that defined this win that I don't know where to begin," said manager John Tobin. "But there was no magic formula or Holy Grail involved in this. We did quite well in the league and we were really aiming for this game today.

"In fact, the defeat against Mayo in the league semi-final made us, because we did learn a lot from that. So we worked on a few extra things and then we just played with great heart and great determination. The tackling back was very decisive, and we do have a big full forward line and they are effective."

By the end, Galway had blown out like an old tyre and now take on the unenviable tag of backdoor men. It wasn't the first time in recent seasons they've tried to chase down a second-half deficit, yet rarely has their fate seemed so sealed so early.

With the exception of the first 10 minutes, when Sean O Domhnaill and then Tommy Joyce had Galway's only two genuine goal chances that could have put a whole different spin on the game, the reigning Connacht champions struggled to established any sort of superiority. Roscommon were a little tentative to start, but that didn't last long.

Through Alan Kerins and a Padraig Joyce free, Galway pushed their noses in front for as long as 11 minutes, when Dineen first split the posts. Two minutes later the thoughts of an upset were first sown when Dineen, freed up in front of goal by Gerry Lohan, cracked the Galway net with as much enthusiasm as he could produce.

By then, it was clear the long ball from Roscommon's midfield and half-backs was proving a source of major turbulence within the Galway defence. Panic may be too strong a word, but the confidence of John Divilly and Gary Fahey was shaken on more than a few occasions.

Michael Donnellan played with his typical range and with typical hunger and his first score on 23 minutes restored the balance at 0-5 to 1-2. After a couple more exchanges of scores, however, Galway started to bounce more freely, pushing two points clear thanks to the Joyce brothers, Padraig and Tommy.

That would be Rosommon's worst phase of the game but they would never again fall behind. Just before the call for the turnaround, they were back in front thanks to another long ball from the burning boot and phenomenal vision of Conor Connelly. This time Frankie Dolan got on the end and after skipping around Tomas Mannion, shot Roscommon 2-4 to 0-8 in front.

There would be one more definitive moment for Galway, spurred on by the introduction of John Donnellan. Bergin, Kieran Comer and then Padraig Joyce brought them back within range, although Comer's score was helped on by Frankie Dolan's injury that robbed Roscommon of possession (Stephen Lohan was the immediate replacement). With Donnellan's first free, coming on 50 minutes, Galway would once again see level scores on the board. So who wanted the next one more? The 18-year-old O'Neill was now winning every ball at midfield and he fired over two points within two minutes. Gavin pressed forward and got another. Gerry Lohan finally found the range from a free and then Stephen Lohan shot two more. Galway's sole response was two more frees from Donnellan - and even those had to be hard earned. A magical win and totally deserved. "Well we've had great days over the last three or four years in the Connacht championship," said Galway manager John O'Mahony, "but today wasn't one of them. It was just a bad day at the office."