Winter of content ahead for Galway

 

Just as the year's demands peter out, Galway's footballers have discovered a new gait; it involves a swagger, with a touch of menace, and Louth - the All-Ireland B champions and protecting an unbeaten league record before this engagement - were the latest victims of the westerners' new-found confidence in a lively match at Drogheda yesterday. The last day of November isn't generally the time for any manager to peer into his crystal ball and look ahead to sunnier days and possible championship rewards. However, Galway are headed in the right direction and, these days, anyone who ventures into O'Rahilly Park and walks away with a win can proceed with a degree of optimism.

Louth hadn't tasted defeat in a competitive game since the summer, but all good things come to an end some time. Indeed, losing can sometimes be as important a lesson as winning and this reversal is unlikely to leave too bitter a taste in their mouths. In many areas of the game, Louth matched their conquerors and a late, concerted rally almost brought about a share of the spoils. It wasn't to be, though, and Galway's defence - especially the full back line - remained resolute and impenetrable, admittedly aided and abetted by some weak Louth shooting in those frantic closing minutes.

The match itself was a baffling mix of scrappy play, fumbled balls, wonderful points and some fine blocks and saves. Gerry Curran, the Louth midfielder, was substituted early on with suspected concussion, when he became the meat in a sandwich as players contested a high ball, but, generally, there wasn't a dirty tackle and not a single player was booked in the game, sadly a statistic worthy of mention in modern-day Gaelic football.

Galway started the game as if they would tear Louth apart and, yet, by half-time, were grateful to trot back into the dressing-room on level terms, 0-6 to 1-3. Galway raced into a three-point lead after eight minutes, that third point from Declan Meehan epitomising the side's quick thinking and able finishing: Kevin Walsh's free flashed across the field to Sean de Paor who found Meehan and he pointed.

After that, however, Galway slipped into a lower gear and didn't score again for a further 15 minutes. In the meantime, Louth shrugged off their early lethargy and played some fine football. The high point was the 16thminute goal: Stefan White played a low ball in towards the square, Cathal O'Hanlon beat Galway goalkeeper Pat Comer to the ball, and then passed back to Martin Farrelly whose low hard shot was never going anywhere else except the back of the net.

When Colin Kelly's sweet left foot kicked a lovely point after a move involving O'Hanlon and Stephen Melia in the 25th minute, Louth had crept into a two-point lead. But, in a sign of things to come, Galway refused to bow and, first, Padraig Joyce, and then the skilful Paul Clancy, scored points to bring the sides level.

It was pretty much nip and tuck on the resumption until Galway's goal arrived in the 38th minute. Fittingly, Derek Savage and Shay Walsh, who had been prominent in many attacks, instigated the move that led to Tommy Joyce getting the ball in the right corner. He set off for the goalposts with just one thing on his mind and, 10 yards out, unleashed a vicious shot that left goalkeeper Niall O'Donnell clutching at air.

A couple of minutes later, all that is good about Galway's football was exhibited to the 3,000 crowd. Padraig Joyce, Shay Walsh and Tommy Joyce, who showed physical presence as well as skill in holding onto the ball under pressure in the left-hand corner, were involved in the move before Kevin Walsh's massive frame finally got the ball close to the sideline and nonchalantly kicked a magnificent point.

Galway were on fire, and de Paor's run from defence set up Michael Donnellan for another good point, putting them 1-10 to 1-5 in front. And, with eight minutes remaining, Galway still retained that five points advantage.

However, with their 100 per cent league record in danger, Louth responded with all-out commitment. They had three unanswered points (from White, Kelly and O'Hanlon) to reduce the deficit. More worrying to Galway hearts, though, were the near-misses. O'Hanlon, in particular, had a great goal-scoring opportunity, however his shot, well struck but badly directed, went across the goal and wide; and, moments later, Farrelly's equally well-struck shot was stopped on the line by vigilant Galway defender Tomas Meehan.

After those near-misses and scares, Galway finally shook off Louth with a fine point from Clancy in added time to give them the precious points.

Galway: P Comer; R Doyle, G Fahy, T Meehan; K Fallon, D Mitchell, S de Paor; K Walsh (0-2), M Donnellan (0-1); P Clancy (0- 3), S Walsh (0-1, free), D Meehan (0-1); D Savage, P Joyce (0-3, two frees), T Joyce (1- 1). Subs: N Finnegan for D Meehan (27 mins); P Cloherty for S Walsh (59 mins).

Louth: N O'Donnell; B Phillips, J Donaldson, D Brennan; R Rooney, G O'Neill, A Hoey; E Carr (0-1), G Curran (0-1); M Farrelly (1-1), S Melia, O McDonnell; S White (0-2, one free), C O'Hanlon (0-2), C Kelly (0-2). Subs: K Reilly for Curran (13 mins); A Doherty for Rooney (Half-time); J Finnegan for Carr (52 mins).

Referee: C Broderick (Down).