Galway will be one of the team contesting this year’s Connacht SFC final in three weeks time. We’re hot favourites to join them in the decider but that’s only if we first get past Leitrim in next weekend’s semi-final.
The Tribesmen were full value for their five-point win over Roscommon at a sodden Hyde Park today. Monsoon-like conditions in advance of throw-in meant there was a fair bit of surface water on the pitch, making what in fairness is normally a cracking playing surface treacherous underfoot.
It wasn’t surprising, then, that the standard of football – especially in an extremely cagey first half – was fairly dire. Both teams had understandable handling difficulties, with the ball like a proverbial bar of soap, but they both also had more than their fair share of misplaced passes and unforced errors. It definitely wasn’t the day for flowing football.
Because it was knockout football, neither side was in any mood to throw caution to the wind, with both of them – though especially the home team – defending in numbers. This led to plenty of slow, laboured build-up play and a dearth of scores: by the first water break it was just two points apiece.
Ultimately, it was Galway’s greater penetration, combined with Roscommon’s lack of urgency in attack, that decided the contest. A well-worked opening goal, which followed a long period of possession when the excellent Seán Kelly prised open the home rearguard with a neat handpass to Peter Cooke. He offloaded to the other Kelly brother, corner-forward Paul, who booted it to the net.
Although Roscommon responded to that reversal with their best period in the game, bagging four of the next five points to square the tie, Galway took a one-point lead into the break and they then extended this advantage after the break.
Key to this was giving young Matthew Tierney the freetaking duties – Shane Walsh had missed a few in the first half – and when the Oughterard player banged a placed ball over off the ground it was his third point of the day.
Tierney went on to score Galway’s second goal, which he converted soccer-style into the corner off the butt of the upright, and it was this goal that sealed the win. It capped a seriously impressive Championship debut for him as well.
So if we make it past Leitrim the next day, it’s our traditional Connacht rivals we’ll meet in the final three weeks from now. While it’s easy to be critical of today’s performance, the desperately poor playing conditions had much to do with this and there’s every reason to expect that Galway will be a tough proposition in the decider.
Padraig Joyce has injected plenty of youth into his team and how they blend with the older contingent will be key to Galway’s chances. Tierney’s performance today was outstanding, with the two Kellys going well too, while the likes of Conroy and Comer will never have to be asked twice to bring the fight to us, if it’s us they’ll be meeting at the end of the month.
Shane Walsh’s fitness will be a major concern to them, of course, but they won today despite the Kelkerrin-Clonberne player being out of sorts for most of the game. It was like he’d got the hump after being relieved of the freetaking duties and only came back into the game in the final quarter. All the same, Galway fans will, of course, be hoping he’s back to full fitness for the final.
So Galway’s long unbeaten run in the Connacht Championship over Roscommon at Hyde Park goes on – they last lost a provincial SFC tie to the Rossies there back in 1990 and, in truth, they never really looked in danger of that record being ended today.
If it’s us they meet in the final, though, they’ll no doubt be thinking instead that it’s too long since they beat us in a Nestor Cup decider. It’s been a while alright – the last Connacht final we lost to anyone was the 2008 decider to Galway at MacHale Park.
While we’ve no right just yet to be thinking about the provincial final, Galway earned that right in the rain at Hyde Park today. It’s on that upcoming test that they’ll now be focused, as they await the winners of next weekend’s semi-final between ourselves and Leitrim.