Far from all quiet on the Western front
Published 07/04/2008 | 00:00
On a few occasions during recent years I have referred to aspects of the play of both Galway and Mayo footballers as being 'nice.'
It usually refers to a type of game in which there are many talented footballers, but maybe not so many who are prepared to swap hard graft on a continuous basis for style.
Well, yesterday in Castlebar that was not a charge that I could level at any player involved in this hugely entertaining national league game between Galway and Mayo.
The mere fact that weather conditions varied between sunshine, gales, hailstones and snowfalls meant that any person wanting to make an impression before the very large crowd would have their work cut out to do so.
But, to their credit, every one of the 36-odd players who entered the fray put everything into it and as a result we had a terrific game, despite the elements.
The intriguing thing about the game was the series of individual challenges between the best players from each team.
It is obvious from the scoreboard that this game was balanced on a knife edge for the greater part of the contest, but there just seemed to be more players in Galway capable of making the right decisions than Mayo.
What that meant is that Galway were more economical with their use of good ball and the fact that it was they who got the last two points to win the game indicates that.
It was fitting that at the start of a new Galway football regime under manager Liam Sammon those two points came from opposite ends of the age bracket.
Sub Paul Conroy, a minor All- Ireland medal winner last year, scored the levelling point and veteran Padraic Joyce scooped over the winner in time added on. All in all, a good day's work for the Galway team.
But Mayo would have deserved a draw on the run of play as their performance was at least equal in territorial possession and all round effort in the terrible conditions.
Newcomers to most of us, like midfielder Tom Parsons, defender Tom Cunniffe and fullback Kieran Conroy, showed great promise and it was the full-back who traversed the full length of the field to be available to score what appeared the winning point for Mayo before the Galway snatch operation in lost time.
One of the surprising things about the game was that Keith Higgins was not marking Michael Meehan from the start of the match.
Higgins has often outplayed the brilliant Meehan, but usually from the corner-forward position.
Yesterday Meehan was at full-forward where the extra space and movement gave him greater freedom.
In the first half, the Caltra man made good use of that space and it was a brilliant pass from Meehan which set up Fiachra Breathnach for Galway's opening goal in the 34th minute.
Higgins was dispatched for his usual 'inside the jersey job' on Meehan after half-time, but again, with more space than usual, the Mayo man did not succeed as well as usual even though still making a big contribution to Mayo's cause.
Meehan is on fire since Liam Sammon took over and that is a huge bonus for Galway.
Galway's second goal after half-time was scored by Matthew Clancy, but again the original shot came from Meehan and he was only deprived by a great save by goalkeeper David Clarke.
This was not a typical Mayo-Galway game as regards football styles because of necessity when each team was backed by the gale-force wind they tended to loft in high balls to the full-forward line.
But it must be said that neither team profited very much from that approach.
There was a great atmosphere in McHale Park for this match, despite the Arctic conditions, and one could detect the makings of a great new Galway-Mayo rivalry as two outstanding coaching-managers, Sammon and John O'Mahony, prepare to do battle if they both qualify for this year's Connacht final.
There was a certainly a 'cut' about each team yesterday that indicated serious football intentions and as always when great football rivals really set their sights on beating each other the fans get their money's worth.
That about sums up what happened in Castlebar yesterday.