Sport Gaelic Football

Friday 22 September 2017

Bergin takes lead role in tribe revival

Whatever his mode of transport was back to Crossmaglen last night, the journey is sure to have been so much easier on Joe Kernan than it had been seven days earlier.

As he travelled west to east in the wake of Galway's collapse to Kerry, Kernan wouldn't have been human if he hadn't questioned the wisdom of his return to inter-county management.

Watching from the stands as the U-21s (minor champions in 2007) lost to Sligo three days later, a defeat that pummelled the morale of the county even further, would have compounded a most difficult week.

The whole plan was beginning to creak and look vulnerable.

But in Tuam yesterday, the Tribesmen got respite, lifting themselves away from the foot of the table and plunging Tyrone into much deeper relegation trouble than they would have ever bargained for.

Kernan's call for players to "stand up and be counted" was met with conviction, especially from Joe Bergin, who was captain for the day under the management's policy of moving the armband around in the search for real leaders.

"Joe Bergin has always been a good player in my eyes and he showed that today. When we needed someone to stand up today he certainly stood up. He led like a captain," enthused a relieved Kernan.

"We certainly wouldn't have been happy with ourselves in the last few weeks. I know we are missing a lot of quality players and you can use that as an excuse but you still want to see the rest of your players stand up and they certainly stood up today."

Perhaps it was the effect of a stern team meeting on Tuesday night that helped to clear the air and any residual baggage that kicked in.

Apparently, harsh words were delivered to the dressing-room, not just from Kernan but from others with an interest in Galway football appalled at the way the team had fallen apart after Michael Meehan's departure with a serious knee injury against Kerry.

Meehan's injury wasn't as a bad as initially feared but they will still have to conclude the league without him and in that sense it was encouraging to see Mattie Clancy deliver a performance many suspected was past him.

Clancy finished with 1-3, the goal after four and a half minutes the perfect tonic as Bergin and corner-back David Reilly combined to tee up the Oughterard man for a powerful finish.

Galway took oxygen from that start and made light of the strong breeze to push on, twice leading by four points before Tyrone, with Martin Penrose again looking sharp, closing to just one (1-4 to 0-6) on 32 minutes.

The hosts were robust and energised in everything they did, a development that pleased Kernan.

"They took the game to Tyrone in the first half whereas in the past we have backed off and let other teams dictate to us," Kernan analysed.

"Declan Meehan won a ball along the line, shipped a tackle but he stood his ground. That's what lifts players. That's the sort of character you're looking for in your players."

Impressively

They finished the half impressively with points from Clancy, Gary Sice and impressive newcomer Eoin Concannon giving them a 1-7 to 0-6 lead.

Even more impressive was the way they kicked on after the restart, with Concannon and Nicky Joyce adding frees before Clancy struck his third point for a seven-point cushion.

Nothing perplexed Mickey Harte more than this passage of concession, he admitted afterwards, but it was still the trigger for Tyrone to address their failings and they reeled off the next five points to close the gap to two again (1-10 to 0-11).

Sean Cavanagh looked fresh and eager on his introduction at half-time, while brother Colm showed flashes of what he can contribute at midfield as the visitors took the game to Galway.

But just when it looked like the home side had run their course, Clancy fielded a Sice delivery superbly and won a free which Concannon pointed.

With that Galway were off again, substitute Cormac Bane and Bergin landing points from a different parish to stitch more doubt in Tyrone minds.

Bergin's influence grew around the middle to the extent that Tyrone moved Joe McMahon back for the second half to track him, while Niall Coleman can also be content with his input.

The yellow carding of four of the six starting Galway defenders underlined a conviction to succeed and improve their terrible record (only London and Kilkenny have conceded more) that was sometimes over-zealous.

For Harte and Tyrone, there have to be misgivings about the way the team has performed in this league. Cavanagh's return is welcome but Stephen O'Neill can't follow soon enough. Owen Mulligan didn't play because of a wedding the previous day but, on this evidence, they are not ready to dispense with him either.

Harte believes Tyrone must engineer the same response next week against Kerry that Galway mustered in Tuam.

"Galway had everything to fight for here today," he said. "They were on their home ground and they knew that if they lost this they were probably in a very bad place. They responded to where they needed to get to from last week. We need some kind of response like that next week if we are to survive."

The thought of relegation is most unpalatable for a team that prides itself on an 'anytime, anywhere' approach to all competitive games but they'll have to do it the hard way against Kerry and then Dublin away in the final round.

Scorers -- Galway: M Clancy 1-3, E Concannon 0-4 (0-2f), J Bergin, G Sice 0-2 each, D Blake, P Conroy, C Bane, D Blake 0-1 each. Tyrone: M Penrose 0-8 (0-6f), C McCullagh, R Mellon, A Cassidy, S Cavanagh, T McGuigan (0-1f), C Cavanagh 0-1 each.

Galway -- E O Conghaile; D Reilly, F Hanley, D Burke; D Blake, G O'Donnell, D Meehan; P Conroy, N Coleman; G Sice, F Breathnach, J Bergin; E Concannon, N Joyce, M Clancy. Subs: K Fitzgerald for Hanley (h/t), C Bane for Meehan (48), D O'Neill for Burke (51), D Dunleavy for Conroy (54), D Cummins for Breathnach (63).

Tyrone -- J Devine; M Swift, Justin McMahon, C Gourley; D Harte, C Gormley, R McMenamin; A Cassidy, C Cassidy; R Mulgrew, C McCullagh, J McMahon; T McGuigan, M Penrose, J McAnulla. Subs: S Cavanagh for Mulgrew (h/t), R Mellon for Harte (h/t), P Harte for McAnulla (62), S O'Neill for Swift (62).

REF -- Marty Duffy (Sligo).

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport