Brannigan leads goal rush to boost Galway promotion bid
Galway 3-15 Down 1-13
Like an expectant groom shifting nervously at the top of the aisle, Galway football may be about to catch its bride.
Despite playing the last 25 minutes with 14 men following Declan Kyne's straight red card, three second-half goals in Páirc Esler yesterday means a point from Sunday's final game against Kildare will secure top-flight football for the Tribesmen for first time since 2011.
The seven-year itch has almost been scratched and it's a marriage that could last.
The game needs Galway back in Division 1, and Galway need it too, even if Kevin Walsh's reticence in saying so was understandable given a number of near misses.
"You're there (in Division 2) as long as you deserve to be there. I said this two-and-a-half years ago - I never promised trophies and I'm still not promising trophies.
"We want to get promoted. To date we've only lost one game in the league by a point and I think there's a consistency coming in.
"We have nine points which is possibly as many as we've got in the last seven years, so it's great we're looking upwards, but we're not there yet."
Down battled well enough for long enough but now need something from their trip to Cork next week to avoid relegation for the second successive year.
The sides were level six times in the first half and it was 0-8 apiece at the break.
All the drama came in the third quarter with a flurry of goals and cards. Two goals inside a minute from Eamonn Brannigan (a penalty) and Shane Walsh put Galway in control and leading by 2-8 to 0-8 after 42 minutes.
Gary Sice was fouled by Down 'keeper Michael Cunningham, who was sent off, and Brannigan's shot beat his replacement Marc Reid low to his left.
Good vision from Sean Armstrong set up a second Galway goal within 60 seconds, his reverse pass into the centre was met by the unmarked Shane Walsh.
Barry O'Hagan's 49th-minute goal briefly gave Down hope.
But if Galway do go up, they'll remember Rory Lavelle's point-blank save from Ryan Johnston with Down chasing a game-saving second goal.
The Tribesmen soaked up Down's spell of pressure and counter-attacked really well, Gary Sice picking off a couple of fine scores on the break to take the sting out of Down. They were already fading away when a third Galway goal settled it. Gary O'Donnell was upended in the square which gave them a second penalty.
Reid parried Brannigan's initial shot but he tapped home the rebound.
Down, conscious scoring difference could yet be crucial, battled on with Darragh O'Hanlon tapping over three late points to take his tally to 0-8.
Galway showed the best and the worst of themselves in the first half, dominating kick-outs and attacking with style but over-elaboration in the final third proved their undoing.
Shane Walsh hit three fine scores from play in the opening half but Down stayed with them, Caolan Mooney nailing two long-range points.
Galway's brace early in the second half gave them a commanding platform they never looked like losing.
O'Hagan took his goal well, out-foxing two defenders, but Brannigan's second goal leaves Down needing a result in Cork.
"It's still all in our own hands and the mood is quite upbeat," said Mourne manager Eamonn Burns.
"We'll dust ourselves down and have a go again."
Scorers - Down: D O'Hanlon 0-8 (5f), B O'Hagan 1-0, C Mooney 0-2, R Johnston 0-2, S Millar 0-1. Galway: E Brannigan 2-1 (1-0 pen), S Walsh 1-3, G Sice 0-3 (1f), B McHugh 0-3 (2f, 1 '45'), G O'Donnell 0-2, D Kyne, M Farragher, P Conroy (f) 0-1 each.
Down - M Cunningham 5; R McAleenan 6, B McArdle 7, D O'Hagan 6; D O'Hanlon 8, C McGovern 6, C Mooney 7; A Carr 5, P Turley 5; K McKernan 6, C Maginn 6, J Murphy 5; S Millar 6, B O'Hagan 7, R Johnston 7. Subs: M Reid 5 for Cunningham (BC, 39), C Magee 5 for Carr (47), J Johnston 5 for Murphy (50), P Devlin 5 for Millar (55), J Flynn NR for Mooney (BC, 70).
Galway - R Lavelle 8; D Wynne 6, D Kyne 5, C Sweeney 6; G O'Donnell 7, M Farragher 7, J Heaney 7; P Conroy 7, F O Curraoin 8; T Flynn 7, S Walsh 8, E Brannigan 8; G Sice 8, B McHugh 8, S Armstrong 6. Subs: L Silke 6 for Wynne (39), M Lundy 6 for Armstrong (52), D Cummins NR for Walsh (68), G Bradshaw NR for McHugh (70), R Steede NR for Brannigan (70).
Ref - P Neilan (Roscommon)