Monday 26 September 2016

Caution the calling card in dire stalemate

Ambition of both sides quelled by fear of losing

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

Galway’s Eoghan Kerin attempts to get past Roscommon’s Conor Devaney during their drawn Connacht SFC final in Pearse Stadium. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Galway’s Eoghan Kerin attempts to get past Roscommon’s Conor Devaney during their drawn Connacht SFC final in Pearse Stadium. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

So much of this game's nature was enveloped in the last passage of play before referee Conor Lane blew time for the first Connacht football final replay in 18 years.

Galway 0-13 Roscommon 1-10

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Ironically, the same counties were involved then, Galway surviving a turgid drawn game before winning a more engaging replay after extra-time.

Galway's Paul Conroy is tackled by David Keenan . Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Galway's Paul Conroy is tackled by David Keenan . Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

This time Roscommon will summon greater relief from parity but their absence of ambition couldn't be reflected better than their final attack that came to nothing.

They had come from two points down to draw level through Donie Smith's difficult free and the grounds for pushing on and throwing everything into those final moments against an increasingly fragile home side were strong.

Caution

But caution once again took hold. Into such a strong wind blowing down the pitch into the city end no one was willing to step up and take responsibility for a shot or even an attempt to penetrate in an attempt to gain more territory.

Donie Shine, on the field just a few minutes, weighed it up but passed on it. He wasn't the only one. Eventually Lane detected the lack of urgency, the 'hold what we have' mood to it and intervened.

Roscommon's Sean McDermott is tripped by Danny Cummins. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Roscommon's Sean McDermott is tripped by Danny Cummins. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Last minute, first minute, any minute, it didn't really matter. Neither side was willing enough to drive on and have a go. Too often fear gripped them.

Galway had a little more fizz in their counter-attacks in the second half, but only a little.

They were content for too long to hit survival mode and play through the phases and the game followed similar patterns throughout - get to the opposing 45, stop, recycle, short burst forward, go back and so on.

If ever a game reflected the changing face of Gaelic football this was it. A decent 24,234 crowd was left largely disengaged by what they saw. Perhaps it's understandable. Both managements are rebuilding and were taking new teams into a first provincial final in their care. They were keen to ensure that the game didn't run away from them.

Galway's Paul Conroy is tackled by David Keenan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Galway's Paul Conroy is tackled by David Keenan. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Mayo joint-manager Kevin McStay said he "took the point" about lack of ambition and accepted that even as a management they may have been overly cautious.

But his overriding sentiment afterwards was relief that they had survived and so many had the experience of a provincial final under their belt.

"We are delighted with a replay. We have a lot to figure out," he said. "Our young men have come through a Connacht final and we have another three under-22s that have come through it. It was crucial we didn't give away a goal either which was a tactical focus for us all week. We had been a bit leaky in the really big games we wanted to win so we wanted to tighten that up a bit."

He sought to give reason to the patient approach deployed.

"We had the ball to win it, we were developing down the side. If you were out there you'd be trying a slicer from 60 yards out and even for some of the best kickers like Donie Shine and the Smiths, it's very hard for these fellas to finish.

"That's why you have to be patient and it frustrates everybody but the conditions just dictated that," he reflected.

"We tried to kick points from the side because Galway had the middle channel full. I saw 15 men behind the ball at one stage, and at a lot of stages. I know the fans would say 'come on' but you can't get through the middle."

In truth, some of the shots that both sides did get off were of the highest standard when the conditions were factored in. At one stage in the first half Danny Cummins back-heeled a ball to wrong-foot his pursuers and quickly sliced over into the wind.

That sliced kick off the outside of the boot is becoming a common weapon against heavily-manned defences for many players now.

The skills in today's game are better than they ever were but it's the overall package, framed by the absence of so many real contests, that suffers. Games like these have become utterly predictable.

To their credit, Galway have adapted to heavier defensive orientation better. Enda Smith did breach the cover for a somewhat fortunate goal and a 1-2 to 0-2 lead in the 16th minute but generally they had Roscommon at arm's length and the replacement of four forwards suggested as much. At half-time a 1-6 to 0-6 deficit looked manageable for Kevin Walsh's side. And gradually they got Roscommon where they wanted them, running down cul de sacs with little option but to turn back.

Eleven minutes into the second half they were level 1-7 to 0-10, Cummins firing over after good approach work from the imperious Declan Kyne at full-back and Eoin Brannigan.

Through Brannigan, Shane Walsh, the improving Damien Comer and Gareth Bradshaw they looked to have the legs to kick on and open up Roscommon.

But Roscommon's defence held firm. Sean Mullooly, the youngest man on the field, held his nerve superbly while John McManus did a decent job tracking the pacy Walsh.

Kevin Walsh admitted afterwards they could have pushed on more and never intended to defend with every player behind the ball.

"It was very tactical. But I think a lot of it was down to the way both teams set up. I'm sure both teams didn't want to see 14 men behind the ball. But when you have runners come from all sides and if the forward doesn't follow him, he is going to get chewed off on all sides."

When substitute Adrian Varley floated over to establish a two-point lead on 67 minutes Roscommon didn't look to have the tools to respond but they did through Cathal Cregg and then Smith after he was fouled. He held his nerve impressively.

Comer had a chance after that but his punched effort was well blocked by goalkeeper Darren O'Malley. A draw was fair, if only to give both sides an opportunity in better conditions to be more ambitious.

Scorers - Roscommon: E Smith 1-0; N Daly, F Cregg (f), C Murtagh (f) 0-2 each; D O'Malley (45), D Smith (f), C Cregg & C Devaney 0-1 each. Galway: D Cummins 0-3; G Sice (2fs), D Comer 0-2 each; B Power (45), G O'Donnell, G Bradshaw, A Varley, J Heaney & P Conroy (f) 0-1 each.
Roscommon - D O'Malley 8; S McDermott 7, S Mullooly 8, N McInerney 7; D Murray 7, J McManus 7, S Purcell 7; N Daly 7, D Keenan 6; C Cregg 7, C Murtagh 6, C Devaney 5; F Cregg 6, E Smith 5, C Compton 5. Subs: D Smith 6 for E Smith (41), U Harney 6 for Compton (51), T Corcoran for Keenan (61), D Shine for Devaney (64), S Kilbride for F Cregg (66).
Galway - B Power 7; E Kerin 6, D Kyne 8, D Wynne 7; L Silke 6, G O'Donnell 7, G Bradshaw 7; P Conroy 7, T Flynn 7; G Sice 6, D Comer 7, J Heaney 6; E Brannigan 7, S Walsh 7, D Cummins 8. Subs: A Varley for Sice (65), P Sweeney for Cummins (65), C Sweeney for Heaney (70).
REF - Conor Lane (Cork).

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