Sunday 25 September 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Galway are not as good as Mayo result suggests

Published 10/07/2016 | 11:30

Aidan O'Shea of Mayo during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Mayo and Galway. Photo: Sportsfile
Aidan O'Shea of Mayo during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Mayo and Galway. Photo: Sportsfile

This is a final of possibilities. Galway and Roscommon can get to the All-Ireland quarter-finals by a direct route against some of the touring counties.

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There is then the real chance of a semi-final spot, but I cannot see either playing in Croke Park after August. Yet if both saw this route opening up before them at the start of the year, they would have been very happy to grab it and see progress being made.

As it is, Roscommon have kicked on. They were looked on as cannon fodder in Division 1, especially when they were beaten in the first game by Monaghan. I certainly thought then that they would be relegated. So it was a fair achievement to survive and get to the semi-final, even if they then got a right pasting from Kerry. That form was put in context by what happened in the league final, when Dublin scorched Kerry. And just in case anybody from Roscommon was losing the run of themselves, Dublin beat the Rossies in the league with just a few of their starting championship team.

This puts the Connacht final in context. Galway have missed the boat in getting out of Division 2 for the last two years and played poorly in some of the biggest games, especially against Cavan in the last match which would have guaranteed promotion. I watched Galway in the match against Meath in Pearse Stadium. In the first half they gave a passing imitation of a serious team and were getting destroyed but in the second half they took off and looked very classy, went three points up but allowed Meath back at the death for a draw. Would the real Galway please stand up?

That match was played in the usual wet and windy conditions for Salthill, misty rain from Newfoundland rolling in from the sea. Maybe some day I will be in Pearse Stadium when it is dry and warm but it certainly would be a first and it would be a pity if the conditions today took away from this game, as both sides rely on skill and speed. Of course there are many in Galway who feel all Connacht finals should be played in the Mediterranean climate of Tuam, where the temperature is always about 20 degrees and there is nothing but a warm breeze in both winter and summer. It would be as well, however, to sidestep that local dispute.

Anyway, without raining on the Connacht parade, if you pardon the pun, this is a provincial final which is huge in terms of each team's development but is still a long way from the standard needed to win All-Irelands.

Galway are favourites, which surprises me. This is based on beating Mayo rather than their year's work prior to that. Beating Mayo in Castlebar in a championship match is normally quite an achievement, but that was then, this is now.

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If even half the reports are true about players wanting to have a say in what is going on are true then Mayo have run their course. Yet I would be surprised by that and I expect Mayo to be involved later in the year. Against Galway they were throwing shapes and not playing as a team. Obviously a few think that being small fish in a small pond is worth a big ego but more warriors like Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan and less individualism would solve all their problems.

Speaking of warriors, Gary O'Donnell fits that bill for Galway. No matter what speed there is in a game, there is still a need for lads to hit hard when the opportunity arises, like in midfield when there is breaking ball. O'Donnell is good at that, so is Gareth Bradshaw, while Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn are a very useful, mobile midfield with the added bonus of Conroy being a good point scorer.

Galway have a few good forwards too. Gary Sice is busy and a very useful option for frees from the right-hand side. Every team needs a good left-footer or two to play on the right side of the field and deliver crossfield passes. After the left-footers you need at least one redhead, two or three farmers, a few more from big families, a mad goalie, a couple of nerdy students, a carpenter, a plumber, and a free spirit. Maybe room for a teacher too, even if he would tell everybody else what to do. Put all that together and you have a team.

Keeping it all moving smoothly is what makes some managers great. Unfortunately there are not too many farmers on the Galway or Roscommon teams, or any others either, so a forward does not need to check his marker anymore to see if there is clay under his nails.

Damien Comer of Galway has been moved out but his bustling style is usually better closer to goals and Danny Cummins will dart here and there to effect. The free spirit is Shane Walsh: speed, control and silky movement, sometimes looking uninterested, but always a threat. He will hardly play close to goal and Roscommon will be happier if he moves out.

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Roscommon have a significant loss in Niall Collins, who would be suited by the Galway forwards, and neither backline could be described as watertight. Roscommon leaked against Sligo in the first half but came strong later. This reflects the strength of their team - attack not defence - and both sides will deploy sweepers as they will want to avoid goals. Galway were effective against Mayo in this regard.

Yet my view of that match was that Mayo were in control while playing badly until Galway got the benefit of a typical Mayo cock-up and a goal. A bad kickout, poor defending and Galway were handed a lifeline which they grabbed firmly. Talk of a magnificent display against Mayo, however, is wide of the mark.

The Roscommon team have excelled going forward and there are scores in the Creggs, Ciaran Murtagh and Enda Smith, who is surprisingly chosen at full-forward instead of Senan Kilbride. It shows a management team who are not afraid to change, and the old mantra of not changing a winning team is ignored. Proper order too. Kevin McStay and Fergal O'Donnell have maximised the return from an ambitious group of players. Proper values reign in Roscommon. That comes from management.

On the other side, Kevin Walsh has had difficulty in getting all the players he wanted to put their lives on hold and play for Galway. Outside the top five or six counties this is a recurring problem which is likely to get worse. Perhaps beating Mayo will convince young Galway players that there is a future in putting on a maroon jersey. Galway may be the fun capital of the world in summer so it is understandable if young men choose the easy option.

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But like Shakespeare wrote, "there is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune". That tide in football terms only opens up for a short few years.

Roscommon have no such difficulties and they have had a magical spring and early summer on the big yellow bus. Now they must deliver as there is a cup for winning, and whether Connacht is weak or strong is absolutely irrelevant in the context of today's match.

Against Donegal in the league, Roscommon played a brand of football which was entertaining and effective. Even with the health warning that it was league and against Donegal, whose ambitions lie elsewhere, it showed Roscommon playing at a far higher standard than Galway.

On that proven ability I go for Roscommon, and if conditions are not too bad it should also be entertaining as both prefer a very positive attacking style.

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