Galway accused of being 'very negative' in Leitrim victory
Galway 1-13 Leitrim 0-8
A day parched of all tumult and drama in Carrick-on-Shannon nudged Galway ever deeper into this Connacht Championship without divulging very much about themselves.
They beat Leitrim in the way a half-interested prize-fighter deals with an over-matched opponent, bristling occasionally at the gall of their challenge and accumulating a great ocean of frees that, against Mayo on June 14, would surely amount to serious self-harm.
Leitrim manager, Shane Ward, accused Galway after of being "very negative" in the second-half especially during which, by this writer's bookkeeping, the free-count against them was a staggering 29.
His Galway counterpart, Kevin Walsh, seemed non-plussed when confronted by an overall total of 42 against his team, saying simply: "That's the first I've heard of it. I'd have to sit back and assess that."
It all made for a faintly soporific exercise in the picture-book Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, the crowd barely engaged by the contest.
Leitrim were structured and earnest and willing to run all day in that modern way of filing bodies up and down the field in disciplined phalanxes. They might have mounted a sterner challenge had Donal Wrynn availed of even one of three goal chances that fell his way. Wrynn twice fisted against a post inside three first-half minutes and then blazed narrowly wide of the right upright after a great fetch just fifteen seconds into the second-half.
That said, Galway always had the look of a team that - if circumstance demanded - could have raised their game a few gears and, at the very least, played with a little more intensity.
Their attack looked sharp at times without every showing much potency and it was certainly a disappointment to supporters to see Shane Walsh, their star man in New York, substituted after 51 largely ineffective minutes.
Credit for that had to go to the sheer defensive discipline of Leitrim for whom, as a Division Four team, this was always - above all - an exercise in containment.
A flag waved proudly from the main stand proclaimed "Leitrim - Connacht Champions '94", a sobering reminder that 21 years have now passed since their last Championship defeat of Galway.
They started reasonably well and would probably have led approaching half-time had Wrynn goaled even once, but Galway looked to have broken their resistance when Damien Comer's wonderful 33rd minute fetch and finish eased his team into a 1-7 to 0-3 lead.
Leitrim finished the half with a stirring burst of three unanswered points from Fergal Clancy, Kevin Conlan (a '45') and flying half-back, Sean McWeeney, though to squeeze the margin back to four.
Galway closed out the game thereafter, but not thrillingly, not compellingly, not with even a hint of the swagger that once distinguished the maroon shirt.
Essentially, they ground out the victory, Leitrim struggling to make much headway into a strong wind. Actually, Ward's men were restricted to just two points in the second-half, a statistic he clearly believed was down to a mix of Galway's fouling and, in his view, theatrics.
He questioned the number of "big" Galway players going to ground in contact with "small" Leitrim men and even likened their style to that which draws routine disdain north of the border.
"At one stage they had fifteen men behind their own '45'" said Ward. "Everyone is talking about the negativity of Ulster football but the questions have to go a lot further afield than that. Certainly the big men hit and once they hit we go down in a heap and it doesn't make for good viewing.
"That's a professional team and that is a Division Two team, they know how to kill out a game, but it doesn't make for a nice spectacle. I think people would rather watch fifteen men behind the ball and working hard and the game flowing than big men lying down on the ground with the physio around them all the time."
Walsh seemed to interpret just as little charm in the Leitrim style, suggesting coldly: "I think every time we touched the ball their wing-backs and their wing-forwards were falling back into that hole. You know they're quite happy just to make sure that we didn't get through it.
"So look we got a few points up. I didn't really care if Leitrim didn't want to come out and get back the lead."
Listening, the pity was their teams hadn't shown a commensurate edge in battle. For this was resoundingly poor stuff at a time when so many questions are being asked of exactly where the modern interpretation of football is taking the old game.
There is no doubting that Galway have loftier ambitions this summer than lowering the colours of Division Four teams, but they remain unreadable as a team. Paul Conroy largely bossed the midfield yesterday without being asked to over-stress his body and they clearly possess a dangerous attack in men like Comer, Danny Cummins, Peadar Óg Ó Griofa and the admittedly underwhelming Walsh.
But the big teams blow through these days with a little more panache than this and they certainly don't do so with the spillage of 40-plus frees.
It might, of course, be the perfect way to approach a semi-final against Mayo but, for now, Galway remain a bit of an enigma.
"Just wanted to get the job done" said Walsh. And that they did. But clumsily.
SCORERS: Galway - P Conroy 0-6 (0-5 frees), D Comer 1-1, D Cummins 0-2, M Lundy, G O'Donnell and P Sweeney 0-1 each, P Óg O'Griofa 0-1 free. Leitrim - K Conlan 0-3 (0-2 frees, 0-1 '45'), S McWeeney 0-2, S Moran, F Clancy and R Kennedy 0-1 each.
GALWAY - B O'Donoghue 8, J Duane 6, F Hanley 6, C Sweeney 7, L Silke 7, G O'Donnell 7, S Denvir 6, F O'Curraoin 6, P Conroy 8, G Sice 6, S Walsh 6, M Lundy 6, P Óg O'Griofa 7, D Cummins 6, D Comer 7. Subs - P Sweeney 7 for Walsh (51), T Flynn 6 for O'Curraoin (61), A Varley for Cummins (65), M Martin for Ó Griofa (67), D Kyne for Sweeney (71), G Bradshaw for Denvir (71).
LEITRIM - C McCrann 7, M Murphy 6, R Gallagher 7 , N Woods 7, S McWeeney 8, G Reynolds 7, T Mulvey 6, D Sweeney 7, S Moran 7, D Beck 6, F Clancy 7, K Conlan 6, R Kennedy 6, J McGrail 5, D Wrynn 5. Subs - C Gilheaney 5 for McGrail (40), J Connolly 6 for Mulvey (50), P McGowan 6 for Moran (53), B Prior 6 for Murphy (55), S Quinn for Wrynn (64), A McLoughlin for Beck (67).
REF - A Nolan (Wicklow).