Clarke hits groove to sink 'united' Galway
Allianz Football League Div 1
THEY may not be in absolute free-fall, but Galway's ailing football fortunes didn't look any better as they left the Marshes yesterday after suffering their second consecutive league defeat.
The scoreline arguably flattered beaten All-Ireland champions Down because Peter Fitzpatrick only got their second goal deep into injury-time to see them finish five points clear.
But you could equally argue that the home side, with all four of their All Stars on board, had already missed four good goal chances and were caught napping themselves when they conceded one to Gary O'Donnell to throw Galway a lifeline with 10 minutes remaining.
The Tribesmen started impressively by racing four points clear, then went five points down and despite battling manfully to cut that back to two, they were always in trouble in their regular problem areas: midfield and attack.
Despite the sudden retirements of Kieran Fitzgerald and Niall Coleman last week, Galway gathered into a tight huddle after their warm-down, indicating a unity that had been heavily questioned in previous days.
Michael Meehan and Padraic Joyce both attended yesterday's game in their civvies and manager Tomas O Flatharta indicated afterwards that the injured duo will both definitely be back, though probably not for another two months.
Diarmuid Blake made his comeback off the bench in Newry but O Flatharta left no room for confusion about Nicky Joyce, whose future plans had been unknown.
"Nicky has not given us any indication that he wants to play football for us at all this year," the manager said firmly.
"I think it's important that we focus on the group of players that we have at the moment and you saw yourself today how united they were and how they fought for each other."
United and fighting Galway may be, but that's not going to be enough to get them off Relegation Row.
Despite starting well against a Down side who played fitfully and threw away some gilt-edged chances, they were always playing catch-up.
Sigerson Cup injuries to goalkeeper Aidan Faherty and Gareth Bradshaw saw Padraig Lally start in goals and Paul Conroy partner Eddie Hoare in midfield. For the first 15 minutes, the latter did very well in his early exchanges with Kalum King, while Cormac Bane, Sean Armstrong and Joe Bergin scored from play as Galway raced into that four-point lead.
But for some reason the Tribes' reshuffled defence, where newcomer Colin Forde did well, suddenly started sitting back and letting All Stars Marty Clarke and Daniel Hughes run at them, allowing the home side to outscore them 1-6 to 0-1, to go in 1-7 to 0-6 ahead at the break.
Taking Kieran McGrath off Hughes, and switching Gary Sice to defence improved things, and Alan Burke did a good job throughout to keep Benny Coulter scoreless.
But the floodgates threatened to open several times, only for Down's finishing to let them down.
Coulter and Clarke combined to leave Conor Lavery with just a tap-in after 20 minutes that he fluffed and, within minutes, Lally had to make a good save from Clarke.
But at the third time of asking Down finally found the net on the half-hour, when the busy Lavery and Peter Fitzpatrick combined and Conor Maginn got the finish.
For long periods Galway's only attacking ploy seemed to be the long ball, which yielded little success, and when Armstrong pointed six minutes into the second half it was their first score in 36 minutes.
Down wing-back Declan Rooney got up impressively to score two points as the hosts pulled five points clear with 15 minutes remaining.
They looked very slick for the first 50 minutes, showing the sort of skill, hunger and group hustling that earned them a spot in Croker last September, and defensively Dan Gordon and Kevin McKernan were excellent.
Danny Hughes started brilliantly but faded out of it in an error-strewn second half, while Clarke was man of the match, though he was lucky not to get booked until the dying stages in an absorbing tussle with David Reilly.
The introduction of Aidan Carr helped steady the Mourne men late on and Paul McComiskey, who was replaced by Lavery before throw-in, was also centrally involved in their last-minute goal, which was started by a great block from Clarke well inside his own half.
In contrast none of Galway's second-half substitutions made much of a difference and their lack of depth and penetration continues to be a worry.
As they look up to see Mayo looming over the horizon next week, O Flaharta insisted that they are a united camp and that their performance was an improvement on the Monaghan game.
"There's no shortcuts in this game," he said. "We just need to pick our way, day by day, but everyone's working very hard. We just focused all week on preparing for today; the lads are all very united in there."
Man of the Match -- Marty Clarke (Down).
Scorers -- Down: P Fitzpatrick 1-1, C Maginn 1-0, D Rooney, C Lavery, M Clarke, M Poland (2f) 0-2 each, D Hughes,P McComiskey 0-1 each. Galway: G O'Donnell 1-0, S Armstrong 0-3 (1f), J Bergin, C Bane (1f), M Clancy (2f) 0-2 each.
Down -- B McVeigh 7; G McCartan 7, D Gordon 8, L Howard 7; K McKernan 8, A Brannigan 7, D Rooney 8; P Fitzpatrick 8, K King 6; D Hughes 7, M Poland 7, C Maginn 7; B Coulter 6, M Clarke 8, C Lavery 7. Subs: C Garvey 6 for Howard (9), J Colgan 6 for King (51), A Carr 7 for Poland (59), P McComiskey 7 for Lavery (63), L Doyle for Brannigan (67).
Galway -- P Lally 7; C Forde 7, A Burke 7, D Reilly 7; G O'Donnell 6, F Hanley 6, K McGrath 5; P Conroy 6, E Hoare 6; J Bergin 7, C Bane 6, G Sice 6; M Clancy 5, C de Paor 5, S Armstrong 6. Subs: F Breathnach 5 for McGrath (32), D Blake 6 for Hoare (47), K Brady 6 for Breathnach (67), C Kenny 6 for Clancy (51), D Cummins 6 for de Paor (51).
Ref -- E Kinsella (Laois).