Bench impact helps Tribesmen end Croker 'jinx'
Galway 0-18 Kildare 0-16 - Allianz NFL Division Two Final
The last time Galway won in Croke Park Kevin Walsh was playing, but after managing the Tribesmen to a first win at HQ since the 2001 All-Ireland final, Walsh wasn't for dwelling on the stat.
In fact, he seemed irritated by how this so-called 'jinx' had dominated the media coverage in the build-up to yesterday's final.
"It's very significant, particularly to ye guys because it stops your story - and it's only a story," he replied, when asked if winning in Croke Park was an important box to tick for his side. "Look, you can throw it any way you like, it's what, 16 or 17 years, but I think it's 23 years since a Leinster team has beaten Galway in Croke Park - 1983, I think.
"So it depends on what story you want to spin. Look, this is a completely different group of players from what you're talking about back in my time.
"There's not too many left playing from when I was playing. You can make those stories, but it does get into the heads of players, I suppose, especially when it's battered out the whole time. So it's important to get rid of it on that basis, but other than that, no."
What was more significant for Walsh was that his side had delivered for the second game in a row.
Having dealt with the pressure of last week, where they were expected to see off a weakened Kildare side, this time they overcame a three-point deficit in the final quarter to run out deserving winners.
Turning that situation around, rather than ending any winless run in Croke Park, was much more pleasing for Walsh.
"At that point (when Kildare were three up) you'd be saying it would be a nasty one to lose on the back of the possession and chances we had," he said.
"But that is what management is about, it's always anxious, but fair play to the boys, it was a test of character and the beauty of this is they get to feel what pressure means.
"And even last week was huge, there was 14 changes for Kildare and that brings huge pressure, with the public, your neighbours, your friends and clubmates and you're supposed to beat everyone.
"But people forgot those subs who came in are every bit as good as those that started and it can work against you. That's pressure, but it's good to feel that so it's in the bag for again."
Both sides were evenly matched in a nervous first-half that was low on entertainment value. They were level on four occasions in the opening 35 minutes, with Niall Kelly involved in most of the good things Kildare were doing.
Goal chances were few and far between, but when Gary O'Donnell's pass gave Johnny Heaney a sight on goal, he found Mark Donnellan in defiant mood.
Donnellan would convert a '45' a few minutes later, but that was cancelled out by a fine Shane Walsh effort that ensured the sides went in tied at 0-6 each at the break.
There was a marked increase in quality after the restart and Kildare enjoyed their best period of the game in the third quarter. Four points without reply helped them into a lead that would stand at three points by the 54th minute, and put the Lilies in the box seat.
However, Galway would see it out from there, outscoring Kildare by 0-7 to 0-2 on the run-in with their three primary possession winners, Paul Conroy, Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Tom Flynn, getting a hold of the middle third.
Galway's bench played a key role as well. Walsh's changes contributed three points down the home straight, including Michael Daly's insurance score in injury-time. The son of former Tribes star Val was nerveless as he converted his chance, which came about after a brilliant take from a kick-out by Flynn.
For Kildare, it was a second league final defeat in Croke Park in 12 months, following on from last year's Division 3 loss to Clare.
Manager Cian O'Neill admitted his team seemed nervous in the build-up.
"I felt both teams were (nervous) to be honest, but I felt it particularly when we came back out on to the pitch for the pre-match warm-up," said the Lilies boss.
"I just felt there were nerves there and it was a nervy first-half, to be fair. In the second-half we threw the shackles off a small bit, but some of the basic things we just didn't get right and Galway played as well as they had to play to win.
"It's just a pity we didn't perform as well as we can, because it would have been nice to see the lads do that in Croke Park."
The Kildare manager also felt they were architects of their own downfall at times.
"It is frustrating, yeah, because sometimes the lads work so hard to get into great positions and then for whatever reason, bad luck, loss of concentration, a simple turnover happens.
"That's bad enough in itself, but when the opposition score from that it's almost like a double whammy. We've eradicated that a lot out of our game this year, which is a sign of development and improvement, but it's just an awful pity that it raised it's ugly head here again and it cost us, it did cost us."
Yesterday came too soon for Galway's Michael Meehan, but he is close to a return.
"He had a slight setback since he joined the panel and he was out for two or three weeks with another ankle injury, but it's a different ankle," said Walsh.
Galway bounce into the championship on the back of four straight wins and with the best defensive record in Division 2.
"Finishing leagues strong is important, I think it brings momentum. Sometimes you don't get the rewards from the league, sometimes you don't get enough points early on. It's important to have that momentum for the championship," added Walsh.
Scorers - Galway: S Walsh, S Armstrong (1f) 0- 3 each, G O'Donnell, J Heaney, P Conroy, M Healy 0-2 each, E Brannigan, G Sice (1f), L Silke, G Bradshaw 0-1 each.
Kildare: N Kelly 0-5, K Feely 0-4 (3f), D Hyland, M Donnellan ('45), K Cribbin, F Conway, F Dowling, C McNally, T Moolick 0-1 each.
Kildare: M Donnellan 7; O Lyons 7, M O'Grady 6, D Hyland 7; J Byrne 7, E Doyle 7, K Cribbin 7; K Feely 7, T Moolick 6; F Conway 7, F Dowling 6, P Cribbin 6; C Healy 7, N Kelly 8, B McCormack 7 Subs: C McNally 6 for P Cribbin (39), D Slattery 7 for McCormack (44), P Kelly 6 for Cribbin, E Callaghan 6 for Dowling (both 66),
Galway: R Lavelle 7; C Sweeney 7, D Kyne 7, D Wynne 6; G O'Donnell 7, M Farragher 7, L Silke 7; P Conroy 8 F O Curraoin 8; J Heaney 8, E Brannigan 6, T Flynn 8; G Sice 6, S Armstrong 7, S Walsh 8 Subs: M Lundy 6 for Sice (54), G Bradshaw 6 for Farragher (57), M Daly 8 for Brannigan (59), D Comer 6 for Armstrong (64), I Burke for Walsh (68).
Ref - D O'Mahoney (Tipperary).