Brannigan strikes as Tribesmen ransack the Kingdom
Galway 1-14 Kerry 0-14
Galway rumble on. Full points, still no goals conceded and a healthy disregard for how things traditionally are meant to be. Yesterday they landed at Tralee and won in Kerry for the first time since 2000.
Afterwards Galway manager Kevin Walsh was as you might expect. If he was delighted with how his side have embraced their return to the top flight, he wasn't about to tell the assembled media. Still, he can only have been pleased. Galway worked up a deserved five-point lead at the break, kicking some beautiful scores in the process but it will likely please him more that this was a win built as much on grit as guile.
The Tribesmen showed they could mix it up too. After Eamonn Brannigan ghosted through a conspicuously porous Kerry defence to grab what proved the game-winning goal in the second half, they made a notable switch.
Six points to the good, they moved more bodies behind the ball and looked to play on the break. It worked a treat to give them their fourth win of the league season.
Asked if his side were a little further ahead than the rest in terms of fitness, Walsh accepted that could be a factor and insisted only "time will tell" whether they will pay the price for this form later in the season, in the manner Roscommon did a couple of seasons ago.
"We would have put a bit of effort in to the fitness side of it, to date," he said. "The FBD league final came at a good time for us. A lot of our guys who were itching to get off the bench got off it and performed quite well. They are starting to fight for positions. You have to have a certain fitness standard at this time of year. Time will tell. It would have been our objective to stay up."
He may have been impassive but it would have been difficult for a Galway supporter to leave Tralee and not be excited about the team's potential.
Defensively they held firm. In midfield they did enough in difficult conditions while up front they have dangerous forwards. Brannigan was the man of the match but Barry McHugh was excellent from placed balls while, on another day, Shane Walsh could have filled his boots in the scoring stakes. There's lightening pace through the team too. But if talent was never the issue for Galway, Walsh admits that consistency was.
"There was a bit of pressure on today," he reflected. "A lot of people, including ourselves, were looking for a bit more consistency. We felt we had maybe improved on that last year getting out of Division 2.
"We had to improve on that again. We'll take it. There was a double save there at the end by Ruairí Lavelle. That kept the win for us. We'd be disappointed if we lost because of the chances we had before that."
They managed the game well too. After Brannigan's goal, Kerry got a run on Galway and cut the gap to two points with just under 20 minutes to play.
Around then a row broke out in front of the Galway goal. Sean Andy O Ceallaigh and Johnny Heaney saw black in the aftermath but it served to halt Kerry's momentum. And from the next play, with just 13 players on the pitch, Galway manufactured a crucial point.
"The thing I'd be disappointed with is we had 15 men for the next play and on a break Galway managed to get a point so that was disappointing that we didn't organise it a bit," Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice replied when asked if that row was crucial.
"It probably came at a time when it broke up a bit of momentum that we had but you have to credit Galway for the way they broke out and got the score."
To their credit, Kerry kept coming. That row contributed to seven minutes of injury time that saw them cut the gap to three. With time almost up, Kerry needed a goal. David Clifford's long range effort dipped and swerved but Lavelle managed to block it before the Renville man recovered to deny Stephen O'Brien on the rebound. Fitzmaurice admitted that his side probably didn't deserve to get a draw.
"The positive from our point of view was that we did keep going despite looking for a long time like it was one of those days. And I think you have to credit the lads that they did keep going to the end. With a small bit of work we could have got goal and got something out of it but we probably wouldn't have deserved it."
Galway scored one goal on the day but had another three clear chances, including a great opportunity in the second half when a routine hand pass went astray and a goal looked certain. It was a chance Dublin would be expected to finish when the sides meet on Saturday night.
"There were aspects of our performance that weren't great today," the Kerry boss replied when queried about his side's defensive display. "But the beauty of league football is we are out again in six days' time and it gives us a chance to try and improve and work on it this week and we will.
"We have four points on the board, we have a big game on Saturday night, the same thing. We treat every game as it comes. Huge opportunity for the lads, facing into Croke Park on Saturday evening, big game against Dublin, they are on full points, going well and a great test for us. We won't be looking beyond that."
Galway entertain Monaghan next week where a win could see them take a significant step towards a league final, but Walsh remains unmoved.
"It is only halfway. Eight points probably guarantee we stay up, that was our objective. On the day, you'd be very happy with the effort by the lads and the long runs they were making from distance. Sometimes when you are coming at pace like that, it can be hard to defend. We got more chances today than in other games. We certainly would like to finish more chances."