Wednesday 12 December 2018

Comment: Galway can be grateful as Roscommon left this game behind them

Roscommon manager Kevin McStay. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Roscommon manager Kevin McStay. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Kevin McStay must be feeling pretty sick eating his breakfast this morning. Tactically, he had got everything right during the opening half of yesterday's game. Totally dominant in every sector, it was a manager's dream to watch his side execute a game-plan to almost perfection.

Three points ahead going in at half-time, with the infamous 'Hyde' breeze at their backs after the restart, it was hard to see anything else but a Roscommon win.

Playing into the aptly-named Graveyard goals, regrettably for McStay, it would prove to be an ill wind that blew at their backs in the second half. A succession of missed opportunities gradually eroded the home side's confidence as the game wore on. Galway, seizing on Roscommon's misfortune, finally drove forward with purpose, to finish the game in a manner that backed up their pre-match favourites' tag.

For all the good football played by McStay's men, when the game was there to be won, it was Galway who showed the greatest character.

As clichéd as it sounds, yesterday's contest was the classic game of two halves. For the opening 35 minutes, Galway retreated into their defensive shell, belying the attacking approach that blew Sligo out of the water a few weeks previously.

Even allowing for some level of caution, Walsh's first-half tactics were hard to fathom. As All-Ireland contenders, they should have been setting the tempo and driving at Roscommon, knowing the stiff breeze would provide ample protection for error.

Instead, they dropped off and allowed the hosts dominate possession. Galway's first-half performance reminded me of Monaghan a few weeks back, with players standing back with no urgency, waiting for somebody else to make it happen.

It is obvious that McStay encourages his players to play direct and expansive football. Comfortable on the ball, they relished the space offered to them by Galway in the opening half.

Enda Smith was given the freedom of the park and conducted the Roscommon attack with surgeon-like precision.

To a man Galway were stuck to the ground, collectively marking space whilst the Murtaghs, Shine and Smith effectively probed their way around a porous blanket defence. Galway's main attacking threat Damien Comer was reduced to the role of spectator, as their laboured approach left him bereft of any meaningful possession. Roscommon could have been further ahead going in at a half-time whistle that couldn't come soon enough for a lifeless Galway outfit.

If Kevin Walsh must take the flak for Galway's inept opening, he must also take the credit for rising his players for a transformed second-half performance. As an impassioned Galway man, I have no doubt Walsh sent his troops across that line in the second half with reddened ears knowing a second successive no-show in a provincial final was simply unacceptable for all concerned.

Roscommon confidently started the second half as they left off, but in the 41st minute Galway's full-back Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh spearheaded the defining move and score of the match. Driving forward, he sliced through the middle third to set up Shane Walsh for a wonderful score off his left foot.

Backside

It was the proverbial kick in the backside that Galway needed, and from that moment on they were a changed team. Minutes later Gareth Bradshaw again drove at the heart of the Roscommon defence to win a free that the imperious Walsh despatched.

For the first time Roscommon were on the back foot in a game they had largely controlled. Ciarán Duggan came in to steady the midfield and, along with the outstanding Tom Flynn, proceeded to dominate this battleground for the remainder of the game.

Kevin Walsh could watch the remainder of the game, at least content that his players had finally woken up, but such was damage done in the first half, McStay's charges didn't have to do an awful lot to still secure victory. Make no mistake, even allowing for Galway's dominant fourth quarter, this was a game Roscommon will feel they left behind.

Much as he would have liked to, McStay couldn't kick the ball over for bar for his misfiring players. His first-half tactical masterclass would eventually prove worthless. A memorable back-to-back Connacht title on home soil let slip.

Galway's All-Ireland stock took a pummelling in the first half, and while the second half with some admirable displays of leadership, Walsh and his selectors will know more is needed as they head into the much-anticipated 'Super 8s'.

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