SLEDGING has been in the GAA news recently and the verbals had spread to the unseasonably sunny terraces in Longford yesterday.
"Welcome to Pearse Park!" crowed some elderly Monaghan fans after their side had eased into an early five-point lead, an ironic reference to the unusual 'home' venue imposed upon them in controversial circumstances by the disciplinary beaks.
They should have stuck to licking their ice creams.
An hour later, the smirk was on Galway faces after a stunning comeback that not only eased their relegation worries but leaves them and Kildare to battle it out for the final place in Division 1 next year. The scoreline certainly flattered the Tribesmen as their goal, created by a brilliant Michael Boyle pass to Gary O'Donnell and finished, on the rebound, by Danny Cummins, only came in the 73rd minute.
But they had already squeezed home after Monaghan's Paul Finlay, who had been brilliant up to that point, threw them a lifeline in the 68th minute. Finlay had already scored 0-6 (4f) but then missed a very gettable free that would have put his side a point clear. He wasn't the only Monaghan man guilty of throwing away chances -- they shot 15 wides -- but the timing was unfortunate.
Galway spotted the gap and it was heroic full-forward Paul Conroy who then led them through it with two brilliant points before their late insurance goal. Monaghan, now facing Tyrone to avoid the drop, headed back to their real 'home' wondering how they let this one slip and Eamonn McEneaney didn't have to look too far.
"Fifteen wides! Eight in the second half, some of them very gettable," groaned their manager.
"We should have been more ahead too at half-time and then we drew them back on us by sitting back. That wasn't planned, the lads just got sucked back into protective mode. We're not learning from our mistakes, when you get on top of a team you have to push on," he said.
This penultimate league game was balanced on a knife edge at the finale and had more sub-plots than a good Patricia Cornwell.
The unusual venue was surely responsible for the paltry 578 attendance. "They (the GAA) wanted their pound of flesh and took it, brought everyone here and I hope they're happy," said a stoney-faced McEneaney.
Eyebrows were raised quickly when Galway emerged without Nicky Joyce (replaced by Mark Hehir), apparently because he had missed a training session last week. And they lifted higher still when the Farney, with Owen Lennon and Dick Clerkin completely lording it, bossed midfield for the first half hour and used that to go 0-8 to 0-3 up, with Finlay and substitute Ciaran Hanratty tormenting the defence.
But then, after Galway had failed to score for 23 minutes, up popped former minor star Conroy with three inspirational points (one from play) in as many minutes to cut the gap to two just before half-time (0-8 to 0-6).
On the restart, Joe Bergin suffered an unmerciful shoulder from Darren Hughes (playing at half-forward) yet it only seemed to energise him and Galway's attack immediately perked up the minute Peter Pan, aka Padraic Joyce, arrived. The indomitable veteran buzzed around the Monaghan defence like a wasp they couldn't swat and caused untold damage, earning and scoring a free with his first touch. After struggling so long in centre-field they finally got on top there too.
"It was looking fairly pear-shaped at that stage but we changed it around," grinned winning manager Alan Mulholland. "We were getting outmuscled in midfield but brought Greg Higgins in and played three in there.
"We got a bit of stick for slow play against Tyrone and that might have got into the lads' heads because we were too anxious to kick it into the full-forward line," he observed. "But we minded the ball a lot better in the second-half."
The changes certainly worked.
They started mopping up the breaks and points from Conroy, Gary Sice, Gary O'Donnell and, after 57 minutes, another Joyce free gave Galway their first lead since the first minute of the game and the Killererin veteran then intelligently fisted a point to put them two clear.
Monaghan responded bravely. The outstanding Lennon, Hughes, Kieran Duffy, Gary McQuaid and substitute Shane Smyth kept pushing them on and Finlay got two magnificent points (one from play) to level it, before his late missed free left the door ajar. Lennon picked up a late ankle injury that tempered his late influence but the bottom line was that Galway, unlike Monaghan, showed the ability to close out this game, against all the odds.
Man of the Match: Paul Conroy (Galway)
Scorers -- Galway: P Conroy 0-6 (2f), D Cummins 1-0, P Joyce 0-3 (2f), M Hehir 0-2 (2f), G O'Donnell, G Sice, M Martin 0-1 each. Monaghan: P Finlay 0-6 (4f), D Hughes 0-2, G McQuaid, D Clerkin, C McGuinness, S Smyth 0-1 each.
Galway -- A Faherty 7; K McGrath 6, F Hanley 7, C Forde 6; G Bradshaw 6, J Duane 7, G O'Donnell 7; T Flynn 6, J Bergin 7; G Sice 6, D Burke 6, M Hehir 7; M Martin 7, P Conroy 9, C Bane 6. Subs: D Cummins 7 for Bane (h-t), G Higgins 8 for Martin (h-t), P Joyce 8 for Burke (44), M Boyle 6 for Hehir (53), N Coleman for Flynn (67).
Monaghan -- M Keogh 7; K Duffy 8, V Corey 7, C Walshe 6; D Malone 7, D Wylie 6, G McQuaid 8; O Lennon 9, D Clerkin 8; P Finlay 8, D Hughes 8, J Turley 6; O Duffy 6, K Hughes 7, C McGuinness 6. Subs: C Hanratty 7 for McGuinness (24), D Mone 7 for Wylie (h-t), S Smyth 7 for Duffy (h-t), N McAdam 6 for Hughes (55), D Morgan for McQuaid (69).
Ref -- C Reilly (Meath)