Friday 18 October 2019

Dick Clerkin: 'After this half-hearted effort, one-dimensional Galway can forget about All-Ireland'

Diarmuid Murtagh of Roscommon and Eoghan Kerin of Galway tussle off the ball during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Roscommon at Pearse Stadium in Galway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Murtagh of Roscommon and Eoghan Kerin of Galway tussle off the ball during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Roscommon at Pearse Stadium in Galway. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Roscommon and Galway arrived into today’s provincial decider in Pearse Stadium with very different menus and they left with very different tastes in their mouths – the Rossies enjoying the sweet taste of victory, while Galway were left with a bitter pill of defeat to swallow.

A euphoric optimism had engulfed the Rossies following their impressive semi-final victory over Mayo, whereas the Tribesmen arrived under a cloud of indifference following on from their uninspiring outings against London and Sligo.

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Backed by tradition, however, Galway were still in the pot as potential All-Ireland contenders – albeit tentatively. Leaving Pearse Stadium, all the tradition in the world won’t keep Galway in the All-Ireland conversation after a woeful second-half display which saw them squander a five-point half-time lead. A nine-point turnaround in total, playing with the breeze, at home, against a lower ranked team.

Once infamously labelled the ‘Fancy Dans’ of football by the late, great Eugene McGee at the start of 1998, Galway will need to dig out something of similar calibre if they are to save their season. Kevin Walsh and his players have a lot of questions to answer.

Anthony Cunningham, on the other hand, deserves all the credit coming to him, after another gritty performance from his thoroughly likeable group of players.

From the outset yesterday it was evident that Roscommon were not going to be daunted by a potential defensive sea of Maroon. After two minutes Conor Cox took charge of a free from 55 yards out, and you could see he had no intention other than to play a direct ball in. How many other teams or players would have chosen the safe and short option?

Cox found Enda Smith on the edge of the square, who set up an on-running Conor Devaney, who calmly slotted over their opening score. Within the first 15 minutes Roscommon had kicked the ball into their forwards more than some teams would do in a whole summer.

With defenders’ touch off on both sides, turnovers were aplenty in an opening quarter that had an end-to-end throwback feel to it. After 20 minutes the scoreboard read 0-5 apiece, confirming the even contest up to that point.

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Galway dominated the closing stages of the first-half as the torrential Atlantic rain slowed the pace of the contest to Roscommon’s frustration. Unable to win a kick-out, Roscommon were starved of possession, allowing Shane Walsh to drive Galway towards a five-point half-time lead.

That was as good as it got for both Walsh and Galway, as the sun broke through in the second-half and the departing rain clouds took away with them any semblance of threat in Galway’s one-dimensional attacking play.

Ronan Daly turned up the intensity levels in the second-half to blot out Walsh’s influence, with nobody else in Maroon willing or able to take up the mantle in his place. As a result Galway were completely ineffective in attack, with Walsh (left) powerless to reverse the nightmare unfolding before his eyes. 

With a decent lead and the wind at their backs, a flat second-half performance by Galway still might have been enough to get them over the line. Roscommon still had to take the fight to Galway.

Anthony Cunningham undoubtedly implored his players at half-time to deliver another Herculean effort, similar to that which saw the Rossies overturn Mayo in Castlebar. His players responded emphatically.

Cathal Cregg again proved that age is only a number with a few game-changing contributions. His incisive run to set up Diarmuid Murtagh’s decisive goal was almost identical to the manner in which he took on Keith Higgins in Castlebar, with devastating effect: direct, confident, and inspirational.

Hubert Darcy might sound like a delicate character from a Jane Austen novel, but there was nothing timid about an assured performance that saw him retain possession for Roscommon at vital times.

Conor Cox produced another barnstorming second-half display, after a first-half that saw him live off scraps.

Along with Murtagh, he remained patient on the inside line, continued to make runs and kept the Galway defenders thinking.

Eventually finishing with 1-4 from play between them, on a day when scores were at a premium, it gives further credit to Cunningham for not breaking his will, and leaving them inside throughout.

Compare that to the largely non-existent inside threat from Galway. This allowed the Roscommon defenders to push out with greater intensity in the second-half, knowing that there was little behind them to be overly concerned about. In that regard there are few bands of brothers that can match the Dalys at present.

Galway still haven’t been forgiven for the manner in which they allowed their season to flatline last year. With an All-Ireland semi-final place confirmed ahead of their final ‘Super 8s’ game against Monaghan, they delivered a half-hearted effort that saw them comprehensively beaten on their own doorstep. They took that poor form on to Croke Park and got roundly beaten by Dublin without barley raising a hand in anger.

They haven’t been able to find their stride since, and Damien Comer is sorely missed for some explosive influence in their forward line.

Roscommon have been the story of the 2019 Championship so far, and are fast becoming everyone’s favourite second team. With a coveted Connacht title now in the bag, they can set their sights on improving on their dismal Super 8s performances from last year. Cunningham for one, will relish that challenge, with his players backing him every step of the way.

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