Galway bring drought to an end with style
Galway 3-16 Roscommon 0-14
A Galway team that has been built and conditioned with substance in mind to adapt to the current climate of Gaelic football delivered a first Connacht title in eight years in a style that their followers are long accustomed to at MacHale Park.
A campaign that saw them take out both of the province's Division One team's yielded a 45th title, taking them to within one of Mayo.
The joyous scenes that greeted the game's conclusion as Galway folk among the 15,960 crowd flooded the Castlebar pitch that has been so good to them in the past proved that this was as meaningful and welcome for them as any in the modern era.
After years of failing to live up to their underage promise, built on two All-Ireland U-21 titles in the last five years and an All-Ireland minor title in 2007, this was something tangible.
Stellar names from those wins, Shane Walsh, Damien Comer, Paul Conroy and Thomas Flynn all played huge parts.
There was never a doubt about it too from the early moments. After such a dour drawn game seven days earlier the drier conditions prompted both teams to have more of a go.
But Galway were able to stretch themselves further without compromising on their defensive shape and with the greater tempo players like Comer, Danny Cummins and Eoin Brannigan really thrived.
But how much of that would have been possible without the early dominance of Paul Conroy who bossed the aerial routes so emphatically?
At the same venue after a Connacht League win over Mayo in January Roscommon joint-manager Kevin McStay had warned of an impending crisis with their midfield options. They proved prophetic words as his team's early problems really stemmed from their inability to get a foothold here.
When they fell three points behind early on it forced them to come out and chase the game and that invited Galway to attack down the middle with devastating consequences.
The signs were ominous when Roscommon needed the intervention of the officials to disallow a Comer goal for square ball after he got a touch from a Gary Sice delivery on 18 minutes.
They were 0-4 to 0-2 down at that stage but already taking water on board.
Soon the hull of the ship that had carried them to a league semi-final in April was disappearing below the water level as goalkeeper Bernard Power's delivery caught out the cover, allowing Brannigan to play in Cummins for a sweet finish.
Cummins has developed a reputation as a 'nearly man' when it comes to converting chances, a player who creates but struggles to seal the deal.
This was his day though as he cut loose, his second-half goal, courtesy of a precision Sice pass down the stand side, arguably the score of the day.
Inside him though was Galway's most dynamic player, Comer. His day ended with a dubious black card when he tangled with his marker Niall McInerney - at least the fourth different Roscommon player to shadow him - in the 56th minute when it looked initially that McInerney had fouled him.
But the damage was already done. Both Roscommon black cards for David Keenan and Sean Mullooly were for pulling the full-forward down, a natural response perhaps to the three points he had scored by the 28th minute.
He won so many frees throughout, his 'drop the shoulder' style and low centre of gravity causing Roscommon a plethora of problems.
But the key to it all for Galway was being able to maintain their shape at the back. Through Gary O'Donnell and especially full-back Declan Kyne, they had pillars in defence.
Kyne has now had three huge games since making his debut against Mayo and is currently the front runner for the All-Star position.
His resolve and grit typifies the Galway Kevin Walsh is trying to mould. He met Enda Smith head on in the 56th minute and dispossessed him to begin the move for Cummins' second goal.
It was the pursuit of those 50/50 balls that, for Roscommon's joint-manager Fergie O'Donnell, was one of their major downfalls.
"There was a ball there that Paul Conroy won, we had two men around, how many times did we see the ball on the ground and maybe two Roscommon fellas there but one Galway man came up with it?" he reflected.
In truth Roscommon, who were reduced to 14 men when substitute Donie Smith picked up a second yellow, have been labouring in this campaign and you wonder what damage the heavy defeat against Kerry in the league semi-final has had on them.
"We have been stale in the championship. I have said it before - we have put a lot of effort into the league and we have to look at that. We don't seem to be performing as well as we can. But we're better than that performance today," said O'Donnell.
They're caught between a rock and a hard place in regard to their methods of attack and how many bodies they commit to defence. They had to push out far too early here and paid a heavy price.
"At three-nil down we didn't look like we were going to get into the game so we decided to push up a bit and when we did the gaps were there at the back, " he conceded.
Only Ciaran Murtagh carried a sustained threat, delivering a few quality first half scores. Significantly, half of their 14-point tally was scored by the five substitutes they introduced from half-time on.
For Gareth Bradshaw, Sice and Conroy (Finian Hanley came off the bench), the four survivors from the 2008 Connacht final win over Mayo, it will be a particularly sweet win.
Sice played a big role, his stunning 25th-minute goal for a 2-7 to 0-3 lead feeling like the eye of the storm for Roscommon after Darren O'Malley's kick-out to restart after a Cummins point went out over the line.
By the break they were 2-9 to 0-5 clear and Roscommon had neither the shape or the intensity to mount a rescue mission from that position.
For Walsh an indifferent league campaign that failed to secure Division 1 status had no relevance but he did provide a reminder that Mayo beat no top flight team during their five-year dominance. There was also a veiled swipe at the county's critics.
"It's time people see these players. I don't think they see what they do. Unfortunately for the players and management you're analysed to death by everybody who has time to do that.
"Unfortunately in your profession you don't get analysed as much as we do - even those up in the studio don't. It's fine to throw stuff out there and if we have a bad day out we've no choice but to go back to the drawing board.
"Maybe in journalism if you're badly out, maybe let someone else come in and take the piece for next week and you go back to something else.
"The stand-out thing for me was that our lads went for it," he said. "When you're developing something the habit is to play safe but we didn't want to play safe today. Keep the process and structure alright but we really wanted our boys to express themselves and they did that for long periods even if it wasn't all perfect."
Scorers - Galway: D Cummins 2-1, G Sice 1-2 (0-2fs), D Comer, S Walsh (2fs) 0-3 each, E Brannigan 0-2, B Power (45), G O'Donnell, P Varley, E Kerin, P Conroy all 0-1 each.
Roscommon: C Murtagh 0-4 (1f), D Shine, S Kilbride, E Smith 0-2 each, F Lennon, C Cregg, U Harney, T Corcoran all 0-1 each.
Galway: B Power 7; E Kerin 7, D Kyne 8, D Wynne 6; L Silke 7, G O'Donnell 7, G Bradshaw 7; P Conroy 8, T Flynn 7; G Sice 8, S Walsh 7, J Heaney 6; E Brannigan 7, D Comer 9, D Cummins 8. Subs: A Varley 6 for Walsh (51), P Sweeney 6 for Comer BC (58), F Hanley for Kyne (66), P Varley for Heaney (67), E Hoare for Sice (69), P Cooke for Cummins (70).
Roscommon: D O'Malley 6; N McInerney 6, S Mullooly 5, D Murray 5; S McDermott 6, J McManus 6, S Purcell 5; N Daly 5, C Compton 5; F Cregg 5, C Cregg 6, D Keenan 5; C Murtagh 8, S Kilbride 6, C Devaney 5. Subs: D Smith 5 for Keenan BC (30), F Lennon 6 for Purcell(ht), E Smith 7 for Devaney (ht), D Shine 7 for F Cregg (42), T Corcoran 6 for Compton (49), U Harney 6 for Mulooly BC (51).
Ref: C Branagan (Down).
Game at a glance
Man of the match - Damien Comer (Galway)
Paul Conroy and Danny Cummins are strong candidates but Damien Comer took a wrecking ball to the Roscommon defence. None of his four different markers could manage him.
Galway's first Connacht title in eight years was built on substance but won in style.
Has to be Gary Sice's pass and Danny Cummins' finish for the third Galway goal on 56 minutes, both sublime in their execution though Sice's goal was also a superb strike.
Maybe judgement should be reserved on Damien Comer's black card but it looked, from the press box, that the Galway man was brought to ground by Niall McInerney, not the other way around. Linesman Padraig Hughes did have a closer view.
Roscommon meet Clare or Derry this Saturday in a fourth round qualifier, Galway meet Clare, Derry or Tipperary in an All-Ireland quarter-final.