Thursday 14 December 2017

Galway hold out to deny battling Rossies

Galway2-8 Roscommon 0-13

Roscommon's Ultan Harney and Galway's Eamon Brannigan, confront each other during the FBD Connacht League final in Tuam Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roscommon's Ultan Harney and Galway's Eamon Brannigan, confront each other during the FBD Connacht League final in Tuam Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roscommon's Ultan Harney in action against Galway's Paul Conroy Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roscommon's Tom Featherston pulls the jersey of Galway's Damien Comer Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Players from Galway and Roscommon confront each other Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Loosening Mayo's relentless grip on Connacht's power levers remains the great ambition for Galway and Roscommon but just how prepared they are for the challenge will be decided over the next few months.

Roscommon's attempt to build their season will be undertaken in the ultra-competitive Division 1, whereas Galway are facing into yet another Division 2 campaign,

And while that presents the Tribesmen with a good opportunity to experiment, the reality is that the second tier won't leave them as battle-hardened as Roscommon ahead of the Championship.

Yesterday was the last largely pressure-free day that either side will experience for the rest of the year and with only the very minimum between them at the end, both left Tuam Stadium in a positive mood.

Chances

Roscommon had two late chances to level it up but Cathal McHugh pulled a free wide and, in the very last action, team captain Niall Daly was also off target.

Losing by a point would usually be accompanied by a deep disappointment but Roscommon joint-manager, Kevin McStay made no secret of the fact that he didn't want his squad forced into extra-time on a heavy pitch.

The same applied to Galway on a day when they combined the good with the mediocre in a mix which was just about good enough to nudge them to victory.

It brought them first silverware since winning the Connacht League in 2009, a reflection of the difficult times they have experienced over several seasons.

And while it gives no real indication of what lies ahead, manager Kevin Walsh was pleased to have landed a prize that he thought might have been beyond them at the start of the month.

With up to 10 players recovering from injury, Walsh has had to dig deep into the pack at a time when the overall standard in Galway is a long way short of what it was through much of his playing career.

In the circumstances, Galway did well to land the pre-season spoils but, as Walsh acknowledged afterwards, the demands will be far greater from next Sunday when they begin their League programme against in O'Moore Park against Laois.

Yesterday's success was built on a high-yield start, which left Galway leading by 2-1 to 0-1 after six minutes.

Damien Comer scored both goals, the first coming after just 25 seconds when he deftly flicked a lob from midfielder Fiontan O Curraoin to the net.

The second goal arrived five minutes later - again from Comer's fist.

With Galway two goals ahead while playing against the wind, they seemed well positioned for a relatively comfortable afternoon.

Comer and Adrian Varley were stretching the Roscommon full-back line close to breaking point; O Curraoin and Paul Conroy controlled much of the midfield exchanges and Killanin wing-back Johnny Heaney combined solid defence with well-timed forward runs.

Galway led by 2-5 to 0-6 at half-time, presenting Roscommon, who were also way below full strength, with a real test of their resolve. Their response was most impressive as they asserted themselves in the middle third, gradually driving Galway ever deeper into defence.

Unanswered

Roscommon scored four unanswered points in the third quarter before Varley finally opened Galway's second-half account in the 19th minute.

It didn't break Roscommon's momentum, however, and two further points by Ciaran Murtagh and Cian Connolly from frees brought them level after 24 minutes.

Galway were facing a real examination and came up with the answers as Heaney and sub Shane Walsh (free) hoisted two points before Daly pared the lead back to one again.

The January programme had served its purpose for the Tribesmen, even if it's still hard to know exactly where they stand.

"This sort of competition is very useful. It might start off as a way of getting rid of the Christmas turkey but the longer you can stay in it, the more you learn about players," said Walsh.

The fact that they dug out a close victory will encourage them but the question arises as to why they weren't able to build on a five-point lead with the wind in the second half.

"We took a bit too much out of the ball at times but it wasn't easy because Roscommon were covering all the avenues," said Walsh.

His main sense of satisfaction stems from the improvement he has seen in some of the new talent over recent weeks.

"What we've been trying to do is build up a panel so that when we're without lads through injury, we have others who are good enough to step in. That's what you need in June and July when the serious stuff is on," he said.

"Lads had to fight hard in the second half today when Roscommon came back at us but we got through it."

Galway will need to improve further as they attempt to progress in Division 2 without several first-choice players. It's a big ask in a grouping that includes five Ulster teams, plus Meath and Laois.

"With the list of injuries we have, these lads will have no choice but to step up. Getting out of Division 2 would be great but it's more important that lads develop and show that they can compete at this level. If they do, we'll have a much stronger panel in the summer time and next year too," he said.

Roscommon face Monaghan (home) and Kerry (away) in their first two Division 1 games over the next two Sundays, tests that will give a solid indication of how well equipped they are for life in the fast lane.

"I'd be happy enough with the second half but that's the second game where we didn't really perform in the first half. Still, we've seen quite a few players this month in high-tempo games. Now everything turns towards next Sunday," said McStay.

Scorers - Galway: D Comer 2-1, A Varley 0-3, J Heaney 0-2, E Tierney, S Walsh 0-1 each. Roscommon: C Connolly (3fs), C Murtagh (4fs) 0-4 each, S Kilbride 0-2, K Kilcline, S Oates, N Daly 0-1 each.

Galway - T Dolan; D Wynne, D Kyne, E Kerin; L Silke, G O'Donnell, J Heaney; P Conroy, F O Curraoin; T Flynn, E Hoare, E Brannigan; E Tierney, A Varley, D Comer. Subs: S Walsh for Hoare (48); P Mannion for Brannigan (58).

Roscommon - G Claffey; R Stack, T Featherston, N Collins; B Murtagh, N Daly, R Daly; E Smith, C Shine; S Oates, K Kilcline, C Murtagh; C Connolly, S Kilbride, C McHugh. Subs: S McDermott for Collins (ht); N Kilroy for Kilcline (39); U Harney for Oates (43), F Kelly for Shine (46), F Cregg for Murtagh (53).

Ref - D Corcoran (Mayo)

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