Galway’s conviction about how they defended when the temperature rose bodes well for what comes next

Galway 1-13 Kerry 0-14

Galway's Johnny Heaney has a shot on goal saved by Tom O’Sullivan and Kerry goalkeeper Shane Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

Colm Keys

Galway are getting used to coming out on the right side of these cagey battles. Or at least not coming out on the wrong side.

In their seven Division 1 league games, six have gone down to the wire, five of which were won or drawn. And even the one that didn’t, against Monaghan in the fourth round, had looked like it would for much of it.

Their last two wins especially will reassure them they have the patience and tools to withstand any challenge. Armagh away and Kerry at home when the All-Ireland champions want to tidy up their campaign with a win on the road are tests of nerve that they have come through impressively.

It’s not a new Galway – they were showing resolve last year too – but it’s an evolving Galway. They appear stronger, more defensively savvy and there’s depth to the panel now.

That late vulnerability that was such a feature of their play last year has not completely disappeared, but it no longer presents the same sense of jeopardy.

Here in Salthill, the second half shaped like a replica of last year’s All-Ireland final. Galway were out in front and leading by three points at the break, 1-7 to 0-7. But Kerry squeezed hard throughout the second half and twice closed the gap to a point.

This time, Galway’s defensive shell was more cohesive and the gaps that Seán O’Shea, Gavin White and Paudie Clifford were able to find last July to support David Clifford’s killer touch had narrowed.

When David Clifford converted a free on 57 minutes to make it 1-10 to 0-12, Galway responded with the next three points, with Shane Walsh frees either side of a Rob Finnerty strike, to make it safe down the home stretch.

They still needed a fine save from close range from Bernard Power to stay out in front, one of two the recalled Corofin ‘keeper made, having denied Paudie Clifford in the first half.

But there was a conviction about how they defended their lines when the temperature rose that bodes well for the weeks and months ahead.

Twenty minutes in provided a crisp example, knots of their defenders getting around O’Shea and Clifford, forcing Clifford to cough up possession with a panicked handpass.

A league final with Mayo next weekend gives them an opportunity to win a Division 1 title for the first time in 42 years. Their manager Pádraic Joyce made sure to reference that afterwards, his uncle Billy partnering Brian Talty at midfield that day against Roscommon.

“Overall, I thought our lads were really good. Very strong defensively and just controlled the game, I thought, from start to finish. They never looked in danger of conceding. A really mature performance,” was Joyce’s immediate summation of it.

His acknowledgement of their developing battle-hardness was a theme of his post-match address. “I thought for us to show that maturity,” he said of the second half, “especially when you look back at our league at the start when we were down three of our main attackers and it was hard trying to see where we were going. We had only one point out of four in the first two games, but the lads galvanised well in that first break, and since that, they’ve been great.”

At the outset of the competition, Kerry boss Jack O’Connor had suggested a mid-table finish would suffice and that’s where they landed, winning their home games but losing all four on the road.

This was their best of the quartet, O’Connor suggested, even if their conversion rate irked him, but that was a factor of Galway’s menacing defence.

Seán Kelly kept David Clifford scoreless, John Daly traded points from play with O’Shea, while only Paudie Clifford really looked like breaching the cover with any consistency.

“We snatched at a few things and forced a few things, but you would have to give credit to Galway as well,” noted O’Connor. “They are obviously very good defensively. They conceded low scores over the course of the league. On the day, you couldn’t have too many complaints. It was probably our best away display of the four (away) games. We recovered well from the goal.”

They did, scoring the next two points before the break after Shane Murphy had misjudged Paul Conroy’s point attempt on 33 minutes that struck an upright and then Murphy himself before sneaking over the line.

Three points down and whatever wind advantage was to come, Kerry had put themselves in a strong position, but Galway had their measure.

“It’s hard to win away from home, the stats prove that,” said O’Connor, five away wins from 28 games in Division 1 backing up his point.

They’ll be glad to see the back of a campaign that felt like it was neither here nor there for them and with four weeks now to their first Munster Championship game against either Tipperary or Waterford, there’s a chance to renew and reset that they’ll welcome, a warm weather training camp over Easter thrown in for good measure.

Joyce felt his team should have been further ahead at the break and a first-minute chance for Johnny Heaney, created by Walsh and Conroy, could have given them a bigger platform but for Murphy’s alertness.

They were 0-6 to 0-2 ahead and in control, but it was Kerry’s defenders who punched the biggest holes, Tom O’Sullivan with two points and Gavin White with one keeping them in touch.

The suggestion beforehand that both teams would be less inclined to press their foot to the floor was misplaced. At stages in the second half, they both got much closer to their strongest teams, with Damien Comer returning for Galway and kicking an important point, as did Finnerty when he came off the bench, with Diarmuid O’Connor and Paul Geaney surfacing for Kerry.

Scorers – Galway: S Walsh 0-5 (5fs), P Conroy 1-0, J Maher 0-2, J Daly, R Finnerty, D Comer, T Culhane, M Tierney, C Sweeney all 0-1 each. Kerry: S O’Shea 0-5 (2fs, 2 45s), P Clifford, D Clifford (2fs), T O’Sullivan, BD O’Sullivan 0-2 each, G White 0-1.

Galway –  B Power 8; J McGrath 7, S Kelly 8, S Fitzgerald 7; D McHugh 7, J Daly 8, C Hernon 5; P Conroy 8, J Maher 7; M Tierney 7, J Heaney 8, P Cooke 6; C Sweeney 6, S Walsh 7, T Culhane 5. Subs: J Glynn 7 for Hernon (h-t), D Comer 7 for Culhane (42), R Finnerty 6 for Maher ((54), D O’Flaherty for Heaney (72)

Kerry – S Murphy 6; D Casey 6, J Foley 7, T O’Sullivan 8; T Morley 7, P Murphy 6, G White 7; J Barry 6, BD O’Sullivan 7; R Murphy 6, S O’Shea 7, P Clifford 8; T Brosnan 6, D Clifford 6, D O’Sullivan 5. Subs: D Moynihan 6 for R Murphy (h-t), D O’Connor 6 for BD O’Sullivan (40), K Spillane 6 for D O’Sullivan (46), G O’Sullivan 6 for Casey (52), P Geaney for P Murphy (66).

Referee – N Cullen (Fermanagh)