Tuesday 16 July 2019

Galway's greater strength in depth likely to prove the difference in clash of styles

Anthony Cunningham’s Roscommon should be high on confidence. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Anthony Cunningham’s Roscommon should be high on confidence. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Nobody would have predicted at the start of the 2016 season that the next four Connacht finals would feature Galway v Roscommon but, between them, they have turned into the longest provincial wilderness for Mayo since the 1950s/'60s.

Mayo went eight seasons without reaching the Connacht final then, twice the duration of the current drought, but the latest one is more surprising as the squad continues to be regarded as All-Ireland contenders.

For all that, they were unable to solve the Galway puzzle three times in the last four seasons, before being flummoxed by Roscommon three week ago.

It was a victory that sent Roscommon's stock soaring ahead of a fifth Connacht final (there was a replay in 2016) in four seasons. Despite that, Galway start as overwhelming favourites, just as they were in each of the previous four finals.

They won two, lost one and drew one, the latter coming in Pearse Stadium three years ago. Twelve months later, Roscommon won by nine points, so clearly they enjoy their visits to Salthill on summer Sundays.

Certainly, there's nothing to suggest that Pearse Stadium is any advantage to Galway, especially against Roscommon, whose confidence will be further increased by beating Mayo in Castlebar.

It was the performance of the championship anywhere so far this season, brimming with a structure, energy and determination which deserved a big reward.

Roscommon people were understandably miffed by post-match analysis, which concentrated more on how Mayo lost, rather than how Anthony Cunningham's men won. It was disrespectful to Roscommon, but Cunningham will have been pleased, as it kept the focus away from them.

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Kevin Walsh finds himself in a familiar position, leading Galway into the final as favourites, but he knows that Roscommon have the players and the game-plan to bother his side.

They obliterated the Galway defence two years ago and looked to be on their way to doing the same last year when they opened up a five-point lead after 22 minutes.

Roscommon's strike rate slowed after that - they managed only 1-2 in the remaining 50 minutes - as Galway changed approach, breaking out of their defensive mould. Shane Walsh led the creative department and, in the end, Galway won by four points.

The big question now is whether Galway will adopt a more attacking strategy from the start this time. Their supporters would like that, but after watching how Roscommon hit two early goals against Mayo, Kevin Walsh is likely to opt for a heavily reinforced defence, supported by speedy break-outs.

Galway will be particularly vigilant around Conor Cox, a Kerry import, who has made a massive impact this year. Described in this week's 'Roscommon Herald' as "virtually unmarkable at present" and man-of-the-match against Mayo, when playing with a typical Kerry swagger, he will have occupied much of Walsh's work with his defenders.

A spate of injuries has weakened Galway's hand this year, but they still managed to remain in Division 1, which points to a strength in depth that Walsh has worked hard at assembling.

It might well prove the tie-breaker tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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