Perfect start to Kernan's western venture
FBD CONNACHT LEAGUE
Galway's lift-off with Joe Kernan at the controls didn't exactly electrify the winter sky over Tuam Stadium yesterday but at least it was safety negotiated.
And as Kernan flew out of Galway for Dublin en route home to Crossmaglen last night, he will have been satisfied that his experimental side appeared to be a tidy, if raw, early work in progress.
"We asked for a huge effort and we got it. That's enough to be getting on with for now," said Kernan after patrolling the sidelines accompanied by his selectors, former Galway stars, Tom Naughton and Sean O Domhnaill.
A willingness to slog to the point of exhaustion was always going to be crucial on a dry but dead surface and with the Galway team, several of whom were making their senior debuts, battling to impress the new manager, they set Sligo a difficult target.
Sligo didn't skimp on the effort either but it wasn't accompanied by the required slickness, leaving them growing increasingly distressed as the game progressed.
"Yesterday was our first day out on green grass for a session and it showed," said Sligo manager Kevin Walsh, a former Galway midfield partner of O Domhnaill.
Basically it came down to this: Galway have a deeper talent pool than Sligo so their newcomers showed more prominently in a stop-start game which yielded no fewer than 72 frees. Since the game was played over 60 minutes, rather than the league and championship norm of 70, that was a ridiculously high foul count.
However, by way of mitigation it must be said that the heavy conditions made things very awkward for the players, frequently resulting in unsightly tangles, even if none were remotely malicious.
Declan Meehan and Darren Mullahy were Galway's only experienced defenders and since the unfortunate Mullahy suffered a broken collar bone in the 11th minute it was left to the Caltra veteran to lead the newcomers. He did it well and elicited a good response from full-backs Jamie Murphy, Eoin McDonagh, son of former GAA president Joe McDonagh, and Donal O'Neill.
Further afield, Cillian de Paor and Eoin Concannon showed their promotion was merited, while Fiachra Breathnach and Nicky Joyce were menacing figures through the centre of the attack. Full-forward Joyce was man of the match, scoring seven points, three of which came from open play. He had a great goal chance too but drove wide in the 17th minute.
He clipped over two early points from play and by the 25th minute Galway led 0-4 to 0-1. However, Sligo pared two points back before the break and drew level through a Mark Breheny free right on the restart. However, with the wind behind them, Galway moved comfortably through the gears, out-scoring their opponents 0-7 to 0-1 from there on.
"A lot of these lads never played together before but they worked well. I was especially pleased with the way the full-back line performed -- they restricted their men to very few chances, which was encouraging," said Kernan.
Sligo managed just two points from open play -- the other three came from Breheny frees -- on a day when they also struggled around midfield.
"It was a poor performance, no doubt about it, but we have very little done. We'll need to pick it up quickly from here," said Walsh, who has three weeks to get his squad ready for a Division 3 league campaign.
As for the experimental rules, there was little on offer to help in building a case either for their retention or removal. There were only four marks in the entire game, with the first not coming until two minutes into the second half. A few players were penalised for illegal hand-passes but then that tended to happen in pre-experimental days too.
Kernan and Walsh agreed that no judgements could be reached on the new rules after just one game, although Walsh queried whether the mark is a good idea at all. One might have thought that as a specialist fielder in his playing days he would welcome the mark but he's concerned that it might slow the game down.
He suggests amending the old rule so that a player who makes a high catch can only be tackled by one player when he returns to earth, rather than being surrounded by a posse of markers.
For now, though, one suspects that building up momentum for what will be a tough Division 3 campaign is higher up his priority list than worrying about experimental rules.
As for Kernan, it was pleasing to launch his Galway stewardship with a win, especially without so many big names.
"I know what those boys can do so I want to see what else is there. I'd be happy enough with what I saw today. The application and work rate was great.
"We missed chances in the second half but, in fairness to players everywhere, they have had no chance to work on field skills because of the awful weather," he said.
Losing Mullahy to a serious injury that will keep him out for most of the league was the only downside for Kernan, who is likely to spread the experimental net even wider for the remaining FBD Connacht League games.
"It's a balance between giving everybody a chance to show what they can do while also getting lads used to playing with each other," he said.
Scorers -- Galway: N Joyce 0-7 (4f), E Concannon 0-2, JP O'Connell, D Meehan 0-1 each. Sligo: M Breheny 0-4 (3f), K Sweeney 0-1.
Galway -- E O Conghaile; J Murphy, E McDonagh, D O'Neill; D Meehan, D Mullahy, JP O'Connell; M Lydon, C Healy; N Coleman, F Breathnach, C de Paor; E Concannon, N Joyce, M Clancy. Subs: G O'Donnell for Mullahy (11), A Griffin for Lydon (38), M Martin for Clancy (40), T Fahy for O'Connell (45), P Kennedy for Coleman (54).
Sligo -- P Greene; C Harrison, N McGuire, B Kennedy; J Davey, M Quinn, D Rooney; T Taylor, E Mulligan; M Breheny, F Quinn, J McPartland; P McGoldrick, K Sweeney, A Marren. Subs: P Clarke for Breheny (43), P McTiernan for Marren (43), S Gilmartin for Taylor (49), J Murphy for Mullen (52), B Murphy for McGuire (55).
Ref -- M Daly (Mayo)