Friday 23 March 2018

Tommy Conlon: There was no shortage of bum notes in Salthill's sodden symphony

Supporters enduring the rain during an underwhelming contest between Roscommon and Galway last Sunday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Supporters enduring the rain during an underwhelming contest between Roscommon and Galway last Sunday. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon

Oh for just a few more notes from the golden trumpet of Johnny Carroll. But he was barely there before he was gone again. It was half-time between Galway and Roscommon. In an alarming demonstration of good taste, Connacht Council had recruited Carroll for its tribute to the late great Joe McDonagh.

Naturally the legendary jazz man chose The West's Awake as his last post for the beloved former GAA president and Galway man. It was a poignant moment, the raindrops glistening on Carroll's instrument as he sent those plaintive, plangent notes soaring into the grey and sodden skies above Salthill.

Read more: Caution the calling card in dire stalemate

The crowd in Pearse Stadium, huddled under their umbrellas, got to savour the full performance, while those of us watching from the comfort of home saw only a snatch of it on RTE before they returned to studio for a discussion of the game in progress. We'd have happily sacrificed the Pat 'n' Joe show for a few more minutes of magic from the Castlerea Dizzy Gillespie.

Be it Connacht rugby or Galway gah, it never rains but it pours whenever the TV cameras turn up for a match out west. Every ancient cliché about the region's deprivation and misery is reinforced by a live match, broadcast through a lens speckled with droplets of famine rain.

Watch: Ouch! Referee almost takes Roscommon player's eye out after accidental poke in the Connacht final

It wasn't just Johnny Carroll's golden trumpet that had to survive the elements: Marty Morrissey's equally golden microphone was also at risk of death by tubercular dampness. The rain was obscuring everything, like a curtain of grey gauze on a parlour window. Perched on the edge of Galway Bay, he said, the hills of Clare were in the distance: "That is, if you could see the hills of Clare because you can barely see across the pitch."

But as the match unfolded, many viewers at home and spectators present might have considered this limited visibility to be a blessing of sorts. Pretty soon the modern plague of massed defending started to assume a pattern. Galway on the ball, Roscommon players migrating like a herd of wildebeest back behind their 45 metre line, and vice versa. And the inevitable knock-on effect, then: the attacking team hand-passing the ball over and back, and back again with knobs on, all the time descending into stalemate as they probed for an opening through the praetorian ranks in front of them.

Read more: 'Roscommon are useless': Awful eyesore of a Connacht final gets a harsh review from fans and pundits

The conditions exacerbated the tedium, players struggling for balance and basic ball control. "Roscommon are back-paddling," remarked Morrissey at one stage, presumably meaning they were back-pedalling, but understandably resorting to aquatic terminology for the day that was in it.

Given the weather and the tactical straitjackets however, we thought the players still managed to assemble a quota of good moves, admirable individual plays and skilful scores. It wasn't a carnival of fluent football, nor was it a complete dirge either. There were flowers among the weeds.

Three minutes in and both sides had already notched well-made and well-finished points. Galway's commanding centre-back Gary O'Donnell made a terrific defensive play, reading an incoming pass before it was delivered, aquaplaning on the wet surface to cut it out, laying it off and then getting to his feet to join the counter-attack. The Roscommon goal on 16 minutes was very well engineered.

Then Galway's trickster of a corner-forward, Danny Cummins, made his mark with flashes of improvisation that every old jazz cat would have applauded. Confronted by three defenders, he worked a dummy, a hop and a pivot in jig time, buying himself a tiny pocket of space to get a shot off that faded over the bar. Four minutes later, and seeing no profit in picking up a ground ball that would've sent him sliding towards the sideline, he more or less nutmegged himself and thoroughly deceived his marker too. He now had time to pick it up and fire it over. This was wit and creativity with an end product in harsh conditions.

Read more: Eamonn Sweeney: On the defensive as anti-Connacht prejudice goes beyond the pale

While Cummins was weaving a silk purse, the half-time stats were suggesting a serious case of sow's ear: the sides had mustered some 220 hand-passes between them. Dessie Dolan was Morrissey's pillion in the commentary box. "Two kick-passes in a row!" he noted wryly, early after the resumption. "We could be in for a better second half." "Yes," replied Marty, sunny as ever, "we're optimistic."

The rain continued to pour down, as thousands of Connacht people flocked to Knock Airport to get the hell out of the place, deciding they couldn't stick it any longer. But in all the gloom, both sides manfully strove to provide a few bright sparks: Bradshaw, Comer and Cregg all had good points on the board within six minutes. Cummins crowned a top class counter-attacking move with his third from play. But it didn't last, it couldn't last, not when they were playing with 28 or 29 men in one half of the field.

The game's identity crisis continues. "It's like rugby," lamented Dolan, "trying to break the line and struggling to do so." For Frankie Byrne, the last surviving member of Meath's 1949 All-Ireland winning team, another sport came to mind. It's like "rough basketball", said the 92-year-old recently of the modern game.

Galway and the Rossies will do it all again today in Castlebar. Enough of the blues already, lads; play us some jazz, give us a few more golden notes.

Read more: Former Tribe star believes Galway are poised to end barren spell

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