Sunday 23 September 2018

Goal threat cements Galway's title status

Galway 5-18 Offaly 2-15

Joe Bergin (left) and Aidan Harte have their eyes firmly on the ball during the Leinster SHC match in Tullamore on Saturday. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Joe Bergin (left) and Aidan Harte have their eyes firmly on the ball during the Leinster SHC match in Tullamore on Saturday. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Frank Roche

Frank Roche

In some respects, it was all very predictable. Galway rustiness bordering on lethargy eventually replaced by Galway dominance. Stout-hearted Offaly resistance petering out to yield the expected double-digit outcome.

But the Tullamore menu on Saturday evening wasn't entirely pre-cooked.

Galway were different from the point-scoring machine of 2017 in one glaringly obvious respect: they 'only' managed 18 points compared to last summer's 28-point average but this was countered by a lust for goals.

Jason Flynn's injury-time strike brought the haul to five - three more than their entire tally in last year's championship, when they goaled twice against Dublin on the opening day as the misleading preamble to four blanks en route to Liam MacCarthy.

And it could, really should, have been more. Six other presentable chances located either woodwork or the stick of Offaly's uber-agile custodian, Eoghan Cahill.

"It was obviously something we were conscious of last year," admitted Galway boss Micheál Donoghue.

Ben Conneely looks on as Galway's Conor Whelan takes possession. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Ben Conneely looks on as Galway's Conor Whelan takes possession. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

"It wasn't that we weren't creating the goal chances. It is a work-on. Ye boys keep highlighting it as well for us.

"With the forwards we have, they are well capable of creating goal chances. Today we were just lucky that the boys took them."

No-one more impressively than championship debutant Brian Concannon, whose early alacrity was rewarded with a fifth-minute goal after Conor Cooney's howitzer rebounded off a post.

Joseph Cooney crowned his first-half tour de force with a low finish; Concannon added a second with a sharp gather and finish from Conor Whelan's inspirational catch, run and assist; Whelan opened his account on the hour, Cathal Mannion this time the defence-shredding provider; and finally Flynn feasted on Niall Burke's crossfield pass to wrap up the goalfest.

Tom Spain is put under pressure by Joe Canning, left, and Conor Whelan. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Tom Spain is put under pressure by Joe Canning, left, and Conor Whelan. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

In the midst of all this, we had the curious case of a goalkeeper conceding five goals while propelling himself into man of the match contention. Three times Cahill denied Joe Canning, initially from an 11th-minute penalty, twice more from second-half play; he also saved from Mannion, and nailed a monster free for good measure.

It may sound like Offaly were wide-open - an unfair depiction of a team that defended defiantly after a wobbly first ten minutes, no one more tenaciously than Ben Conneely in his standout duel with Whelan. Shane Dooley's goal, straight after Cahill's penalty save, gave the hosts a foothold and their 2-9 to 1-7 half-time deficit was a minor miscarriage of justice.

Ultimately, their first-half wides (nine against Galway's four) and their second half struggles to make the ball stick up front (despite the glimmer of hope offered by Joe Bergin's goal) left Offaly with an impossible task. But at least, for the locals, this 12-point loss wasn't as galling as last summer's double-sweeper debacle, when Offaly kept a clean sheet against Galway yet lost by 0-33 to 1-11.

"We're trying to promote attacking hurling if we can," explained their year-one manager, Kevin Martin. "Maybe people might say you could have set a sweeper back in front for a while… but what's the point in sitting back and letting them come at you either?

Offaly's Shane Dooley in action. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Offaly's Shane Dooley in action. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

"I'm a positive man. I want positive hurling. And I want lads to just push forward with the ball if they can and get back when they have to - because they have to enjoy the game as well. And you don't enjoy the game if you're sitting back, just waiting for an onslaught."

The danger for Offaly is that this new round-robin format will provide a different type of onslaught. They visit Nowlan Park next Sunday, whereas Galway have a week off. Unfair as it sounds, after one game, already they are battling against the relegation tide.

"Kilkenny are going to be every bit as tough, if not tougher!" Martin conceded. "Like, Galway are really only starting to come back into a bit of form. They probably were a bit behind in fitness."

Even here, with some noteworthy exceptions, the visitors hurled in third gear. None of their All-Star spine hit the heights of last year: Daithí Burke had a few nervy moments; Gearóid McInerney coughed up two avoidable frees; David Burke and Canning were peripheral before the break but more involved thereafter; Conor Cooney flitted in and out.

And yet they won at their ease while showing copious scope for improvement. All-Ireland favourites for a reason…

Shane Dooley gets crowded out by Galway's Joe Canning, 11, Johnny Coen and Gearóid McInerney. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Shane Dooley gets crowded out by Galway's Joe Canning, 11, Johnny Coen and Gearóid McInerney. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Scorers - Galway: J Canning 0-8 (6fs, 1 '65'), J Cooney 1-4, B Concannon 2-1, C Whelan 1-1, J Flynn 1-0, C Cooney 0-2, C Mannion, S Loftus 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 1-9 (0-8fs), J Bergin 1-1, D King 0-2, D Currams, E Cahill (f), S Kinsella 0-1 each.

Galway - J Skehill 6; A Tuohey 6, Daithí Burke 6, J Hanbury 7; P Mannion 8, G McInerney 6, A Harte 7; J Coen 6, David Burke 7; J Canning 7, C Mannion 7, J Cooney 8; C Whelan 8, C Cooney 7, B Concannon 8. Subs: S Loftus 6 for Coen (58), J Flynn 7 for C Cooney (58), N Burke 7 for C Mannion (63), R Burke for Harte (65), J Glynn for Canning (67).

Offaly - E Cahill 9; T Spain 6, S Gardiner 6, B Conneely 8; D Egan 5, P Camon 6, B Murphy 6; D King 7, S Kinsella 7; C Mahon 5, D Currams 6, C Egan 5; O Kelly 6, J Bergin 7, S Dooley 8. Subs: C Kiely 6 for Mahon (52), S Ryan 6 for Murphy (58), P Murphy 6 for C Egan (61), T Geraghty 5 for Currams (62), P Rigney for Spain (68).

Ref - J Murphy (Limerick)

Irish Independent

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