GALWAY can have absolutely no complaints after their one point defeat on Saturday to a vibrant, fit and hugely committed Sligo outfit.
Big Kevin Walsh has them eating out of his hand and Sligo are on a serious roll now. They won their last five league games, beat Antrim in the league final and now have downed Mayo and Galway. They won’t fear Roscommon either and a quarter-final in Croke Park beckons.
They believe now they are a match for anyone in the country. When the game was in the balance in the last five minutes their conviction was self-evident and they hit the last three points from play.
To be honest, it always felt the hosts were going to turn Galway over once Kernan’s men did not kick on from going 0-9 to 0-6 up just after half-time.
In a photo finish I really fancied Walsh’s men to have what it takes. They have won a lot of dogfights in the last few months and this one was to prove no different. So why did Galway, who have only lost to Sligo five times in 31 championship games, lose the initiative when they led by three points after 35 minutes and were moving reasonably well?
There were a few reasons. Galway were culpable of some crazy decision-making, both inside and outside the whitewash. The most glaring, costly and inexplicable decision in the entire game was Gareth Bradshaw’s – and to be fair to him he had a very fine game apart from his one moment of madness – attempt at a backpass to his goalkeeper from a sideline kick about 30 yards from his own goal. It was an unpardonable error.
The folly of Bradshaw’s error was compounded by the absence of Alan Burke who was meant to be picking up David Kelly – leaving the corner-forward completely unmarked to slot home the defining score. Not only did it obliterate Galway’s hard earned three point advantage, but it recharged the belief coursing through Sligo veins.
It was a key moment in the game and a real knock back for Galway.
Secondly Joe Kernan’s tactic of playing corner- forward Owen Concannon out the field completely backfired. That tactic brought Charlie Harrison, a tremendously mobile and astute player out to the real engine room of the game. Harrison was magnificent in the loose. The Sligo captain had an assist in at least five of Sligo’s points. He drove Sligo on repeatedly and how Kernan and his selectors left that tactic in situ for the whole game defied belief and raises serious questions about their tactical nous.
Harrison is a terrific footballer with a serious attitude in terms of his approach to the game. He is a non-drinker and described by Walsh as one of the best trainers he has ever come across – that is the guy Galway decided to bring on a tour of the field!
Walsh, and this is becoming a recurring theme, used his bench splendidly and his substitutes made telling contributions.
Colm McGee came on for Stephen Coen on 55 minutes and before he kicked a glorious winner, he had already raised a white flag. Sligo were clearly fitter than Galway too, with the visitors wiped out at midfield in the last 20 minutes despite a few fetches from the valiant Niall Coleman.
Sligo work very hard on winning breaking ball in training and in the last quarter they won eight consecutive kickouts with Eugene Mullen in particular making a few superb catches and their half-backs out-snarling the Galway half-forwards.
Where to now for Galway and Sligo? Galway face Wexford next Saturday at Pearse Stadium in the qualifiers and there is precious little confidence in the county. The feeling is that even a win on Saturday is only delaying the inevitable.
Since 2001, the only team that Galway have beaten outside Connacht is Louth. Plus it will be their third weekend out in succession and with Meehan and Nicky Joyce on the injured list hope of a run in the championship has faded.
Sligo look forward a Connacht final with Roscommon. It is the first Connacht final since 1947 that will feature neither Mayo or Galway.
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