Cunningham has brilliantly built a template for Rossie progress

Cunningham has brilliantly built a template for Rossie progress

A most stunning comeback by Roscommon, matched by an equally stunning collapse from Galway.

At half-time in this Connacht SFC final, it was difficult to foresee any other outcome but a third provincial final win in four years for Kevin Walsh’s Galway. 

Having reeled off five unanswered points during the closing stages of the opening half, the hosts held a commanding 0-10 to 0-5 interval advantage. Roscommon, whose kick-passing game had come undone during the first-half downpour, went scoreless for the final 15 minutes, plus stoppages, of the opening period.

What they proceeded to produce upon the change of ends, arguably, trumped their 2017 Connacht final effort at this very venue. 

Outscoring their hosts by 1-8 by 0-2, Anthony Cunningham’s side delivered a carbon copy of the template which saw them shock Mayo last month - their packed and patient defence, led by the three Daly brothers, time and again foiled Galway advances into the scoring zone, possession was turned over, they broke quickly, and kicked long to an inside line which ran amok upon the change of ends. 

Rather crucially, their kick-passes, unlike in the first-half, stuck.

Their structure, energy, and determination was far superior to a casual second-half effort from the Tribesmen that had not a jot of life to it until the fourth official signalled for seven minutes of injury-time, at which juncture, the hosts, behind by three, suddenly realised they might be able to salvage a second day out. 

They very nearly did as an Adrian Varley point attempt, which didn’t have the necessary legs, was flicked goal-bound. 

Roscommon ‘keeper Darren O’Malley had to be most alert to keep the ball from crossing the white paint and the danger was eventually cleared.

A Shane Walsh ‘45 five minutes into additional-time - representing Galway’s second and final point of the half - narrowed the gap to 1-11 to 0-12, but two fine fetches out around the middle, one from Tadhg O’Rourke, either side of a mass pitch invasion from Roscommon supporters which brought proceedings to a temporary halt, ended with a pair of Conor Cox points to deliver Connacht title number 23 for the primrose and blue.

That they had to overcome both Galway and Mayo in their respective backyards will have made this latest acquisition of the JJ Nestor Cup all the sweeter. 

Providing there is no Leinster final shock, they’ll be in Dublin’s All-Ireland quarter-final group, but going on the evidence provided here and at MacHale Park, the Roscommon class of 2019 appear far better equipped to be consistently competitive in the three games to come than was the case last year when they finished the Super 8 with a score difference of -39.

Cunningham has brilliantly built a template for Rossie progress

As for Galway, their summer will be hard-rescued after this sizeable setback, a self-inflicted one, at that. Late in the second half, Kevin Walsh could be seen gesturing to his players to push forward. 

There was a great irony to this given the defensive approach which he has favoured during his five years at the helm. 

So noticeable in the second half - and so irritating for the home supporters - was the decrease in pace as Galway players worked possession into the opposition half, followed, invariably, by this collective instinct to turn back and offload to a man coming behind them.

Bar the eight minutes at the end of the first-half, during which Antaine Ó Laoi, Shane Walsh (free), Eamonn Brannigan, Michael Daly (free) and Gareth Bradshaw threw over five in a row, there was no element of creativity from Galway. 

They did not trust themselves going forward, were without intensity, and one-dimensional in their play. Just one second-half point from play, delivered by Daly on 57 minutes, and barren spells which ran for 22 and 19 minutes either side of this white flag, confirm as much.

Those who were willing to brave the Atlantic elements were treated to a lively opening 11 minutes of fare, during which seven points were tallied. 

The last of those was an audacious effort, kicked from the tightest of angles, courtesy of Conor Cox’s left boot. 

That reduced Galway’s lead to the minimum, 0-4 to 0-3. Fiontán Ó Curraoin, who supplied the pick of their opening scores, having to leave the field shortly after because of injury.

Cox (free) and Diarmuid Murtagh tied proceedings at 0-5 all before Galway briefly showed what they’re capable of when they back themselves in the opposition half. 

Mind you, that spell of supremacy was undone within seven minutes of the restart, points from Niall Kilroy and Cox (free) sandwiching a 40th-minute Murtagh goal which was squeezed in from an acute angle. 

The same player converted a close-range free to shove them in front and from there they were not for catching.

Roscommon’s outside influences cannot be overlooked and while you had a Kerryman leading their scoring, much of the praise must go to the Galway man on the line who has successfully rebuilt this team after a dispiriting end to their 2018 season. 

Having never been involved in a championship match at Pearse Stadium as either an inter-county player or manager, a strange fact given his extensive involvement with Galway down through the decades, Anthony Cunningham departed Salthill yesterday evening having added Connacht SFC silverware to the Leinster SHC, All-Ireland U21 HC, Leinster club SFC, and Connacht club SFC titles which he has masterminded.

A fine haul, a fine afternoon’s work.

Cunningham has brilliantly built a template for Rossie progress

Scorers for Roscommon:

C Cox (0-5, 0-2 frees); D Murtagh (1-3, 0-2 frees); N Daly, R Daly, S Killoran, K Kilroy, C Devaney (0-1 each).

Scorers for Galway:

S Walsh (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-1 ‘45); M Daly (0-3, 0-1 free); A Ó Laoi (0-2); E Brannigan, G Bradshaw, F Ó Curraoin (0-1 each).

ROSCOMMON:

D O’Malley; D Murray, S Mullooly, C Daly; N Daly, C Hussey, R Daly; T O’Rourke, S Killoran; C Devaney, C Cregg, N Kilroy; D Murtagh, C Cox, E Smith.

Subs:

H Darcy for Devaney (26, inj); C Compton for E Smith (57); C McKeon for Cregg (63); A Glennon for Murtagh (69); B Stack for Killoran (74).

GALWAY:

R Lavelle; L Silke, SA Ó Ceallaigh, E Kerin; G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw, J Daly; T Flynn, F Ó Curraoin; P Cooke, M Daly, S Walsh; A Ó Laoi, I Burke, J Heaney.

Subs:

E Brannigan for Ó Curraoin (22 mins, inj); S Kelly for Cooke (54); C McDaid for Heaney (63); A Varley for M Daly (64); M Farragher for I Burke (70); K Molloy for O’Donnell (75).

Referee:

B Cassidy (Derry).

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