For Galway summer starts now

Sligo’s Adrian McIntyre wins the ball ahead of Galway’s Liam Silke and Kieran Molloyduring the Connacht SFC clash at Markievicz Park, Sligo. Picture: Harry Murphy

Last summer Galway provided us with a 21-point spread against Sligo. Yesterday, a spirited and youthful Sligo team managed to keep the score respectable for the majority of the game.

I say ‘respectable’ because it was a Division 1 team against a Division 4 equivalent - a top flight side five years in the making under Kevin Walsh against Paul Taylor in his rookie season as Sligo boss.

Similar to the London game, this was about getting the win and getting it out of the road for Galway. From today onwards, it’s about getting the best preparation so that Galway can produce an energetic performance in the Connacht final on June 16 in Pearse Stadium. 

Galway produced moments of real spark yesterday thanks mainly, to the dynamic Liam Silke.

He’s a real energiser. The UCD medical student was directly or indirectly involved in eight of fourteen Galway scores. 

He scored 1-2 and assisted in another 1-4 - from corner back. A play-making corner back! 

He would be a fantastic centre-back but unfortunately for Kevin Walsh, Galway are still lacking strength in depth in the full back line. 

Sean Kelly, a fantastic defender, is still injured. Kieran Molloy looks like he’ll be out for a few weeks after yesterday. 

The Galway team, management and supporters are by now, used to seeing Eoghan Keirns and Sean Andy O’Ceallaigh picking up yellow cards. 

The duo didn’t disappoint again yesterday. Opposing forwards will be waiting in the wings to exploit this discipline weakness. 

For now, Liam Silke must start his purposeful runs from the full-back line and inspire all those around him.

Elsewhere, Fiontan O’Curraoin certainly took inspiration from his cornerback and the giant midfielder looked really match-fit. 

A pleasant and unexpected surprise. Surprise? Yes, because O’Curraoin hasn’t played championship with Galway in over two years, had played no national league this year and only played a cameo role in Ruislip a fortnight ago. 

He was buzzing and kicked his first ever championship point. He renewed his successful midfield partnership with his old DCU colleague Tom Flynn and this is one area that Galway have strength in depth, with Peter Cooke and Ciaran Duggan able back-ups.

Galway showed they also have deep reserves in their inside line. The starting full forward line of O’Laoi, Burke and Cummins didn’t score in Markievicz Park and all three were replaced. 

Two of the replacements scored, Eamonn Brannigan with a point and a 1-1 scoring burst from the debutant Martin Farragher. 

It’s Farragher first ever start in a maroon jersey at any level and shows that it’s never too late to start. Galway’s season really starts now.

Speaking of starts, Cavan produced their best opening performance in Ulster since beating Derry in Celtic Park back in Terry Hyland’s second year in charge. 

They came with a plan. All Cavan players were instructed to play aggressively but with total discipline. They were to filter players back to clog up the space in front of Conor McManus. 

Then, they would play countering attacking football at speed. They would move the ball quickly, preferably using foot-passes. 

They would also have two or three blue jerseys supporting on the shoulder. Speed, Work-rate, Aggression and Accuracy were the ‘trigger words’ on the dressing room walls. 

They would not ‘bottle it’ when they took a commanding lead. Total belief in themselves and Mickey Graham. Perfect plan.

Players to execute it? They certainly had on Saturday. Padraig Faulkner and Jason McLoughlin were superb at the back and were totally committed to snuffing out McManus and co. 

They could confidently carry out their defensive duties because Thomas Galligan, Conor Brady, Oisin Kiernan and the MVP Martin O’Reilly were filtering back. 

O’Reilly pulled the strings along with Dara McVeety and the excellent Gearoid McKiernan, Niall Murray and Conor Madden provided the finishes.

Martin O’Reilly played the ‘Wes Houlihan role’ – quality passing, playmaker and finishing goal chances. O’Reilly, who’s small in stature too played with massive work-rate and vision on Saturday night, leading a highly organised and motivated Cavan team. 

There are huge opportunities and challenges ahead for the Breffini boys.

Challenges like securing possessions from their own kickouts and finding a long ranged place kicker from the ground. 

Cavan goalkeeper Raymond Galligan shouldn’t be responsible for both duties. Cavan also need to get a more potent full forward line.

Will Mickey Graham change tactics in a bid to shake up his full forward line? Not after Armagh’s late escape yesterday. 

The Breffni boys must counter a lethal Orchard full forward line of Jamie Clarke, Rian O’Neill and Andrew Murnin in the Ulster semi-final. 

They will look to snuff the inside spaces again and I can’t see Cavan’s game-plan changing now. Cavan were physical on Saturday but you can bet Armagh will match that on June 2.

Armagh were home and hosed with seven minutes to play in normal time. Five points up and playing with an extra man for the full second half. 

But the Armagh players made Kieran McGeeney sweat a little bit longer for his first Ulster championship win as bainsteoir. 

Game management and decision-making almost undermined their good work. Down manager Paddy Tally is the master of the underdog and can turn even the most unlikely situations into a victory. 

Tally wouldn’t have been fazed by black or red cards, although I thought the red card on Caolan Mooney was extremely harsh. 

Ironically for Paddy Tally, the talents of Armagh’s (St Mary’s midfielder) Jarlath Óg Burns had a big bearing on this match. 

Add in Oisin McConville’s nephew, Rian O’Neill and the 15,000 spectators in Newry had genuine talent to admire. 

The Ulster Championship ‘monkey’ is off Armagh’s back now and they will approach the Cavan duel with confidence. 

They are a serious scoring threat when they throw off the shackles.

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