Was it a tactic or are Galway too afraid to kick the ball?

Was it a tactic or are Galway too afraid to kick the ball?
Conor Cox celebrates Roscommon's win with the fans. Picture: Sportsfile

Bloomsday, celebrated yesterday, is a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce. The president of Ireland honoured the great writer with a garden party in the Áras yesterday. 

Henceforth, James Joyce will now have to share his great day with Anthony Cunningham. The legendary Galway hurler celebrated his 54th birthday yesterday and in his honour we now declare that June 16 will now be known as ‘Primrose & Blue Day’, a celebration of how Roscommon came to Pearse Stadium and capitalised on Galway’s capitulation.

It was a second-half meltdown that no one had sensed at half-time as Galway were full value for their five-point lead. Galway had been aggressive in the tackle and were winning all the one-on-one duels at the back.

Johnny Heaney missed a really good goal opportunity but you sensed there were more goal chances in the offering. 

Roscommon’s best player in the opening quarter, Conor Devaney, left injured which seemed to rob Roscommon of a leader. Galway were winning scoreable frees especially when Shane Walsh decided to inject his pace and leave the Roscommon defenders chasing shadows. 

But there were mini warning signs up front that all was not rosy and that the Primrose and Blue might bloom after all.

Galway lost this game for three main reasons.

Kickouts

Ruairi Lavelle, a surprise late addition to the Galway team, unfortunately had a poor day by his standards. It’s a goalkeeper’s job to identify the best possible area to kick the ball towards. 

In the first half, he got positive results with all his short restarts. 

Due mainly to the great movement of the Galway defenders and the slow marking by the Roscommon forwards.

When Lavelle was forced to go long with his kickouts, surprisingly Galway struggled at times. Surprising, as the Galway trio of Flynn/O’Curraoin/Cooke had a superior height and experience advantage over the Roscommon trio of O’Rourke/Killoran/Cregg.

Diarmuid Murtagh scores Roscommon's goal. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Murtagh scores Roscommon's goal. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Galway’s customary ‘box kick-out’ tactic of putting the three big jumpers in a small area didn’t flow freely in the first half. 

And then their injury blight came back to haunt them when they lost Fintan O’Curraoin to a suspected hamstring injury. 

Once the tiring Peter Cooke was substituted, it left Galway with only one main fetcher on the field, Tom Flynn.

Flynn got no assistance. Shane Walsh and Michael Daly are excellent fielders of a ball. They should have come to Flynn’s aid. It’s easy to blame the management and say why didn’t they make ‘the switches’. 

The bottom line is, when you are struggling to win primary possession and the opposition are physically and psychologically on top, the players on the pitch need to man up and take the game by the scruff of the neck. 

Galway players didn’t do this yesterday with the game in the melting pot. They waited for Tom Flynn to win primary possession instead of helping him.

First touch

Ian Burke has been Galway’s best inside ball winner over the past two seasons. He has been one of the best in the country. 

Unfortunately yesterday, his first touch was slightly off and he spilled lots of possession. Why? The weather conditions? No. I’ve seen Ian Burke successfully gather possession in all seasons. 

Quality of the pass or good defending? A bit of both.

Ultan Harney of Roscommon being chased by Galway's Eoghan Kerin Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Ultan Harney of Roscommon being chased by Galway's Eoghan Kerin Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

His marker, David Murray, is of similar size and speed. While Burke was predominately in front to win possession, Murray was literally breathing down his neck and never stopped trying to get a hand in. 

This constant pressure from Murray forced the usually unerring Burke into spilling numerous balls. 

These turnovers lessened Galway’s scoring opportunities and breathed fresh hope into the Roscommon players that they were nullifying one of Galway’s best players.

The passes inside to Burke were predominately handpasses. 

If you are supplying handpasses to your teammate, they need to be ‘on the money’, ie. chest-passes, not ankle-passes. Too many handpasses into Ian Burke yesterday were ankle-passes. 

Quality players like Michael Daly, Gareth Bradshaw, and Antaine O’Laoi spilled too much possession at critical times.

Fear of kicking

It was frightening to see the lack of courage Galway players showed when kicking the ball yesterday. Even in the first half, when dominating possession, Galway showed a distinct disdain for the kick-pass. 

I’m not talking about 50-60-metres kicks, rather 25-35 metre punt passes into space.

Roscommon didn’t employ two sweepers in Pearse Stadium. Similar to Galway, they dropped a man back when there was slow lateral play. 

Galway had quality, fast and accurate forwards playing, who would have thrived on quick deliveries. The Roscommon defenders were there to be taken on in one-on-one situations. 

Galway did it a few times and got results. However, there was lots of space inside but they continually refused to kick it.

A tactic? Don’t kick it in, work it through the hands and only kick it when you meet a Roscommon wall and are forced to kick it backwards or laterally across the field to maintain possession?

A fear of kicking a 50-50 ball into your forward because if he doesn’t win it, you (the kicker) will get some flak?

Tactic or fear, I don’t know. But for the majority of the second half Galway players refused to kick the ball into space and, more worryingly, refused to take on the shot.

Galway had several opportunities to score in the last few minutes. They had the breeze. 

Points from 35 yards out were on offer. Adrian Varley, Michael Farragher, Ian Burke, and Shane Walsh all could have tapped handy points over. 

A draw was there for the taking. Instead good game-management and gamesmanship from Roscommon secured the Nestor Cup.

The Daly brothers typified Roscommon’s desire. 

Absent last year but not yesterday. Niall and Ronan Daly drove their team forward. If Ronan desisted from rolling around on the grass like a spoilt child, he would have been a deserving man of the match. There is no place in the GAA for diving and feigning injury. 

Hopefully, Ronan will concentrate fully on football in the future.

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