Mulholland put painful lessons to good use

Do managers and their players, learn more from defeat and tight games than easy victories?

Based on Galway’s five point win over Armagh on Saturday evening at Pearse Stadium, the former is certainly the case.

Alan Mulholland saw his team concede 4-16 to Mayo in their heavy Connacht championship defeat, and labour heavily to get past Tipperary and Waterford in their last two outings.

Against Armagh, he put some of the lessons from those games to good use.

For the first time in Mulholland’s reign, Galway played with a sweeper in defence protecting the full-back line. It worked a treat against an Armagh team that were very one-dimensional, and struggled badly with the opponent’s extra man at the back.

Armagh continually tried to get ball into a double-marked Jamie Clarke, and when that was not allowed to happen, they struggled to come up with any other reliable scoring options.

Galway’s Johnny Duane swept superbly in front of Armagh’s two man full-forward line of Eugene McVerry and Jamie Clarke and corner-back Donal O’Neill kept Clarke on a tight rein, so much so the Crossmaglen star did not register a score.

Paul Grimley’s men did not know how to break down Galway’s sweeper system and only pushed up an extra man to counter the strategy in the last ten minutes. Then it was far too late.

Their shooting was also very wayward, and they hit 13 wides, compared to seven for the home side.

Galway got off to a tremendous start and gained huge confidence from those early scores.

Mulholland had rung the changes from the narrow win over Waterford and one of those decisive selections was U21 star Tom Flynn coming in at midfield. He repaid his manager’s faith in him with a fine display.

The Athenry man is over 6’4” and he caught some great ball that gave his team a real foothold around the middle. He, alongside the impressive Paul Conroy, lorded midfield in the first-half and Flynn’s direct opponent Stephen Harold was withdrawn well before half-time. Milltown’s Michael Martin was also called up to start and he slotted over three lovely points off his left foot to justify selection. His third point was critical as Galway had gone 15 minutes without a score, while Armagh had scored four on the trot to narrow the margin to two. Martin’s effort stopped the rot and was a massive shot in the arm for the home side.

Danny Cummins’s first-half goal decisive and it was the result of some really sloppy play by the Armagh full-back line and goalkeeper.

They should never have allowed Cummins, who is not a tall player, to punch the ball uncontested into the net. It was slipshod defending and cost them dearly. But Armagh fans could argue rightly that it looked a square ball and should have been disallowed.

While it was a much improved Galway performance and they played at a much higher tempo than heretofore in this year’s championship, Armagh were very poor.

Maybe the two huge wins over Wicklow and Leitrim seeped into their subconscious a little and they took Galway for granted. Plus, they came down to Galway on Friday evening and had to kill the day on Saturday until 5pm, not ideal preparation. Would they have been better to come down early Saturday and go for a lie down in a hotel for the afternoon out of the heat?

Galway head to Croke Park on Saturday to face Cork with some renewed hope. Cork is a big step up in standard, however, after beating them in the U21 championships of 2011 and 2013, players like Tom Flynn, Fiontán Ó Curraoin, Conor Doherty and Danny Cummins will feel that they can do so again at senior level.

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