Galway, through patience and perseverance, reclaimed the Nestor Cup yesterday. It got the Galway supporters’ hearts pumping while at times it caused the Galway management’s hearts to flutter. Galway were the better team and will be delighted that their first-half malfunctions didn’t cost them dearly at the full-time whistle. Why were Galway jittery in the first period?
They lost possession very easily through loose handpasses and stray kick-passes. These handpasses were sticking against Sligo. Why didn’t they reach their intended destination yesterday? A combination of aggressive, on-the-edge Roscommon tackling, and Galway players trying to play up the centre. The Rossies, as expected, played with fire and enthusiasm in the first period. They weren’t going to let Galway settle early or allow them time on the ball. They hit hard. Was it fair? The Galway players certainly didn’t think so and looked shell-shocked at times when David Colderick failed to blow his whistle. Having had it so easy against Sligo and having had so much time on the ball against the Yeatsmen, the Galway lads were struggling to play with their usual high tempo, fast running game.
They also went up the centre channels more frequently and the Roscommon lads had their homework done. When Roscommon stripped back possession, they attacked up the flanks and were patient in trying to prise open the Galway defence. Roscommon were very clever inside. They continually rotated their inside duo. Sometimes it was Diarmuid Murtagh and Donal Smith. Then it was Brian Stack and Ciaran Murtagh. Then the Murtaghs together. Galway weren’t man-marking and were just picking up the nearest yellow and blue jersey. This allowed a slight hesitation in the Galway defence and with accurate and lovely dinky kick-passes in, Diarmuid Murtagh was looking unstoppable. How were Roscommon allowed to kick in good passes?
Again, due to the Galway players at times holding their positions, this allowed the fluid Roscommon attack to pick up easy passes and dictate the game. Who dictated for the Rossies? Niall Kilroy, Enda Smith, and Conor Devaney. Devaney was extremely clever in the first half. He constantly hugged the stand-side touchline and was always offering himself for the out-ball. He was being marked by the normally effective Johnny Heaney, but Johnny seemed to be caught in two minds: Whether to sit back in the pocket and protect the D or go man-on-man with him.
This attitude or indecisiveness was rampant in the Galway team in the first half. The Galway supporters at the back of the Town goal where I was standing were frustrated with our lack of possession around the middle third. “We’re being cleaned,” was the chant. The Roscommon netminder, Colm Lavin, went long with 11 restarts in the first half. Roscommon won five and Galway won six of these. Why this negative perception that we were being “cleaned”?
It was probably because the five that Roscommon won were spectacular marks.
Perception and reality are different, of course. The reality is that the Galway middle third won them the match. They only lost five of their own kickouts in the match, which included two first-half restarts that sailed cleanly over the sideline.
The other major factor in Galway winning yesterday was their composure in front of the posts in the crucial periods of the game. While Galway always looked like winning to me, the Rossies will rue some dreadful attempts on goal. The winning line was in sight. Some very good dispossessions at the start of the second half allowed Roscommon the opportunity to put daylight between the sides. Poorly executed shots and probably nerves. Only a lucky penalty kept Roscommon in the game on the scoreboard. I say lucky because Diarmuid Murtagh was falling before proper contact was made. Nothing lucky about the execution of the spot-kick though. Top drawer stuff from the Roscommon skipper. Roscommon now up by one point. The Galway equaliser was the score of the match for me.
Ruairi Lavelle took the ball out of the net and hit a cracking 45m kick-out to Eoin Keirns. Keirns makes another 45m gain into the Roscommon danger zone. An offload to Ian Burke and bang. Perfect shoulder by Fintan Cregg flattens Ian Burke. But Galway have learned from the first half. Burke doesn’t wait for a free. He gets up, pops a pass to Sean Armstrong, and he fires a great equaliser. The Galway crowd sense victory and the Galway players feed off this. Then Galway’s game management and leaders step up. Damien Comer, who was well marshalled both legally and illegally by Niall McInerney, scores two points and wins two frees.
What Galway do with the two frees is very refreshing for the supporters. Shane Walsh stands over the two frees. Bear in mind he has taken five frees up to now in the match. He has kicked all five off the ground with his left foot. He has scored all five. He had every right to place his last two frees on the deck and go for further glory. He probably would have scored them, such was his outstanding form on display yesterday in Dr Hyde Park. He decides to play keep ball and work the ball into more favourable positions. It pays dividends. Ian Burke and Adrian Varley kick two insurance points due to Galway’s and more specifically Shane Walsh’s decision-making.
This is a huge step forward for Shane and for Galway’s chances in the Super 8s. From here on in, every good decision on the pitch will enhance Galway’s chances of victories and the next goal for this team, a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals.