There was a theory in Galway last month before they played Kildare in what turned out to be the final league match of the season that Galway would be better off not winning.
The permutations for Alan Mulholland’s team were simple and attractive: beat Kildare at home in Pearse Stadium and they would not only return to Division 1 next season, they’d also get a crack at Tyrone in Croke Park within three weeks.
It’s been four years since the Tribesmen had a meaningful game in Croke Park — that famous Old Testament game played under a surreal downpour against Kerry. If the Galway public were a bit iffy about a return to Croke Park and to a higher division, the Galway players appeared impervious to such negativity last month against Kildare. In what was a thrilling second-half display from Galway, they narrowly lost out because of naivety under a hopeful dropping ball into their square late in the game.
In the end, Kildare scored an equalising goal from a penalty to gain promotion but it was the reaction in Galway afterwards to their team’s performance that was telling.
In acknowledging that it was an opportunity lost, it also dawned on them that Division 1 football was a full nine months away and that by February 2013, it could have been the next plot point in what appears to be a rising graph.
It’s a truism that very few teams can play with the same swagger as a Galway team with momentum but it’s also true to say that Galway people have been too pessimistic by far about their football in recent years.
Joe Kernan and Tomás Ó Flatharta, in particular have known too well what it was like to be at the mercy of the vicissitudes of Galway support and a few ex cathedra statements by former players and well placed analysts have only added to the uncertainty and the gloom.
It hardly seems fair that Galway’s championship campaign last year lasted less than two weeks. In a bizarre anomaly, their first outing ended in a six- point defeat to Mayo and 13 days later, they succumbed by a point to Meath in the second round qualifier. Their early league form was abject but the emergence of a really decent U21 team in May and the impatience for an immediate bounce back from that All-Ireland win, became a vexation to many Galway supporters.
They wanted success, they wanted it here and they wanted it now.
The mood ahead of tomorrow’s game in the Hyde is more circumspect and more grounded. With two recognised backs and a young midfielder in the half-forward line and two championship debutants alongside Finian Hanley in the full back line, Galway people don’t really know what to expect.
Gareth Bradshaw’s continued excellence in the half-back line offers hope and Joe Bergin, so accursed with injury and inconsistency, has started the final five league matches, culminating in a great second-half display against Kildare.
If Paul Conroy and Gary Sice can reproduce their league form, and if the clutch of U21 winners from last year catch fire, then anything is possible.
Roscommon will aim to profit from a height and ball-winning advantage in the full-forward line.
Senan Kilbride and Donie Shine are as good as what’s in Connacht at winning their own ball and scoring from it, so the ploy from a Galway viewpoint should be to flood the middle and not allow Geoffrey Claffey find Karol Mannion and Michael Finneran with his kickouts. Cathal Cregg will take watching on the 40 but if these three suppliers are cut off, Shine and Kilbride will suffer.
The experience Galway have on the bench cannot be ignored either. Joyce, Meehan, Blake, Coleman and Bane won’t be fazed by the hostility of the Hyde Park faithful and if it is legs or experience they require coming down the home straight, Galway have a few options more than Roscommon.
It should be enough to see them through.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved