JOHN DIVILLY: Galway throw off the shackles with poise and purpose

When players have real belief that their team is good enough to win a Championship game, then we see good decision-making and football played with a real purpose, writes John Divilly.

Their style is aggressive and they are proactive. However, if players go into a game with fear or a lack of real belief, then their decision-making will be tentative, passive and reactive. Galway were the former yesterday while Sligo were the latter.

Championship football is meant to be the hardest, meanest, and toughest. No quarters asked or given. Galway brought this mantra to the table in the first quarter in Pearse Stadium, while Sligo were in bank-holiday mode. It was epic Galway at times and they had time and space to play the game on their terms. But how did Galway create these terms?

The Galway footballers threw off the shackles. They knew, deep down, that they should have beaten Mayo by at least seven points. They were determined to put up a big score. They ran hard, fast, and often at Sligo in the first ten minutes in pods of threes and fours. The give and go strategy was in full flow as Galway weaved through Sligo. The half-forward line of Heaney, Walsh, and Brannigan were lethal. No wastage. Points angled over from all positions around the arc. Great kicking techniques showing skills of the highest level. The most impressive thing was that all three players kicked scores off both left and right feet.

The inside line of Burke, Comer, and McHugh were bamboozling the Sligo defence. Sligo had an extra defender, and sometimes two, trying to stop Comer and Burke winning first-time ball. They failed. The extra defenders were marking space and were happy to protect the D. Galway countered this very simply by always passing to the outside of their forwards.

Sligo were better off trying to double-mark Comer or Burke. There are not many defenders in the country who will win clean ball in front of these two Galway attackers. Before the inside pair even won the ball, the supporting cast were already in full flight. Sligo were very, very naive in their defending techniques. Roscommon won’t be so naive.

Roscommon will have duly noted that the Sligo defence were very ‘nice’. They never got real hands on the Galway attackers. They were allowed to dictate the tempo at their leisure. This may seem harsh on the Sligo lads. But this game was over after 15 minutes.

In fact, Galway could have been 12 points ahead after the first quarter. They had a lot of hand- and kick-passes intercepted at the final juncture. Surprisingly, it was Ian Burke who was the main culprit. He was the only Galway forward not to score in the first half. He put that right in the second half with a neat 1-2. His second point came from a Damien Comer tap-down. He sold a deft sidestep with a bounce and tapped a point over. His goal came from a mazy Shane Walsh run.

Shane is often castigated by the Galway fans because with all his talents, he often misfires in front of goal. Not yesterday. Four points from play with four attempts. He left a few Sligo lads with dust in their eyes zooming by them. He was one of Galway’s best performers along with Damien Comer and Tom Flynn.

I thought Sean Kelly was outstanding. He hoovered up huge amounts of breaks and from 1-2 registered from play, his first point was the best.

Sligo’s Pat Hughes had moved to wing-forward for all their restarts. He was successful with the first two as Sean Andy O Ceallaigh wasn’t sure if he should follow his man so far out. Kelly put that tactic to bed with one play. He out-fielded Pat Hughes in the Galway half-back line. He soldiered forward with purpose. He offloaded the ball, kept his run going, got the ball back, and drilled over a great score. Simple yet stylish. He’s going to be hard to shift from the Galway rearguard after yesterday. His pace will be needed against Roscommon because for all Galway’s dominance yesterday, there was a lot of space on show for a more potent attack. Sligo kicked 13 wides and created some very scoreable goal chances.

Kevin Walsh will want his defence to answer why Sligo were allowed into the scoring zone so often. This is not a negative on the Galway team or defence. This is a question the players will need to answer honestly because this is where Roscommon will try to hurt us.

Sligo got a lot of breaking ball in the second half. Was this because we were missing Paul Conroy and Ciaran Duggan? Was it a direct result of Tom Flynn going off? Was it that our positioning was wrong under the breaking ball in the second half? Or was it simply a case of the Tribesmen taking the foot slightly off the pedal as they knew Sligo were only playing for pride?

The majority of Ruairi Lavelle’s kickouts went long. Galway went short with two at the very end and we scored 1-1 as a direct result. Sligo, yet again, couldn’t get a hand on these two penetrating attacks. Gary O’Donnell kicked the point and Damien Comer produced a Joe Canning style ‘catch and shot on the turn’. A marksman-style goal.

When Sligo did look threatening there was a lot of space in front of the Galway goal. Kyle Cawley and Adrian Marren won lots of possession off Declan Kyne and David Wynne. Galway will have to work harder on closing these channels for the Connacht final.

Where will it be played? Who cares. The Galway players will want to right the wrongs for last year. They want to wrestle that Nestor Cup back. Kevin McStay says “his team will not be moved”. Stay put Kevin, we’re coming to you. We respect you as provincial champions, but we don’t fear you.

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