JOHN DIVILLY: Resolute Tribesmen eyeing best in the west status now

It was, without doubt, one of the poorest games of football between these two great rivals in living memory. 

Tactically brilliant but technically very poor. Galway’s numerical advantage and subs got them over the line. Mayo’s inability to break down a resolute Galway defence, and a lack of impact off their bench, cost them dearly. 

There’s much more in this Galway team and it’s certainly a wonderful victory for this ambitious young panel.

But which panel members made the greatest impact? Sean Kelly, Ian Burke, and Eamon Branigan were pivotal in achieving victory. Kevin Walsh has, at times in the past, been accused of making poor tactical switches and often too late in games.

 Yesterday he got them spot on. Ian Burke was immense in winning his first ball and then doing the right thing with possession. His first touch was clean and his vision sublime. His deft handpass to Sean Kelly who, in turn, invited Johnny Heaney onto the ball with another well-timed handpass prised open the Mayo defence. As Heaney let fly victory was signed and sealed for the Tribesman.

A cracking finish in a pressurised situation executed with precision by an otherwise rather subdued, Johnny Heaney.

Ian Burke brings a different dimension to the Galway attack and his brief but invaluable cameo role will hopefully spur him during training this week.

 Sean Kelly was also outstanding. When coaches ask replacements to make an impact, they might have had Kelly’s cameo in mind. With his first touch he fisted a Galway point to edge them 0-11 to 0-10 in front. His next play was a brilliant interception on the Galway 21m line. 

A swift counter-attack and the ball ends up with Peter Cooke on the stand side. Every Galway supporter stands up to implore him to switch the play to the unmarked Shane Walsh. 

However, he spurned the opening and the voices of 15,000 Galway supporters and misses the chance to close it out. It was that sort of game. Galway had ample opportunities to bury Mayo.

 Eamon Brannigan, who took the game to Mayo and brought energy and intelligent running, and Championship debutant Barry McHugh, missed great chances. Shane Walsh soloed in and out like Lannigan’s Ball and refused to take a shot on. 

Then the experienced Gary O’Donnell had two errors, an overcarry and a wide. Instead of easing into an unassailable lead, Galway opened the door again as Mayo advanced down the field for McLaughlin to level the quarter-final at 0-11 each. 

This is game management and while Galway held the ball brilliantly at times and frustrated 14-man Mayo, Kevin Walsh will recognise his players must get more clinical in front of goal.

In contrast the Mayo subs, Cillian O’Connor aside, brought indecision and little positive impact. Everyone knew how Galway were going to set up. Mayo retained possession and tried to draw Galway out of position. Galway didn’t bite. 

Only Keith Higgins hurt Galway with his rampaging runs. Paddy Durcan tried hard too but his shot selection lets him down. Galway allowed Kevin McLaughlin and Diarmuid O’Connor huge amounts of possession, especially in the first half, but they didn’t hurt Galway enough where it really counts.

Moments of real quality were rare but there were a few. Barry McHugh’s two fantastic frees in the first half.

Aidan O’Shea perfectly executed and timely dispossession of Peter Cooke. Magnificent marks by Tom Flynn and Ciaran Duggan. Two belters of points from my man of the match Ciaran Duggan.

A swashbuckling and fearless championship debut from Sean Andy O Ceallaigh. Pinpoint restarts from Ruairi Lavelle. Fantastic overhead catch by David Clarke in the first half. Cillian O’Connor’s sweet strike with the outside of his boot. Shane Walsh majestic free with his left foot.

In a tight game, place-kicking was going to be crucial. Galway had three attempts and scored all three. Mayo had six attempts and scored four. The missed ones? Both from Kevin McLaughlin.

One off the post and the other, from 25m out, was screwed wide. The interesting feature was that Galway kicked the frees from the ground. Mayo chose to kick everyone from their hands.

The importance of discipline in such a tense cauldron was fundamental. Unfortunately for Diarmuid O’Connor, he saw red for a reckless elbow into Paul Conroy’s jaw. There were other minor infringements but nothing out of the ordinary.

However we did see two disgusting acts of diving. There is absolutely no place in the GAA for diving and both Andy Moran and James Durcan should have been punished for blatant dives.

Equally on the Galway side, Damian Comer should have received a yellow card for not releasing the ball when he was penalised for overcarrying. When players don’t release the ball, it can lead to needless scuffles.

What was also blatant was the lack of energy and leadership from Mayo’s most experienced players. We all knew they had injuries coming into the game but apart from Higgins. McLaughlin and Parsons, their body language indicated lethargy.

 This was championship after all where a player should be risking life and limb to win dirty ball and energise the team. Galway had this quality in abundance yesterday. 

They looked the fitter team, they played the smarter football and with a little more savvy, cuteness and game-management, could have beaten Mayo easier than the end margin.

Mayo will undoubtedly regroup, even in the absence of the unfortunate Tom Parsons. In the meantime, Galway will really start believing that they can become the number one team in the west.


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