Favourites make their move

A WEEKEND that cleared a lot of the fog about this Bank of Ireland championship.

Galway doing just enough in Pearse Stadium, the character and resolve of Armagh, and the growing debate: are teams better off going through the qualifier route?

Galway's Connacht champions were musing after Mayo. Said Matthew Clancy: "We need to improve.

"Armagh showed against Dublin the sort of standard teams should be aiming for. They are playing above a level we are at the moment, they have set the pace now and it is up to us and others to chase them."

Added captain Kevin Walsh: "We have five weeks left sitting now. The other teams, the likes of Armagh, have a serious advantage if they stay injury free. They are getting good tests along the way."

Armagh's tour de force will please John O'Mahony, desperate still to disassociate any whiff of western expectation.

"This Connacht final was always going to be a struggle," O'Mahony reflected.

"Mayo are a good, young side and they will win things in the coming years and will still have a big say in this championship."

John Maughan and the entire county of Mayo must wonder why footballing fate mocks them so. It was the same, dog-eared script for Mayo yesterday. All the key factors turned against them.

A missed penalty, two accidental collisions, one results in the loss of their captain, the other results in the loss of their best player.

However, Galway did what they had to do. They gritted their teeth and displayed the stomach for battle and the team's collective experience seemed to sense when they needed scores.

It's this ability to get scores at the right time, when the opposition are on top, that sets Galway apart from so many other teams.

"I am very pleased that when we were playing poorly, we kept it calm and we kept it structured.

"The lads didn't let any panic slip into their game and knew the breaks would come. And they did with the goal," O'Mahony said.

Rarely has a goal changed a half-time team talk so much. Galway were still phewing after Stephen Carolan's penalty miss when Joe Bergin lofted a ball above the head of Aidan Higgins and David Heaney.

It was Matthew Clancy who took the punt and his gamble paid off when he slotted the ball coolly past Fintan Ruddy.

As Clancy received the congratulations of his team, Maughan was tearing up his half time speech.

"That's the difference, the difference of a five point swing and not a two point swing.

"I thought if we went in at parity or even a point down at half-time, we would have a great chance," the Mayo manager said.

The goal-scorer recalls the goal only being a matter of inches.

"I was just lucky to run onto the ball. Aidan Higgins came very close to cutting it out, he was a little unlucky and it bounced through to me and from there on in, I had to do what any forward is on the team to do."

While they retained their clinical nature, most impressive about this Galway performance was the way they absorbed and contained as well as kicking the scores that kept them ahead.

"Well, that has always been a criticism of this team that we never protect a lead. We did that," O'Mahony said.

"Joe Bergin kicked a couple of crucial points after the break and it was a major team effort to protect the lead. The lads came in with a one-for-all and all-for-one mentality."

Bergin was an immense presence for most of the game, his intelligence in ghosting into the edge of the square to receive a Padraig Joyce free and knock over the third of his four points illustrated how much maturity his game has developed in recent years.

Galway didn't even need the 17 players that O'Mahony lined up to meet the President. With both Micheal Meehan and Micheal Donnellan not 100% before the game, the Galway manager decided not to risk them from the start.

However, they were still togged to confuse the Mayo management and the press box.

"That is the nature of things when neighbour meets neighbour. Mayo sent out a few signals too.

"What we see in soccer, the rotation system, that has become a hallmark of modern sport and it is something everyone has to get used to. That's all it was," O'Mahony said.

It mightn't have been a vintage performance from his team, but O'Mahony will be happier with the cards a little closer the chest. He knows the next month or so will be the most difficult of the summer.

"This is where we messed up last year, we now have a five-week rest period and two games in nine weeks.

"I have always said it and we proved it ourselves in 2001, the teams that come through the qualifiers are going to have an advantage at the quarter-final stage."

Where Galway have an advantage over most of their rivals, though, is experience.

Some of the younger players might have shone through yesterday, but it was the likes of Sean De Poar and Kevin Walsh who ensured anxiety didn't creep into their game when things were going awry.

So, Galway are into the quarter-final stage. And despite Armagh lifting their veil on Saturday, the true measure of Galway is still somewhat obscured.

Which will suit them fine in the west. The attentions came go elsewhere this weekend. Other people deserve them more.

"I suppose the difference between winners and losers is the players who don't let the heads drop when things aren't going well and keep plugging at it," Matthew Clancy remarked.

"We are fortunate to have a lot of players like that on the team."

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