After a spring that sucked plenty of hope out of football in the county, the first day of summer brought welcome respite for the Tribesmen. The U-21 grade continues to be a portent of hope for Galway as they collected their third national crown in a decade.
Galway’s final leg to success was a straightforward one. In comparison to their semi-final against Cork when they eked out a two-point win in a tense finale, this provided no stresses or strains. Galway pressed on the accelerator in the second quarter and were out of sight by the break. Alan Mulholland’s side outscored their beleaguered opponents by 2-7 to 0-2 in the closing 15 minutes of the first-half and that period of play determined where the Clarke Cup was bound.
Cavan’s success-starved supporters yearn for football silverware. But they could never replicate the accomplished displays that saw them negotiate the hurdles in Ulster earlier this year and clip the wings of Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The opening phases of play hinted at plenty of promise for the huge numbers of Breffni supporters that had journeyed down the M3. But it transpired to be a false dawn as Galway’s superiority came to the fore.
Galway’s last U21 title in 2005 was built around two scoring superstars in Micheal Meehan and Sean Armstrong, but this victory owed more to a collective effort. Their defence was imperious, led by captain Colin Forde at full-back who furthered his credentials for senior football this summer, while Jonathan Duane and Tomas Fahy were to the fore in the half-back line.
Their midfield pairing of Tomas Flynn and Fionntán Ó Curraoin were immense once more. Despite only just emerging from minor level, that duo have made light of their experience to put in storming displays throughout Galway’s campaign. They established a key platform of dominance and critically nullified the impact of Gearóid McKiernan who has been a shining light for Cavan this season.
Galway’s forwards, like any, thrive on being fed a diet of quality possession. Mark Hehir, who never played minor for the county, displayed his class at centre-forward as he chalked up 0-7 to ensure he finished as the top scorer in this year’s U21 championship.
The Milltown man earned the man-of-the-match bauble for his efforts but he was pushed hard by corner-forward Danny Cummins. His scorching pace caused chaos and his shooting was on the money as he landed four points. In the second-half wing-forward Michael Boyle became more prominent as his ball-carrying proved a valuable asset in helping Galway to close out the match.
Staring down the barrel of a 2-10 to 0-5 interval deficit was a sobering experience for Cavan and the concession of those two first-half goals was hugely unsettling.
The first arrived in bizarre circumstances in the 15th minute as two shots from midfielder Flynn cannoned off the crossbar in the space of seconds before full-forward Patrick Sweeney punched the ball to the net amidst a crowd of players.
The second green flag was raised six minutes later when Killererin clubmates Boyle and Fahy combined to release Eric Monahan who finished decisively to the net past Cavan netminder Alan O’Mara. The beautiful point-kicking of Hehir and Cummins was also central to the creation of Galway’s healthy half-time position.
Returning to face the strong breeze hardly hindered Galway at all. Mulholland has his team well-drilled and their cohesive defensive play frustrated Cavan’s attempts to break through for vital scores.
Breffni danger men Jack Brady and Niall McDermott frequently found themselves crowded out when in possession near goal. Even when McDermott was halted illegally in the 34th minute, Cavan saw Barry Reilly’s penalty shot tipped away impressively by Galway keeper Manus Breathnach.
The tireless efforts of Oisín Minagh and Niall Murray ensured Cavan kept probing until the finish, with a 58th minute goal by substitute Conor McClarey providing some measure of consolation. But Galway never relinquished their control with Hehir, Cummins and Boyle popping over the second-half points that sealed this well merited triumph.
Scorers for Galway: M Hehir 0-7 (0-4f); D Cummins 0-4; P Sweeney, E Monahan 1-0 each; M Boyle (0-1f), J Moore 0-2 each; C Doherty 0-1.
Scorers for Cavan: C McClarey 1-0; B Reilly (0-1f), N McDermott 0-2 each; J Brady (0-1f), F Flanagan, N Smith, N Murray, K Tierney 0-1 each.
Subs for Galway: A Murphy for P Sweeney (half-time), M Farragher for Monahan (46), B Flaherty for Boyle (56), C Halloran for Fahy (59), C Silke for Tierney (59).
Subs for Cavan: P King for M Leddy (20), T Mooney for Tighe (inj) (29), K Tierney for Reilly (40), N McKiernan for King (51), C McClarey for Meehan (58).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).