Galway’s last provincial title was won against Mayo at MacHale Park in 2008 and in three weeks’ time Alan Mulholland will hope to lead the Tribesmen to their 45th crown in his first decider.
Certainly, there will be plenty of work for Galway’s team of psychologists in the intervening weeks as last year’s 17-point trimming is dissected again, but Mulholland says it remains a huge inspirational force for his team.
“We used it as motivation to try and get something out of last year. We got to Croke Park in the end, we had a decent enough run in the qualifiers and the Mayo experience kind of drove us on through that to try and bring a bit of respectability back to the whole thing,” said Mulholland.
“It was nothing short of embarrassing what did happen to us last year. So we’ll try to use that to drive us on, but it is a big gap. Mayo have a big gap opened up between all of the Connacht teams, Roscommon showed that there is a chink of light there but we’ll see if we can do a bit better,” he said.
This straightforward win was built on midfield domination, where Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Tom Flynn were unplayable at times. Shane McManus and James Kilcullen tried their best to break possession from the duo, but a poor kick-out strategy from the home side – Aidan Devaney’s booming kicks often picked out Ó Curraoin – meant Sligo struggled. The clash of the O’Shea brothers and the Galway pair will be intriguing in the final.
There was some hope for Sligo at the interval though as they only trailed the Tribesmen by a point after 35 minutes playing with a strong wind.
But after the restart the 44-times champions – they are just one behind Mayo and can match their neighbours on July 13 at MacHale Park – blocked up the supply routes to Sligo’s danger men and starved them of quality ball.
Three years into his managerial stint, Mulholland was delighted to finally get the chance to plan for a Connacht final.
“When I took the job I would have thought that we were going to be able to get to a Connacht final sooner, but it’s taken three years to get there – five in total to get to a Connacht final.
“It’s great to be going up there, it’s going to be a big ask looking at what they did to us last year it’s going to be tough to reverse that result but we’ll have a crack at it,” said Mulholland.
In the early stages Pat Flanagan’s side looked to be more intent on victory. Their high intensity play forced a few early turnovers while clever, low deliveries picked out David Kelly and Adrian Marren for early points. Charged with silencing Sligo’s danger men, Donal O’Neill and Finian Hanley struggled at times, but once the delivery routes were plugged up, they thrived with the bit of extra protection.
The home side held a 0-4 to 0-3 lead by the 17th minute, but with Flynn and Ó Curraoin’s influence growing at midfield, Galway worked their way into a three-point lead a minute before the break.
Mark Breheny and Marren points in injury-time closed that gap to 0-9 to 0-8 at the interval, but Shane Walsh’s creativity came to the fore in the third quarter and five of the next six scores went to Galway, which wrapped up the win.
“There was a three or four-minute period that we gave them three very simple points and it gave them the momentum to pull ahead,” said Sligo boss Flanagan.
“We were a bit concerned coming in about this being our first match and how we were going to react and how we were going to play, but fair play to the boys they kept going to the bitter end,” he said.
Shane Walsh. He looks a different player at centre- forward. More time on the ball suits the creative vision of the Kilkerrin/Clonberne man.
Can Galway deny Mayo a fourth Connacht in a row? Last year’s hammering is still gnawing at the Tribesmen, but can they have improved that much in 12 months.
Apart from Damien Comer replacing James Kavanagh before throw in, great to see both teams line up as per the match programme. What a luxury to see No 4s playing left corner-back and No10s at right half-forward.
Tom Flynn. His class play on the deck and ability in the air gave him the edge over the scoring machine up front. Himself and Ó Curraoin will test the Mayo duo in the final.
Nothing to see here. Both sides obeyed the rules and Maurice Deegan didn’t have to flash the black.
Alan Mulholland decided to hold back his injured players and not to chance James Kavanagh, Paul Conroy and Sean Armstrong from the start. On the other side, Pat Flanagan punted on Adrian Marren and Charlie Harrison and their lack of game time showed.
Might have awarded Damein Comer a penalty before half-time, but otherwise played his part in a flowing game.
Galway take on Mayo in the Connacht final on Sunday July 13, while Sligo will enter the qualifiers in the second round in July.
Scorers for Galway: S Walsh (0-6, 2f, 1 45), D Cummins (0-4), M Martin (1f), E Hoare (0-2), M Lundy, D Comer (0-1 each).
Scorers for Sligo: A Marren (0-4, 1 sl, 2fs), M Breheny (0-2), S McManus, S Kelly, P Hughes, K McDonnell, N Murphy (0-1 each).
GALWAY: M Breathnach; D O’Neill, F Hanley, A Tierney; G Bradshaw, G O’Donnell, P Varley; F Ó Curraoin, T Flynn; M Lundy, S Walsh, D Comer; M Martin, E Hoare, D Cummins.
Subs for Galway: P Conroy for Hoare (54), A Varley for Martin (58), S Armstrong for Cummins (61), J O’Brien for Comer (65), C Mulryan for Lundy (70).
SLIGO: A Devaney; N Ewing, J Martyn, R Donovan; K Cawley, A McIntyre, C Harrison; J Kilcullen, S McManus; B Egan, M Breheny, D Rooney; D Kelly, A Marren, P Hughes.
Subs for Sligo: B Curran for Harrison (39), K McDonnell for McManus (50), N Murphy for Rooney (55), S Coen for Hughes (55), G Ryan for Martyn (63), E McHugh for Breheny (65).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).