Doubts will be cast on the merits of this victory given the tame level of resistance offered by Roscommon, but one need only refer to Galway’s second most recent performance in Castlebar and the ending of Mayo’s provincial reign to realise that Kevin Walsh is building a pretty formidable outfit out west.
And for all the chatter surrounding their improved rearguard structure and the fabric strength of the defensive blanket Walsh has been weaving since his appointment in 2014, it was their movement and decision-making in the latter half of the field that had Kevin McStay likening Galway’s first-half performance to that of a hurricane.
“They blew us away,” said the Roscommon joint-manager shortly after Gary O’Donnell clasped his hands onto the JJ Nestor Cup to bring the curtain down on the county’s eight-year wait for Connacht glory.
Galway’s last All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in 2014 was born out of a comprehensive Connacht final defeat to Mayo and a fourth round qualifier win against a Tipperary side very much in its infancy. On this occasion, though, their place in the last eight has been moulded from back-to-back wins over Division 1 teams; Mayo taken on their home turf, and Roscommon whipped to the tune of 11 points.
Content to be in Croke Park two summers ago, Galway will return to Jones Road in a fortnight with far greater ambition. The opposition, too, you suspect, will be far more wary.
Where the Tribesmen were cautious last week, they were creative yesterday. Inspired almost, well certainly in the opening half an hour.
What had hindered the Tribesmen in the second-half of the drawn fixture was their tendency to slow the play down when securing possession around midfield. The contrast couldn’t have been starker here; Paul Conroy, time and time again, spraying quick ball into the forward unit before Roscommon had a chance to put up their defensive screen. Such was the flow of scores landed early on that Roscommon were forced to abandon said screen in having to chase the game.
Sean Mullooly was left terribly exposed at full-back in attempting to tie down Damien Comer, and while Niall McInerney was the sole Roscommon defender to stick his head above the parapet, Danny Cummins still helped himself to 2-1. Gary Sice was a constant source of trouble down the right wing, with Shane Walsh also effective on the opposite flank.
Corner-back Eoghan Kerin, Gary Sice (free) and Eamon Brannigan capitalised on a host of early attacks to move Galway three clear by the seventh minute. Cathal Cregg may have been unlucky with a goal chance, but it was a rare attack on Bernard Power’s goal. Indeed, this replay was 14 minutes old before Ciarán Murtagh put his team on the board.
Walsh and Senan Kilbride traded white flags as the first quarter drew to a close, with the footballers clad in maroon assuming command thereafter. Damien Comer gave an indication of what was to come when touching Gary Sice’s free to the net on 17 minutes, even if referee Ciarán Branagan awarded a free out for square ball.
They didn’t have to wait long, mind you.
Brannigan put through Cummins two minutes later and his sweet strike with the left boot whistled past Darren O’Malley. Comer flashed over in the ensuing passage in what would prove the opening 1-1 of a 2-5 burst during which Murtagh’s second minor was the sole interruption.
Comer and Cummins added to their personal tallies before Sice, fed by Conroy, turned Fintan Cregg with consummate ease and blasted past O’Malley for goal number two.
Comer’s third and a Shane Walsh free for a David Keenan black card offence had the scoreboard reading 2-9 to 0-3 on the half hour mark. Game over.
Murtagh continued to plough a lone furrow at the other end and his two points approaching the end of the first-half meant the losers finished the opening period with just two men on the scoresheet.
Matters didn’t improve much upon the change of ends, with the players introduced off the bench — namely Donie Shine, Ultan Harney, Fergal Lennon, Enda Smith and Thomas Corcoran — contributing 0-7 of their 0-9 tally.
Telling a tale was the stat showing Cathal Cregg to be the sole starting Roscommon player to add his name to the scoresheet after half-time.
Pouring further salt in the wounds was Donie Smith’s second yellow card for an altercation with Kerin which saw the losers play the closing eight minutes with 14 men.
Galway had long since turned the dial down, Danny Cummins’ second green flag on 57 minutes crowning a collective display that is sure to have caught the attention of those outside the province.
D Cummins (2-1); G Sice (1-2, 0-2 frees); S Walsh (0-2 frees), D Comer (0-3 each); E Brannigan (0-2); B Power (0-1 ‘45);E Kerin, G O’Donnell, P Conroy, P Varley (0-1 each).
C Murtagh (0-4, 0-1 free); S Kilbride, D Shine, E Smith (0-2 each); F Lennon, T Corcoran, U Harney, C Cregg (0-1 each).
B Power; E Kerin, D Kyne, D Wynne; G O’Donnell, L Silke, G Bradshaw; P Conroy, T Flynn; G Sice, E Brannigan, J Heaney; D Cummins, D Comer, S Walsh.
A Varley for Walsh (51 mins); P Sweeney for Comer (58, bc); F Hanley for Kyne (66); P Varley for Heaney (67); E Hoare for Sice (68); P Cooke for Cummins (70).
D O’Malley; J McManus, S Mullooly, N McInerney; S McDermott, D Murray, S Purcell; N Daly, C Compton; F Cregg, C Devaney, D Keenan; C Murtagh, S Kilbride, C Cregg.
D Smith for Keenan (30 mins, bc); F Lennon for S Purcell (HT); E Smith for Devaney (HT); D Shine for F Cregg (42); T Corcoran for Compton (48); U Harney for Mullooly (52 mins, bc).
C Branagan (Down).