A second win in a fortnight, another performance that didn’t reach the heights of 2018 and a nasty injury have given Kevin Walsh plenty to ponder as this win over Sligo qualifies Galway for the Connacht final.
Last year Galway hammered the same opponents by 21 points at the same stage but yesterday they required second-half goals from Liam Silke, Johnny Heaney and Martin Farragher to finally see them through after a dour affair at Markievicz Park.
Either Roscommon or Mayo will be their opponents in the final on Sunday 16 June, but Galway could face that fourth straight provincial final without wing-back Kieran Molloy.
The Corofin man, who was recently crowned club footballer of the year, went down injured after 15 minutes, and his suspected dislocated shoulder concerned the Galway manager.
“I’m very disappointed for Kieran in particular,” said Walsh.
“He’d made some great runs at the start, he looked lively. It was just unfortunate for him, but he’s young, he’s heaps of days ahead of him. He’s tough and he’s positive, so he’ll be fine.
“But it’s a good sign if it’s a shoulder put back in straight away, so that more than likely will come on quick. If it’s an hour or two before it’s put back in that can cause trouble. So, hopefully...
He’s a great fella, Kieran is as tough as nails. He’ll battle back as quickly as possible and hopefully in the next week or two he’ll be back flying.
Walsh could welcome back Damien Comer, Paul Conroy, Adrian Varley, Declan Kyne, Seán Kelly, Ciaran Duggan and Peter Cooke for the final, and their experience has been missed in the opening rounds of the competition.
Cillian McDaid and Eammon Branngian were called back to action after injury, while Fiontan Ó Curraoin had an impressive return to midfield.
But Farragher was most impressive in his first ever senior appearance for the county, which ended with a 1-1 haul to put the gloss on the win after Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh had been sent-off.
Galway were only 0-5 to 0-3 in front at half-time after a desperate first half where both sides hit four wides each and played most of the game around midfield.
Walsh had been manager of Sligo when they downed Galway in 2010 and 2012, but on the back of seven-game losing streak and relegation from Division 3 of the NFL a shock didn’t look likely.
Sligo had the breeze and opened with a point from captain Niall Murphy but that second-minute effort was cancelled out by the brilliant Silke. Sligo wouldn’t lead again.
Galway wrestled control of possession although they didn’t score again until the 18th minute.
Eventually Ó Curraoin, who gave a powerful display from midfield, began a three-point burst and Galway would take a two-point lead into the interval despite rallying scores from Sligo’s Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch and Kilcoyne.
Michael Daly flashed two wides on the resumption as the game looked set to continue like the first-half but in the 44th and 45th minutes Silke and Heaney hit the net.
Silke was set up after a pass from Heaney and the Galway wing-forward reacted quickest when Michael Daly’s shot came back off the post for the killer second.
Galway were 2-7 to 0-4 in front and despite two outstanding scores from Murphy, the away side put a gloss on the scoreline when Farragher found the net after a second yellow card for Ó Ceallaigh.
“We knew coming up here that they were going to be defensive and fair play to them. They’re moving on with the times and they’ve covered up holes that forwards have to get and that’s part of good coaching,” said Walsh.
“Sligo brought a bit of that to bear today and it made life more difficult for a while for us, but I think if we got one or two of the chances early on in the first half that we could have got that might have made it a bit more open.”
Sligo manager Paul Taylor is still without a competitive senior victory at the helm in his native county, and they must wait until the second round of the qualifiers to play again.
As talk of a two-tier championship gathers pace he was just pleased his players put up a fight against the reigning champions: “I don’t think the scoreline was a true reflection on the game,” said Taylor.
“We didn’t do enough in the first half but the boys battled hard. I don’t think we got any luck either – that ball that came off the post for Galway’s second goal.
“We had a five-minute period in the second half where Galway won the game and we lost the game.”
L Silke 1-2, S Walsh 0-4 (3f), Martin Farragher 1-1, J Heaney 1-0, M Daly 0-2, F Ó Curraoin 0-1, E Brannigan 0-1.
N Murphy 0-4 (2f), G O’Kelly-Lynch 0-1, P Kilcoyne 0-1, S Carrabine 0-1.
B Power; E Kerin, SA Ó Ceallaigh, L Silke; K Molloy, G Bradshaw, J Daly; T Flynn, F Ó Curraoin; S Walsh, M Daly, J Heaney; A Ó Laoi, I Burke, D Cummins.
G O’Donnell for Molloy (16), E Brannigan for Cummins (55), R Finnerty for Ó Laoi (61), C McDaid for Heaney (64), M Farragher for Burke (66), J Duane for Bradshaw (68).
E Kilgannon; P Laffey, Michael Gordon, P McNamara; A McIntyre, D Cummins, N Mullen; G O’Kelly-Lynch, P Kilcoyne; K Cawley, P O’Connor, Mikey Gordon; S Carrabine, P Hughes, N Murphy.
A Marren for Hughes (53), N Ewing for Michael Gordon (53), K McKenna for Cawley (61), L Nicholson for McNamara (66), D Quinn for O’Connor (68).
Ciaran Branagan (Down).
Anthony Daly, Ger Cunningham and TJ Ryan review the weekend's hurling.