We have lift-off. The last few weeks served up some dire football. In Salthill last year’s All-Ireland finalists served up a reminder that system won’t win Sam Maguire.
Galway’s 2022 championship ended with Croke Park heartbreak. Their league campaign will end back in the same stadium. They were full value for their two-point win and deserve bonus points for reaching a league final while unearthing several exciting prospects.
They started brightly and won the first quarter five points to two. There were goal chances at either end, Johnny Heaney and Paudie Clifford both denied by strong saves. Between the posts it was the battle of the deputies. Bernard Power made his first league appearance since 2021 while Dr Crokes goalkeeper Shane Murphy took over from Shane Ryan at the other end.
The defining moment of the first half came when Paul Conroy’s right-footed effort dropped short only for Murphy to collide with the post. With the crash came calamity. That goal was the difference at half-time.
Padraic Joyce is a man with a plan and here they executed it perfectly. Sean Kelly rekindled his rivalry with David Clifford in a captain showdown and kept him scoreless from play. The versatile Cathal Sweeney was redeployed to track Clifford the elder. Power’s short clipped kickouts proved effective and their attack was impressive throughout, finishing with a conversion rate of 70%.
Meanwhile Jason Foley made for Shane Walsh. Walsh clipped two early frees while David Clifford kicked a pair of wides. That became a theme as Kerry, who won the toss and opted to play into the wind, were inaccurate with seven wides in the opening half as well as one shot dropped short.
Watching all of this unfold from high in the sky was Jack O’Connor, sitting in the stand beside Paddy Tally rather than standing on the sideline. Before the turnaround he swooped down to take charge. Dan Moynihan was introduced for Ruairi Murphy at the break and the Spa flyer immediately won a free that O’Shea duly converted. Power’s long kickout was claimed by Barry Dan O’Sullivan and O’Shea slotted over from play to cut the gap to one.
Now the stage was really shaking. After 42 minutes Damien Comer made his return and linked up with Walsh to score, only elevating proceedings. Diarmuid O’Connor came on and thundered into an oncoming Johnny Heaney. Dylan McHugh executed a sensational block to stop Paudie Clifford’s goal bound effort.
So it continued, two thoroughbreds galloping stride for stride. O’Shea elegantly curled over the resulting 45. Tierney elegantly soared to claim the resulting kickout. Kerry introduced Graham O’Sullivan. Galway responded with Robert Finnerty. The strong getting stronger.
As the clock ticked towards the final 10, Shane Walsh kicked a monster free to make the margin to two. Kerry won the short kickout and Walsh immediately fouled. From there Galway’s set defence swallowed the Kingdom’s offence, Peter Cooke and Sean Fitzgerald combining for a turnover. It ended in a sweet left-footed point from Robert Finnerty.
A goal to the good, Joyce’s tribe went in search of another. A typical Sean Kelly driving run sent Peter Cooke away until O’Shea pulled him back. He got yellow, Walsh kicked his fifth free.
Paudie Clifford did his damnedest to muster a comeback with a fine point and O’Shea added a 45 to rachet up the heat on the hosts. Could they hold out? Have last year’s finalists gotten better?
Shane Walsh 0-5 (5 frees), Paul Conroy 1-0, John Maher 0-2, Tomo Culhane 0-1, Cathal Sweeney 0-1, John Daly 0-1, Damien Comer 0-1, Matthew Tierney 0-1, Robert Finnerty 0-1
Sean O’Shea 0-5 (2 frees, 2 45), David Clifford 0-2 (2 frees), Barry Dan O’Sullivan 0-2, Tom O’Sullivan 0-2, Paudie Clifford 0-2, Gavin White 0-1.
: B Power; J McGrath, S Kelly, S Fitzgerald; D McHugh, J Daly, C Hernon; P Conroy, J Maher; M Tierney, J Heaney, P Cooke; T Culhane, S Walsh, C Sweeney.
: J Glynn for Hernon (half-time), D Comer for Culhane (42), R Finnerty for Maher (54), D O’Flaherty for Heaney (72)
S Murphy; D Casey, J Foley, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, T Morley, G White; J Barry, B O’Sullivan; R Murphy, S O’Shea, P Clifford; T Brosnan, D Clifford, D O’Sullivan.
: D O’Connor for B O O’Sullivan (temp 32-34), D Moynihan for Murphy (half-time), D O’Connor for B O’Sullivan (40), K Spillane for D O’Sullivan (46), G O’Sullivan for Casey (52), P Geaney for Murphy (66) Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh)