Galway 1-9 Tyrone 0-8: A sharp winter’s day, a wet ball on a heavy pitch and a swirling wind that went all over the place … perfect conditions, you’d imagine, for Tyrone to get their league campaign off to a winning start and get Mickey Harte’s 16th season up and running earnest.
In the end, it could hardly have gone much worse for Tyrone at Tuam Stadium. They only managed three points from play, kicked 10 wides, never led, and having had Darren McCurry sent off after 25 minutes, they finished the game with 12 men on the field when Peter Harte and Michael McKernan picked up black cards during a lawless closing few minutes.
The result is a huge one for Galway on their return to the top flight for the first time in seven years. And while the win will undoubtedly please manager Kevin Walsh, you suspect he is much more encouraged by the way they stood toe-to-toe with Tyrone when the going got tough.
He is too much of a diplomat to dwell on it but that steel will give Walsh and Galway an awful lot of hope as they try rebuild towards the glory days.
They matched that backbone with some great use of the ball, real traditional Galway style, and, while the match could have slipped from them in the second-half, they finished strongly and deservedly took the points.
They head to Donegal — who they knocked out of the championship last year — with Walsh warning them not to lose the run of themselves.
He, a double All-Ireland winner and triple All-Star, knows better than most what it takes and has seen a few false dawns in his time.
“It is only match: We are not going to lose the run of ourselves. The big thing for us was that we were competitive on the day.
“I know they had a man sent off at a particular time and that can work for you and against you but it was important we held our shape.
“There are a lot of lads here who hadn’t played Division 1 before so it is a learning curve for us.
“But this is only one seventh of the way through the campaign,” added Walsh.
Damien Comer revelled in his new role as captain and while he was quiet for periods, the Annaghdown man delivered the big blows when it mattered.
Séan Andy Ó Ceallaigh, on his league debut, lived up to the reputation he made as a brilliant U21 full-back last year, while beside him Eoghan Kerin gave a sterling display.
Galway needed a big start to announce their arrival back in the top flight and Comer delivered it after just 16 seconds, soloing in before drilling a low shot to the net to stun Tyrone.
Comer followed up his goal with a superb point from the left and then Shane Walsh made it 1-2 to 0-0 after just seven minutes.
It took Tyrone, even with the wind behind them, 15 minutes to score their first point, a good effort from the right wing by Tiernan McCann and after Walsh got a second free for Galway, Mickey Harte’s men cut the gap to a goal by the break thanks to efforts from Conor McAliskey and Cathal McShane.
Another effort from McAliskey just after the restart suggested a big second-half from Tyrone but two points from Eamon Brannigan settled Galway.
Tyrone were relying on frees to cut the gap with Peter Harte hitting a couple and Ronan O’Neill also found the range but, having got the gap back to two, they were unable to prevent a big finish from Galway.
Comer took his haul to 1-2 and Walsh, this time with the left foot, pointed a third free to mark their return to the top flight in style.
And Harte was the first to admit Tyrone face a massive early season test when Jim Gavin’s men head north next Saturday.
“That’s not going to be easy. We have to play Dublin sometime and you are better getting them early in the campaign than later.
“We have to just roll up our sleeves now and see can we raise the level and standard of our game,” said Harte.
They have a lot to do but Harte has been around too long to get panicky after one set-back.
“It was one of those days,” added Harte. “We had the breeze, elements at our back. We thought we could get a head start but it turned on its head and we lost an early goal and a point.
“Before the game has started, virtually, we were in an uphill battle. It was strange given that we were playing with the breeze. It was very difficult too to get the measure of the breeze. It wasn’t helping in scoring for either team.”
John Divilly and Anthony Daly review the opening weekend of the Allianz League:
Scorers for Galway:
D Comer 1-2, S Walsh 0-4 (3f), E Brannigan 0-2, P Sweeney 0-1.
Scorers for Tyrone:
C McAliskey 0-2 (0-1f), P Harte 0-2 (2f), T McCann 0-1, C McShane 0-1, M Donnelly 0-1, R O’Neill 0-1 (f).
R Lavelle; D Kyne, S A O Ceallaigh, E Kerin; S Kelly, G Bradshaw, C Sweeney; P Conroy, P Cooke; J Heaney, A Varley, E Brannigan; S Walsh, D Comer, P Sweeney.
P Cunningham for Varley (52), T Flynn for P Sweeney (60), J Duane for Kelly (66), G O’Donnell for Brannigan (73), S Armstrong for Walsh (76).
N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, H P McGeary; T McCann, P Hampsey, K McGeary; P McNulty, M Donnelly; C McCann, N Sludden, P Harte; C McAliskey, C McShane, D McCurry.
M Bradley for McNamee (20), R O’Neill for McAliskey (46), D McClure for McNulty (46), R McNabb for K McGeary (51), R Donnelly for C McCann (57), L Brennan for Sludden (68).
Ciaran Brannigan (Down).
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