On Saturday, I noted that Roscommon possess all the necessary ingredients to successfully raid the Tommy Nestor cup from Galway’s possession.
They carried out Kevin McStay’s plan with aplomb and displayed the Hardy Bucks attitude along with some sublime skills and maturity. Galway had an opportunity to turn in consecutive consistent performance that would yield passage to the quarter-final. But we failed miserably and now enter a cauldron of uncertainty and a Michael Murphy-led Donegal.
I asked for our short kickout, high-risk strategy to be mixed up. What did we get? Our first kickout was short and intercepted. Roscommon score. The Galway crowd look at each other and think, ‘Is this really happening again?’. Two long kickouts follow and then trouble. After the third consecutive short kickout, Johnny Heaney overcarries and Diarmuid Murtagh points the resultant free. The Galway supporters have had enough. Programmes fly in the air, patience is worn — and there’s less than ten minutes played!
Unlike against Mayo, Galway’s management runner Brian Silke sprints in and gives the message for Ruairi Lavelle to go long. The problem is, it looks like Galway haven’t planned for going long. Despite a midfield platform of big men — Conroy (6’3), Ó Curraoin (6’4), Flynn (6’5), and Michael Daly (6’3) — Galway only won one mark, by Fintan O’Curraoin in the 35th minute.
Galway won the occasional breaks but it looked like we had no plan. Our four main jumpers leapt in hope rather than implementing pre-planned training moves. I could be wrong in this assessment but I saw no hand-signals from our goalkeeper and no definite runs from our midfield. Galway kicked long with their kickouts for most of the remainder of the game, but who were Roscommon’s aerial chiefs? Enda Smith and Brian Stack.
I noted on Saturday that Stack was a very influential fetcher for the DCU freshers this year and the 6ft student had a productive day from kickouts, taking two marks. He moved forward at pace and set up repeated attacks.
Roscommon supporters will never forget his mark in the second half. After a great catch, he glided through the Galway defence and planted a superb shot to the bottom of the net. A touch of class.
Speaking of class, I thought Enda Smith was inspirational. We regularly speak of what Aidan O’Shea means to Mayo; Smith outplayed all of Galway’s midfielders yesterday. He claimed three marks and won twice as many breaks.
Sometimes he can get bottled up but yesterday he continuously offloaded, recycled, sprayed passes, and used the ball effectively and efficiently. He made so many unseen, unselfish runs, his GPS will need new batteries today. I know when a player wins a mark, you have to retreat. But yesterday the Galway players simply stepped aside and allowed the Roscommon player to advance unopposed. They should have been much cleverer and simply backtracked to slow Roscommon’s attack down.
As predicted, Galway’s half-forwards continually retreated, especially in the first half, allowing McDermott, Mullooly, and Devaney to attack at will. Niall Kilroy played the sweeper role effectively and allowed Devaney to forage forward.
Devaney was a threat for the full 75 minutes. Cleverly, he picked up Galway’s sweeper Johnny Heaney and probably had the most possessions in the game. He won breaks, provided support runs, probed the defence, and kicked three majestic left-footed points. He’s only 5’9 but hit harder than anyone in maroon and white yesterday.
Galway were a little bigger, had the slight average age advantage, and a bit more exper-ience . But Roscommon played the football Galway supporters hoped for. They rarely brought the ball into contact. They kept it wide and sprayed ball into pockets of space, nullifying any blanket Galway defence. Their kick-passing was exceptionally executed in the tricky Salthill conditions and their first touch was clean and crisp. Their discipline was on the button, unlike Galway’s.
People might question some of David Gough’s decisions yesterday. However, he was spot on with nearly every call.
Gareth Bradshaw and sub Michael Lundy had frees advanced for backchat, which made life easier for the Murtagh brothers’ kicks. The Galway players were incensed on several occasions that they weren’t getting frees. The bottom line is that if you go out expecting easy frees, you’re in trouble. Because if you don’t get them, you’re frustrated and you lose your concentration for 20-30 seconds. That’s enough time for a good team to punish you.
There were little outbursts of childish handbags at the end which will displease Kevin Walsh even more and Michael Lundy will hardly see championship football for the rest of this summer. We were so proud after the Mayo match that we had showed some steel and some real manly hits. For whatever reason yesterday, they weren’t seen between the white lines of Pearse Stadium.
Naturally, in the second half, Galway brought the battle to Roscommon and tried to restore some pride. It was too late. You can’t allow this or any Roscommon team oxygen to implement their gameplan. They always had the swagger, belief, and the skillset to beat Galway on any given Sunday, if and only if you allowed them to play. Their mean machines at the back burst our bubble.
Kevin Walsh and co were urging our players to push forward in the second half. Unfortunately, it’s in this team’s DNA to retreat and play defensively. Roscommon knew this, had their plan ready, and deservedly won the Connacht final.
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