WEXFORD 0-17 GALWAY 1-23: The Union Jack fluttering by the roadside on the way up to Wexford on Saturday evening was no doubt linked to a polo match going on in the field beyond, and when your correspondent was coming home later in the evening it was still waving, while in the middle distance figures milled around a marquee, no doubt analysing the . . . I want to use the word ‘chukka’ . . . just ended.
Hopefully it provided a closer encounter than the one in Wexford Park, where Galway cruised to a nine-point win over the home side without ever reaching for top gear.
The two teams didn’t stand off each other on Saturday night, and there was a keenness to the clashes around the middle of the field that would have been familiar to any iteration of GAA fan from the last 100 years, no matter what the format.
Galway are a cut above most teams now, however. Their strengths were manifest in Wexford, with the emphasis on that specific trait. That physical power gives them a notable edge on opponents, particularly at the back, where blind alleys were created by two and three Galway defenders.
No matter how game the Wexford forward in those cases, the simple physics of mass and space gave their opponents the advantage and they exploited that ruthlessly.
Granted, a second-minute goal helped to settle the men from the west.
The 14,500 on hand had barely sat down when Pádraic Mannion hurried upfield, exchanged the sweetest of one-twos with Jonathan Glynn — who started instead of Brian Concannon — and had his shot saved well by Mark Fanning. Conor Whelan’s calm groundstroke with the rebound found the net, however.
It knocked Wexford, who spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. Their own defenders struggled to match Galway’s strength up front, not to mention their speed of thought. In Conor Cooney the visitors had the calmest head in the stadium. The St Thomas’s clubman pondered, evaluated and selected the right option time and again, to Wexford’s first-half discomfort.
The home side were six behind at half-time, 1-12 to 0-9, and when Galway began again in a hurry they were soon burnt off. They hit two quick points and a rasping Joe Canning effort shaved the goalpost on the wrong side.
The westerners were 10 points ahead 10 minutes into the second half and kept Wexford at arm’s length to the end. The only blots on their copybook was a late sending-off for Adrian Tuohy and an even later Canning injury.
Though Canning’s substitution seemed more precautionary than anything, the sight of him with a bandage wrapped around his knee, stepping gingerly along the corridor was sobering for those in maroon, particularly after a display of freetaking which was immaculate, as well as a couple of spectacular sidelines.
His manager acknowledged Galway’s most striking attribute, though he added a necessary qualification.
“I think even in the last week a lot has been made about our physicality,” said Micheál Donoghue.
“We are really fortunate with this group, we have huge big men and they are athletic.
“But the overwhelming factor is that they are all able to hurl. We have 36 lads pushing there every night and there is huge competition to get into the 15 and when everyone is pushing, that bodes well.
“We are just fortunate that this is the group we have at the minute.”
Anything to jot down on the other side of the ledger for Micheál Donoghue? Galway’s full-back line gave away a flurry of early frees and collected yellow cards, but even that came with a silver lining.
Wexford struggled to create a goal chance worthy of the name on an evening when an early green flag might have kindled the home support.
Their manager had been pessimistic last week, as he was reminded after the game.
“That’s what I felt,” said Davy Fitzgerald.
“I’m not saying we’d beat Galway. Straight up. But if we were fresher we’d give them a better game, I’m certain of that. I’m just disappointed. If you’d seen Wexford play in the last few weeks, or the league, there’s more go in them (than this display).
“But saying that, the way Galway played today, they played great stuff and got some great scores.
“After Mark Fanning made the save we probably should have kept it out, but I don’t think they threatened too much goalwise.
“We overplayed a few at the end but in fairness Galway were well worth their win.”
They were last Saturday, certainly.
Frankly, it’s difficult to see Galway being beaten. Fitzgerald offered a canny evaluation of Galway after the game when he said they were miles ahead of other teams before adding that it was early in the year yet. It was appealing, but the problem with this line of thinking, however, is that it’s more an appeal to the vagaries of fate than a cold-eyed identification of where the All-Ireland champions can be attacked.
The Galway supporters milling around the Wexford Park dressing-rooms on Saturday night, anxious to be reassured about Joe Canning’s knee, wouldn’t be heartened by that distinction, but the fact remains that Galway have yet to show a significant flaw in their games this year.
Their physical power is a difficult card to trump because as they’re fond of saying in basketball, the big guys stay big when the fast guys get tired.
Galway also play to those strengths. Some of James Skehill’s long, booming puck-outs on Saturday night landed on top of his enormous forwards standing 20 metres from the opposition goal.
That meant players like Conor Cooney were collecting breaking ball in the danger zone, making scores easier, which in turn meant Wexford had to try to sniff out goal chances as they fell behind, which in turn led them into the clutches of Gearóid McInerney and Daithií Burke . . .
One thing led to another. And another.
Maroon and white colours to hang on Liam MacCarthy the day of the All-Ireland final, then — at least at half-past three that afternoon.
What chance any other colours being needed that day at five o’clock?
Scorers for Wexford:
R. O’Connor (0-11)(9 frees); P. Morris, A. Nolan (0-2 each); P. Foley (0-1 each).
Scorers for Galway:
J. Canning (0-12)( frees, 2 sidelines); C. Whelan (1-2); C. Cooney (0-4); D. Burke (0-2); J. Cooney, N. Burke (0-1 each).
M. Fanning, D. Reck, L. Ryan, S. Donohoe, P. Foley, M. O’Hanlon (jc), D. O’Keeffe, K. Foley, S. Murphy, L. Chin (jc), A. Nolan, J. O’Connor, P. Morris, R. O’Connor, C. McDonald.
C. Firman for Donohoe (HT); L. Og McGovern for J. O’Connor (46); H. Kehoe for K. Foley (50).
J.Skehill; A. Tuohy, Daithi Burke, J. Hanbury, P. Mannion, G. McInerney, A. Harte, J. Coen, D. Burke (c), C. Mannion, J. Canning, J. Cooney, C. Whelan, C. Cooney, J. Glynn.
P. Killeen for McInerney (blood, 44-48); J. Flynn for Glynn (inj, 53); N. Burke for J. Cooney (57); B. Concannon for C. Mannion (65); S. Lindane for Hanbury (68); D. Glennon for Canning (inj, 69).
J. Murphy (Limerick).
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