Galway 3-27 Westmeath 0-19: Moments before the teams returned for the second-half at Cusack Park, the stadium announcer thanked those involved in the exhibition game which had just taken place.
He was referring to an underage game at half-time but could just as easily have been talking about the first-half senior action such was Galway’s dominance.
In those 35 minutes, new boss Micheal Donoghue saw flashes of the quality which convinced him to take on the role in the wake of Anthony Cunningham’s controversial departure.
Cunningham was, of course, removed by the players after their failure to win the All-Ireland final and whether they are in a position to go one better this year is still the big question.
Even a 17-point hammering of Westmeath can’t answer that one though in that first-half, when they combined menacingly and filleted the home defence at times, the future certainly looked bright.
Galway led by 0-17 to 0-5 at the break meaning the game was effectively up. For Joe Canning, the game was actually over just minutes later as he crashed to the turf following an off the ball incident with Westmeath defender Shane Power who was shown a straight red card.
Canning was treated for an apparent neck injury before being helped to his feet and he walked gingerly to the sideline where he was replaced.
According to Donoghue, the Portumna wizard didn’t suffer concussion and will be okay to face Offaly in the Leinster semi-finals on June 19.
It was Canning’s performance in particular in that first-half that set the mind alight about the summer ahead.
He wore number 12 and started at left half-forward but flitted around the attack, sniping scores from various positions.
Canning even had the home supporters in the 5,263 strong crowd applauding when he clipped over a sideline cut shortly before half-time.
In that first-half, Joseph Cooney, who would go on to score a goal later in the game, was the only player from midfield up not get on the score sheet for Galway.
Limerick and Wexford both had tricky afternoons in Mullingar last summer and with Westmeath hammering Offaly as recently as last month, Galway were forewarned.
“We absolutely respected them,” said Donoghue. “They had a great win with their U21s just recently and they had three wins in the round-robin.
“Coming in, we had to make sure we were in the right frame of mind and in fairness the lads worked very hard for the last two weeks and came well prepared. We’re up and running now, we put up a decent score.
“On reflection, we probably got a lot more from the first-half in terms of what we were looking for from the team.
“There was a lot of the second-half that we’ll feel we need to improve on. But in fairness, it’s nice to go away with a win.”
Canning’s departure at least allowed Conor Cooney to come on and his four-point haul represented a decent pitch for inclusion from the off against Offaly. Captain David Burke and Davy Glennon also formed a strong midfield partnership though there may be some concerns about the concession of 19 points.
Still, the majority of those came in the second-half and with Galway conjuring three goals in that period themselves, it was no great surprise to see them lose some of their hunger and shape at the back. Galway goals in the 44th, 49th and 67th minutes kept them well in the clear at all times.
Jason Flynn, who finished with 1-3, hit the first goal after some clever ground hurling and Joseph Cooney blasted the second soon after a solo run through the middle.
Whelan finished off a well-worked move for the third as Donoghue ran in his full allocation of substitutes. Westmeath head for the qualifiers and with some of their confidence surely eroded. They relied on Niall O’Brien for inspiration and the free-taker delivered 12 points, four from play including one particular beauty, but they needed more from others around him.
The scores began to flow in the second-half from the likes of Brendan Murtagh and Niall Mitchell, both substitutes, but the game was long since up at that stage.
Scorers for Galway:
J. Canning (0-8, 3 frees, 1 65, 1 s/l); J. Flynn (1-3, 1 free), C. Whelan (1-1), C. Cooney (0-4), J. Cooney (1-0); David Burke, D. Glennon (0-3), C. Mannion (0-2); S. Moloney, N. Burke, P. Brehony (0-1)
Scorers for Westmeath:
N. O’Brien (0-12, 8 frees); A. Devine, B. Murtagh (1 free), N. Mitchell (0-2); K. Doyle (0-1).
C. Callanan; J. Coen, J. Hanbury, F. Moore; P. Mannion, D. Burke, A. Harte; D. Burke (c), D. Glennon; S. Moloney, J. Cooney, J. Canning; C. Whelan, C. Mannion, J. Flynn.
C. Cooney for Canning (40); A. Tuohy for P Mannion (52); K. Hussey for Moore (52); N. Burke for Flynn (56); P Brehony for Coen (63).
P. Maloney; T. Gallagher, T. Doyle, S. Power; A. Craig, A. Clarke (c), G. Greville; C. Boyle, R. Greville; E. Price, N. O’Brien, L. Varley; A. Devine, D. McNicholas, D. Egerton.
B. Murtagh for Egerton (h/t); N. Mitchell for Boyle (51); A. McGrath for Varley (56); K. Doyle for Price (59); D. Clinton for McNicholas (62).
D. Kirwan (Cork).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved