THERE’S a catchy American folk song about the old grey mare ‘not being what she used to be’, and after watching this Connacht final at Pearse Stadium on Sunday, the same kind of sentiment might apply to the game of Gaelic football.
True we had excitement, tension, ferocious effort and a lot of organisation but the game has now largely transformed into letting the opposition have the ball in their own half of the field with everyone else regressing back to fill up every available inch of space.
The tactical plots are still intriguing enough for the hard core followers of the game but as for more general entertainment the ‘old Gaelic’ certainly ain’t what it used to be . . . but its troubles won’t be solved overnight.
That’s all very far removed from the thoughts of Galway and Roscommon as they shape up to a Connacht final replay next Sunday in Castlebar (3.30) after a serious battle of wills in Salthill last Sunday.
The boost of a somewhat fortuitous first half goal seemed to have tilted the balance of power in favour of Roscommon but through the course of the second half, Galway looked the stronger team and when they went two points up with just a few minutes to go, the outcome seemed a done deal.
It was a fiercely competitive encounter with the defensive set-up of both teams, allied to the driving Atlantic wind and rain, ensuring that this would be a day for backs rather than forwards.
Cork referee Conor Lane did his best to keep the game flowing, not pulling for small contacts and generally penalising the player taking the ball into the tackle – thankfully too, he kept the black cards in his pocket until the final seconds when Patrick Sweeney picked up one.
Space inside the 45 metre line of the defending team was pretty much non-existent with attackers only getting a split second to shoot – in that context, Enda Smith’s goal strike in the 15th minute was huge.
Maybe, a bit naively, some of us expected an open display of attacking football given the decent sprinkling of class forwards on both sides, but right from the early minutes, the tone for this match was set – it was a case of safety first and farewell to adventure.
In general, short kick-outs were conceded to the opposition on the basis that the grid lock zone just outside the 45s would stop all traffic – and for the most part it did just that – a bit like the roads to the venue itself.
After Smith’s goal strike, and at half-time, Galway would probably have settled for the draw, but when Cortoon sub Adrian Varley sidefooted over a classic point in the 67th minute to put Galway into a 0-13 to 1-8 lead, they seemed poised to take the title.
Through that 32 minutes of the second half, the highly rated Roscommon attack had become badly unstuck unable to break free from the clutches of a Galway defence that reproduced the semi-final tenacity they showed against Mayo in McHale Park.
In that period, Roscommon managed only two points and it seemed unlikely that they could match that tally in the closing seven minutes [including four minutes of stoppage time], but credit must be given to Fergal O’Donnell’s and Kevin McStay’s charges – they battled to the last kick of the ball.
Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune