WHEN Salthill-Knocknacarra’s Brian Conlon calmly fired to the net with only 11 minutes played, he had amazingly registered his side’s third goal in as many minutes and put paid to any notion that Milltown would cause an opening round upset in Tuam Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Val Daly’s side had built up a virtually unassailable 13 point lead in that space of time as their quick thinking forward unit cut a Milltown defence who were caught cold to shreds. Milltown had been known as a defensive side for the last couple of years, but on this occasion they went with a more orthodox formation from the throw in and paid the ultimate price.
Before Conlon’s effort, Andrew Butler and Evan Murphy, on his senior championship debut, had also netted, and with Milltown unable to hit back with a goal of their own until it was too late, Salthill-Knocknacarra had most of the hard work done and could afford to allow Milltown back into the game somewhat before pulling clear in the final quarter again.
Milltown worked extremely hard to claw their way back to within four points with Diarmaid Blake’s goal sparking them to life before half time, but when Seán Armstrong began to take control of proceedings again, the city side pulled clear with Butler claiming his second goal with a fabulous finish before Robert Finnerty coolly slotted a penalty.
Salthill-Knocknacarra lined up without three of their mainstays of recent seasons, as Finian Hanley, Conor Halloran, and Barry Kelly were all absent, but the losses had minimal impact on their performance. From the throw in, Robert Butler joined Conor Healy at midfield, where they quickly got the upper hand on Cathal Blake and James Kavanagh.
Evan Murphy was also quickly into the action, successfully firing over a free into a tricky breeze with his first touch in the opening minute. Mike Martin shot wide with Milltown’s first effort on five minutes, but Salthill-Knocknacarra were quickly breaking forward again as Murphy and John Maher combined to set up Shane Kelly for a good score.
On eight minutes the first goal was well crafted as Murphy played a ball into Finnerty at full forward, and his quick hands got a pass off to Andrew Butler on the burst and he drove to the net from close range. Conlon added another point with Kelly playing the final ball this time, before Armstrong chipped in with an impressive left footed effort.
Sathill-Knocknacarra’s clever movement, energy, and pace had Milltown chasing shadows at this point and Armstrong was twice the architect from centre half forward as they struck for two more majors through Murphy and Conlon. Milltown had shipped four goals in a recent league outing between the sides, so their decision not to employ a sweeper appeared more baffling by the minute.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune