Galway may have marched onto a Connacht U-21 football semi-final meeting against reigning All-Ireland champions Mayo in the coming weeks but they have done so in the knowledge that they have a whole lot of improving to do before they go head-to-head with their greatest rivals.
For, having incredibly raced into a 19-point lead after just 26 minutes of this Connacht championship quarter-final at Tuam Stadium on Saturday, the home side subsequently and inexplicably imploded as Leitrim kicked an unanswered 2-9 over the next half hour or so of play.
It meant that with seven minutes remaining, Leitrim had reduced the arrears to just four points, 4-8 to 2-10, and they looked set to complete one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the GAA. Lazarus had nothing on these Leitrim boys.
Galway needed a score – and badly – and it finally arrived on 56 minutes when Cillian McDaid and Paul Mannion, showing a measure of leadership between them, conjured up the opportunity for the lively Dessie Conneely to kick an invaluable point.
Momentarily, Leitrim’s hearts sank, and Galway took full advantage as substitute Colm Brennan, who certainly made an impact around the middle of the park upon his introduction, secured possession from the resulting kick-out. The move finished with Mannion tallying his third point of play over the afternoon.
You would have thought the contest would have flagged thereafter, but over the ensuing minutes Galway custodian Ronán Ó Beoláin had to be smart to deal with another dangerous high ball, which could have easily ended up in the net; while Killererin’s Michael Boyle also had a chance to goal at the other end, but Leitrim’s Jack Burke was equal to the effort.
As it was, Leitrim did kick the last two points of this enigmatic match through substitute Conor Cullen and the impressive Keith Beirne (free) but, really, all the damage had been done when Galway hit Leitrim for that unanswered 4-8 in the first-half.
In fairness to Leitrim, they had started this clash in a livelier fashion, kicking the opening point through their key man and centre-half forward Ryan O’Rourke in the opening minute. Enthusiast and energetic, without a doubt the Leitrim team as a whole looked up for this game.
Using this as a reference point, what happened next was unfathomable. With sharpshooter O’Rourke forced off the field due to injury on six minutes, it was as if every bit of confidence and belief was sucked out of the Leitrim players. It was as if they thought they couldn’t win this game without him. Or, at least, that is how they played.
Gaps as large as the Grand Canyon began to suddenly appear and with the quality in the Galway forward line, they were always likely to exploit this. And so they did – to the tune of an extraordinary total of 4-8!