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Inside Track

Connacht’s best yet leaves the Red Army punch drunk

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Connacht Head Coach Pat Lam and team captain John Muldoon show their delight after defeating Munster in the Guinness Pro12 at the Sportsground on Saturday night. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

Most of Connacht’s best days in the professional era have been crammed into a remarkable current season, but what unfolded at the Sportsground last Saturday night surely tops the lot. By the end of another absorbing encounter, one team was understandably leaping about with joy, the other was out on its feet.

In fact, Munster were punch drunk at the finish of a critical Irish derby which swung violently against them on the approach to half time. They lost two of their pack to yellow cards and Connacht smelt blood. The home team went from 14-8 behind to six points in front. It was a masterclass in ruthlessness more associated with the men in red in their hey-day.

The manner in which the second half unfolded just confirmed Connacht’s staggering rise this season as tries from Niyi Adeolokun, his second of the match, and Finlay Bealham, from close range, helped to secure a bonus point victory and, in the process, complete the Inter-pro double over Munster for the first time ever. All-told, it was an heroic response to the previous weekend’s crushing Challenge Cup exit to Grenoble.

That was the context in the build up to the clash with Munster. Connacht were coming off the back of agonisingly losing a thriller to the French Top 14 outfit and they hadn’t long to repair the physical and mental scars from such a near miss. In contrast, Anthony Foley’s charges would be arriving at the College Road venue fresh from having a weekend off, but also with a score to settle after losing to the Westerners on home soil for the first time in nearly 30 years earlier in the campaign.

For much of the opening quarter, wind-assisted Munster were in the driving seat. They had more possession and territory, with their superiority reflected in tries from Simon Zebo and Mike Sherry. Connacht were looking a little flat but even before the opposition sin-binnings, it was clear they were in no mood to roll over. The brilliant Bundee Aki, who has become something of a local cult hero, had almost put Kieran Marmion through before being involved, along with Bealham, in sending Adeolokun clear in the 36th minute.

With Munster then down to 13 men, Connacht piled on the pressure and it was no surprise they were awarded a penalty try in the final play of the half. The Munster players looked shell-shocked and through they initially battled manfully on the resumption, Pat Lam’s charges gradually regained control in powering to an emphatic 35-14 victory which all but guarantees a place in the Pro12 semi-finals.

Not alone could Munster not cope with Connacht’s overall aggression and physicality – highlighted by the rampaging second row Ultan Dillane – but their skills set against their ambitious hosts were also made to look ordinary. Once more, John Muldoon, who is in the form of his life, and company remained true to their superbly honed off-loading and attacking values. Connacht are just thrilling to watch at present and the squad is rightly imbued with great confidence.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Fascinating final in store but St Thomas’ hold most of the aces

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Salthill/Knocknacarra's Niall McGauran on the attack against Luke Murray of Dunmore MacHales during Saturday's County U19 football A final at Tuam Stadium. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

ST Thomas’ will be attempting to achieve what has proven beyond three great Galway club hurling teams over the past 30 years when targeting a four-in-a-row of senior titles at Pearse Stadium on Sunday. During their respective periods of dominance Sarsfields, Athenry and Portumna were nearly untouchable on their best days, but winning four consecutive county senior hurling championships proved a bridge too far for each of these former powers.

Athenry went the closest of them all. Heading to Duggan Park in October 2001 – the last senior final to be played in Ballinasloe – Pat Nally’s troops stood 60 minutes away from claiming a fourth title on the trot. The red-hot favourites came mightily close too, only losing by a point (0-18 to 2-11) to a Clarinbridge outfit winning their first ever title.

Portumna pulled off the title hat-trick in 2009, but didn’t make it back to the following year’s final, and while Sarsfields – under Michael Conneely – triumphed in 1992, ’93 and ’95, they came unstuck in the 1994 decider when falling to Athenry (2-6 to 0-9). These three clubs were outstanding ambassadors for Galway club hurling, but there was no four-in-a row for any of them.

It underlines how difficult the achievement is and we must go back to the Turloughmore team of the sixties for a club to enjoy such an extended stranglehold on the county championship. They ended up winning six titles on the trot, but have only won the one since – in 1985 when overcoming Killimordaly (1-14 to 1-4) at Pearse Stadium.

Given that St Thomas’ are only one hour away from a fourth consecutive title, it’s curious that they are not yet held in the same awe as Sarsfields, Athenry or Portumna when they were at the peak of their powers. Perhaps, their lone All-Ireland club success up to now may have some influence in this regard.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

St Thomas’ thrash Gort in manner which must worry final opponents

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New Galway hurling manager Henry Shefflin was a keen spectator at Sunday's senior hurling semi-final between St Thomas' and Gort at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

OVER the past decade Gort have been one of the most consistent teams in the Galway hurling championship. Two title triumphs in 2011 and ’14 were followed by county final defeats in 2016 and 12 months later. They were generally hard beaten and had a tradition for being doughty battlers.

In the 2016 decider, they lost by four points to St Thomas’, but what unfolded at Pearse Stadium on Sunday must have come as a shock to the Gort system. Mattie Murphy’s men knew they faced a big challenge in trying to dethrone the reigning champions, and also had to deal with Covid issues in the build-up to the twice postponed semi-final.

Yet, Gort would have been in an uncompromising mood ahead of the fixture and having come through a tough quarter-final against Cappataggle, they would have at least been expecting to rattle St Thomas’. Instead, they departed Salthill with their tails between their legs after suffering the club’s heaviest championship defeat of modern times.

Losing by 23 points (4-20 to 0-9) was a humiliating experience for Gort and while most observes thought that St Thomas’ would carry the day, nobody anticipated such a chasm between the two teams. Whether Gort lost their focus over the uncertainty associated with seeking postponements or just had a total off day, the bottom line is that they were untypically wiped out by the title holders.

Whatever about Gort’s own shortcomings or the mental distractions, it’s a huge leap of faith to imagine any circumstances in which they would have seriously troubled St Thomas’ such was the ruthless manner in which Kenneth Burke’s charges went about their business. The champions are in rude health and a young Clarinbridge outfit face a daunting task in the county final at the same venue on Sunday week.

Chasing a fourth consecutive Galway title – an achievement which hasn’t been done since Turloughmore in the sixties – St Thomas’ look to have taken their form to a new level. With a goal from James Regan, they led by 1-10 to 0-6 at the break before the floodgates opened on the resumption.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Mountbellew-Moylough shape like a team that’s here to stay

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Mountbellew-Moylough joint captains Aaron McHugh, left, and Eoin Finnerty lift the Frank Fox Cup after the presentation. Included in the photograph are Fr Pat Donnellan, President of Galway GAA (centre) and Football Committee Chairman Kevin Clancy who presented the cup. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

COROFIN’S dominance of the Galway senior football championship is over. Having captured the Frank Fox Cup a staggering 13 times over the past 20 years, a period in transition is inevitable after the reigning All-Ireland club champions were swept aside in Sunday’s county final at Pearse Stadium.

On a day of liberation for Mountbellew-Moylough, the local football landscape is undergoing a seismic change. Corofin weren’t just beaten in Salthill, Kevin O’Brien’s charges had no answers to their strong-running and younger rivals who were in control for virtually the entire match in powering to a 1-12 to 0-9 victory.

Havin been scourged by Corofin in big matches – they lost four finals to them over the previous 12 years – Mountbellew/Moylough had broken this stranglehold in last year’s semi-final, and they were in no mood for the old order to be restored in the 2021 decider. Showing an impressive level of intent, they carried the fight to Corofin from the throw-in and were the vastly superior outfit.

In collecting only the club’s fifth county title and their first since 1986 when current manager Val Daly was the team captain, Mountbellew-Moylough were also atoning for their defeat to Moycullen in the 2020 decider. The 5/2 outsiders made a mockery of the pre-match odds, and such was their overall dominance, a six-point winning margin didn’t flatter them one iota.

We haven’t seen a Corofin team so badly beaten up in Galway for years. Their defence was under constant pressure, the midfield area offered them few crumbs of comfort, while apart from Dylan Canney up front, their attack made little headway. Some of their big guns never fired, but they weren’t allowed to.

The opening exchanges saw Mountbellew/Moylough take the game by the scruff of the neck. There was no sitting back or waiting to size up the opposition. They were determined to lay down an early marker and with a savage work ethic all over the field – highlighted by the likes of Colin Ryan and Shane Moran – they soon had Corofin on the retreat.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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