It’s Race Week, and both the Galway senior football and hurling teams – as well as the minors in both codes – are still standing in their respective championships . . . success of sorts.
The Galway footballers will hope to prolong their summer into August and emulate the hurlers’ impressive quarter-final win over Cork in Thurles last Sunday, when they take on Donegal in round 4B of the All-Ireland Qualifiers at Croke Park on Saturday (6pm).
A quarter-final spot against Monaghan awaits Galway if they are successful – it would be a fourth championship meeting with a northern team this season. But if Sligo do the improbable and overcome Tyrone in the earlier match at Croke Park on Saturday, as well, then they would play Monaghan, and Galway would face Mayo for the second time in this campaign.
Like the horses round Ballybrit this week, Galway must face the hurdle in front of them before worrying about the next flight and in Donegal – the 2012 All-Ireland winners and last year’s runners-up – they face a formidable challenge.
Since the sides last met in championship, in 2009 in Sligo in round four of the Qualifiers, their fortunes have diverged considerably.
Donegal reinvented the game, with a blanket defensive system under Jim McGuinness that helped them enjoy unprecedented success, including three Ulster titles, and an All-Ireland in 2012.
Last year, Donegal did what most teams couldn’t – they beat Dublin at Croke Park in the championship, only to falter against Kerry in the final, having done the hard part in the semi-final.
While that defeat, and their loss in the Ulster final this season in which they kicked over a dozen wides, has wiped away some of the mystique that had built up around Donegal, they are still formidable opponents with realistic hopes of being contenders in September.
Since that 2009 one-point loss in Markievicz Park, Donegal evolved to win trophies and Galway got left behind a bit. The Tribesmen have won nothing; and went on a managerial merry-go-round (Liam Sammon was the fall-guy in 2009, Joe Kernan took the hit the following year and Tomás Ó Flatharta the year after) before some semblance of stability was restored under Alan Mulholland, a foundation that has been built on by the current management.
Based on league and recent championship form, Donegal are rightly favourites to advance but Kevin Walsh’s men are not without hope.
In Shane Walsh, who is returning from injury, and Damien Comer, Galway possess the natural talent to unfurl the Donegal blanket, and the entire team will have garnered untold confidence from beating two defensive Ulster outfits, Armagh and Derry, since losing to Mayo in the provincial championship.
In attack, Galway’s perceived strength, hasn’t exactly set the world alight . . . against Derry, Galway almost played the entire first half without a score from play and when it did come it was a defender, Gareth Bradshaw who landed it.
Gary Sice had a big bearing on the outcome of the Derry match and Danny Cummins was lively but there is obvious scope for improvement upfront.
The Galway backs have been ‘in the dock’ in the court of public opinion since the Mayo loss but in fairness they have answered all questions asked of them against Derry and Armagh, although Donegal will be more testing.
Galway’s defence appears to have tightened up since it was badly exposed by Aidan O’Shea, in particular, in the Connacht semi-final . . . but look at how the Breaffy beast destroyed Sligo in the final and Galway shouldn’t be too disheartened.
In Michael Murphy, Donegal has an Aidan O’Shea style of a forward – big, strong imposing in the air yet mobile and well able to find the target – that can do damage but he looked tired in the Ulster final loss to Monaghan in Clones a fortnight ago.
Murphy wasn’t alone in that respect, and Donegal, overall, had a tired look about them when losing by a point to in the provincial final. Ulster is notoriously competitive though and Donegal can regroup and still have a final say in the direction of Sam Maguire this year.
Now is certainly the time to meet them – beaten provincial finalists, Westmeath and Cork, have already come a cropper in the Qualifier immediately following their Leinster and Munster exits.
Sligo look like going that way, too, against Tyrone in the preceding game on Saturday (4pm) if the bookies are to be believed and why can’t Galway consign Donegal to a similar fate? Four-time All-Star and defensive talisman, Karl Lacey, has been ruled out of Saturday with a knee injury, according to manager Rory Gallagher, and Donegal might just be vulnerable, although Galway will probably have to play out of their skins to topple them.
Champions Moycullen on guard after club football draw
CHAMPIONS Moycullen will open the defence of their title against an emerging Claregalway outfit when the sides meet in the first round of the 2021 county senior football championship on the weekend of September 5th.
In addition to Claregalway, Moycullen have also been pooled with An Cheathrú Rua and Annaghdown and, while Don Connellan’s charges will be favourites heading into all three SFC fixtures, the former Roscommon footballer will be acutely aware that each of their Group 3 opponents have the capacity to spring a surprise.
Indeed, this proved to be Moycullen’s forte in 2020 as they claimed the Frank Fox Cup for the very first time. It was even more impressive given they did so without Galway star Peter Cooke, who was working in the United States last year. Cooke has since returned and his availability significantly boasts their chances of retaining their title.
From the outset in 2020, though, Moycullen looked like men on a mission. In their group games, they saw off Micheál Breathnach (3-12 to 1-6), Annaghdown (4-9 to 2-14) and Mountbellew/Moylough (4-14 to 1-9) before accounting for St. James’ (1-17 to 2-9) and 2019 finalists Tuam Stars (3-14 to 1-15) in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.
The two biggest threats to Moycullen’s crown are Corofin – still the reigning All-Ireland club champions – and Mountbellew/Moylough while Tuam Stars and Salthill/Knocknacarra will also fancy their chances.
Corofin, unbeaten for almost eight years in Galway SFC football until their demise last year, have been drawn in Group 4A, alongside Oughterard and Salthill/Knocknacarra. However, those three teams will not play each other, but rather they cross-play the teams pooled in Group 4B, namely Monivea/Abbey, Barna and Caherlistrane.
This unusual format gives each of these teams three SFC fixtures – same as the four-team groups – with the top two sides in each of these sections – 4A and 4B – advancing to the knockout stages.
See full coverage of the draw in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Galway let 11-point slip in a thrilling minor battle
IT would be a tad simplistic to dub what was a hugely entertaining Connacht minor football semi-final as a game of two halves, given that Galway led by 11 points at one stage before Roscommon stormed back to eventually claim a remarkable victory at Tuam Stadium last Saturday.
The reality is a little more nuanced, in that Galway, on their first outing of the year, impressively carved Roscommon’s defence apart with an array of stylish attacking play for a 20-minute spell while playing with the wind at their backs. Outside of that period, though, Galway would just manage to register a solitary point from play.
Roscommon also let four decent goal chances slip through their fingers before they eventually did raise a green flag, drawing two saves while also hitting the post. Critically they hit the last three points of the half to leave a slightly more manageable eight between the sides.
During Galway’s purple patch, pacy corner forwards Eanna Monaghan and Niall Mannion both left their markers chasing shadows, as Galway reeled off nine scores without reply having understandably started quite sluggishly. Goals by Sean Bermingham and Monaghan looked to have Alan Flynn’s side in the box seat, but Roscommon showed remarkable character to claw their way back despite a second half black card that threatened to stall their comeback.
However, when Robert Heneghan’s thunderous 47th minute shot hit the roof of the net while Roscommon were still a body short, the large travelling support rose the decibel levels another notch and their team responded magnificently.
Read full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Corofin hit the goal trail again in crushing Monivea/Abbey
WHILE it goes without saying that everyone is hugely thankful that sporting action has resumed and we still appear on course to complete a season, it is such a pity for the time being that only a handful of supporters are allowed the privilege to watch a team of Corofin’s class in full flight as they look destined to create history on their march to an eighth senior title in a row.
On a glorious day for football last Sunday, Corofin dismantled Monivea/Abbey in emphatic fashion, playing an electric brand of football that repeatedly cut holes in their opponent’s defensive alignment. Seven goals last time out against Oughterard, there could have been more again in Tuam Stadium but for some uncharacteristically sloppy finishing to rapier-like first half moves that left Brian Mulry’s side exposed.
It didn’t help that Cillian McDaid, Monivea/Abbey’s star turn, was an absentee, or that St. Bernard’s Connacht Junior Cup quarter final was scheduled for the same time, but Monivea/Abbey should still take a small shred of comfort from the fact that they competed well at times, created 19 scoring chances, and never dropped their heads despite the lost cause.
With no Connacht or All-Ireland club championship to have to try and peak for later in the year, Corofin look poised to lay down a serious marker on how far ahead of the pack they really are. New faces like Matthew Cooley and replacement Colin Kelly, who confidently netted two second-half goals on his debut, are being given their chance, while Ronan Steede, Martin Farragher, Bernard Power, and Daithí Burke were not required on this occasion.
Throw in the fact that Kevin O’Brien chose to keep Kieran Molloy and Gary Sice in reserve until deep into the second half and you start to seriously question whether any side in the county will be able to lay a glove on them this term. Ian Burke is motoring along nicely, Micheál Lundy appears revived back in a more attacking role, while veterans like Ciarán McGrath are haring around the pitch as if they have a point to prove.
Monivea/Abbey were lively all over the pitch early on and actually created one more scoring opportunity in the opening twelve minutes (5-4) but were unfortunately wasteful when it mattered and somehow found themselves trailing by 1-2 to 0-1.
Corofin’s movement and accuracy were already sublime, with Lundy, Burke, and Cooley lining up in an I formation down the middle of the attack and Darragh Silke offering himself as a highly effective link man in transition. Jason Leonard and Dylan Canney provided width when needed while the defensive Dylan’s, Wall and McHugh, tore forward when the chances arose.
Ian Burke’s sharp turn on eight minutes left Caelom Mulry in his wake, but when a goal looked likely Burke drove just over the bar. Three minutes later the dam broke when Lundy curled a pass into Cooley in space, and he picked out McHugh on the burst who slotted to the net at his ease.
A Brian Moran free registered Monivea/Abbey’s first score shortly after, but the die had already been cast. Jason Leonard drove over a ’45 after Burke had been denied by some last gasp defending before Canney clipped over a classy score where Lundy and Burke were involved again.
Extended report will appear in this week’s Connacht Tribune.