Hurlers blow it but footballers show some bottle

Inside Track with John McIntyre

AS the matches which formed Sunday’s National League double bill at Pearse Stadium drifted into the final quarter respectively, it was difficult to escape the conclusion that the Galway hurlers were certainties to beat Cork and the footballers were in big trouble against Wexford. The Salthill venue, however, threw up unexpected finishes to both matches on a biting cold day when the strong wind didn’t have the expected influence on the action.

The hurlers may have finished level with Cork, but that outcome will have felt like a defeat after they had established a four point lead midway through the second-half with the elements behind them. In contrast, the Galway footballers defied the wind in their faces to finish in a blaze of glory to win by a hardly imaginable eight points, having found themselves in some difficulty when going 0-11 to 0-10 behind 16 minutes from the end.

At present in the county’s GAA strongholds, there is more thought of the Galway hurlers than the footballers, but it was Alan Mulholland’s team which displayed the greater resolve and technique at the weekend. Having got a bad thumping from Laois in the previous round of the league, the Tribesmen were under severe pressure ahead of the Wexford encounter with the threat of relegation hanging over them, and struggling to assemble a settled team.

Changes were again made for the visit of the Slaneysiders, the most notable of which saw Ballinalsoe’s Keith Kelly called up to centre back, but wind-assisted Galway produced an uneven first half performance. They went from 0-3 to 0-1 up after seven minutes to trailing by 0-6 to 0-3 midway through the half with lively Wexford corner forward Shane Roche proving a handful. The manner in which opposition players careered through the heart of the Galway defence was alarming, while there was also a dependency on Sean Armstrong frees for scores at the other end.

With Wexford deploying full forward Redmond Barry as an effective sweeper, Galway found it difficult to create sufficient openings, but the energetic Danny Cummins did land a brace, while Conor Doherty had to settle for a point after his thumping drive was denied by the crossbar in the 25th minute. The home team did lead by 0-8 to 0-7 at the break, but that narrow advantage looked well short of what Galway needed given the strength of the wind.

Yet, it was soon clear that the Tribesmen were up for the challenge. Paul Conroy, who shortly needs to be tied down to one position – certainly, starting him at corner forward, appeared an odd piece of management thinking – and substitute Gareth Bradshaw fired over points as they crowded the middle third of the field to prevent the opposition running from deep. But the conditions just had to exert an influence and it was no surprise when Wexford reeled off four points on the spin to edge in front 19 minutes into the half.

It could quickly have got worse for Galway only for raiding corner back Joey Wadding, admittedly under pressure, dragging his close range effort just wide of Manus Breathnach’s far post. A goal then would probably have sealed Galway’s fate, and though they still had work to do, Finian Hanley and his team-mates were not to be found wanting as they finished the match by serving up arguably their most fluent football of the campaign so far.

Despite it being his third game of the week, young midfielder Fiontán Ó Curraoin was securing some primary possession around midfield, while Gary Sice, after a less than blemish-free opening-half, began to thunder into the action, highlighted by his cracking goal in the 69th minute after Michael Meehan and Cummins had put the Corofin man in the clear. Even more impressive was the manner in which Galway drove on from there to the finish.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribne.