We’ve won the FBD (well, the ‘Home’ bit of it – to win it proper we need to travel to NYC in October and do the business over there) and today’s win brought us possession of the Paddy Francis Dwyer Cup for the first time since 2003. We had to battle hard at McHale Park this afternoon to get our hands on the trophy, though, as a Galway team that showed significant change both in personnel and attitude from the side we’d hammered in the NFL two Sundays ago ran our virtually full-strength side close all afternoon before we finally won out on an 0-12 to 0-9 scoreline. When the Tribesmen reeled in what had been a four-point lead for us early in the second half to draw level with less than ten minutes remaining, a potentially embarrassing reversal was on the cards (if a loss to Galway can ever be categorised as such) but instead our lads steadied the ship nicely in that closing period to seal our fourth win in a row over the neighbours.
I didn’t travel west for this one (it being only the FBD and all that) and instead stuck to the Mike and Billy show on Midwest. This was a match I’d never planned to go to and, in any event, I’d had enough of driving for the weekend by the time we’d got back from a removal down in Limerick late last night where, on the trip back, we’d had to contend with rather interesting snowbound roads all the way from Durrow. The bitterly cold conditions today kept plenty of other punters away too, with Club Mayo estimating that there was barely a crowd of 1,000 at it.
For those who did make it, it sounds as if they got to see a far more compelling contest than the one-sided affair that was played out in the NFL a fortnight ago. Once again, we put out more or less our A team while Galway only retained five of the team that had beaten Monaghan in the league last weekend. This meant no Meehan, Joyce, Armstrong, Bradshaw, Clancy or Conroy, with Big Joe deploying Barry Cullinane at midfield and Joe Bergin moving into full-forward. For us Mark Ronaldson, notwithstanding the disciplinary sword of Damocles that’s hanging over him, lined out at top-of-the-left as we fielded the team we’d selected earlier in the week.
We started the match brightly with points from play by Ronan McGarrity and Enda Varley before Eoin Concannon opened Galway’s account. Peadar Gardiner – a man who really likes scoring against Galway – then fisted over our third and Enda Varley, from a pass by Seamus O’Shea, clipped over our fourth. Seamus was already in the thick of things but with just seven minutes on the clock, his kid brother was already in Marty Duffy’s book and Aidan was to end up having another less than satisfactory afternoon in the company of Finian Hanley.
Any notion that we were going to speed away from the Herrin Chokers this afternoon was dispelled by two points in succession from them – one from play from about 40 yards by Barry Cullinane and a pointed free by Eoin Concannon. Cullinane and a shaven-headed Niall Coleman were already doing well at midfield, as was Diarmuid Blake who had obviously followed Barry Kelly into that congested midfield sector.
Mark Ronaldson edged us two ahead when put through by Andy Moran – our first point in fifteen minutes – but this was soon negated by a Cillian de Paor free following a foul by Donal Vaughan on Cullinane. Both Diarmuid Blake and Ronan were given yellow cards for separate incidents before Andy, deep in stoppage time, fired us back into a two-point lead at the break.
We took control on the restart and it could have have notched a decisive score when Enda Varley, from a Ronaldo pass, fed Aidan O’Shea and the Breaffy youngster smashed in a shot that came back off the post. Varley was first to the rebound and fired it over but a goal would have done wonders for Aidan’s confidence at that stage and it could also have set us on the way to another emphatic win. Instead, we were destined to battle hard for the afternoon’s spoils.
Andy, who was having a right old ding-dong with Gary O’Donnell and who was leading the Galway man all over McHale Park, then fired over our eighth point of the day but that was to be our final score for over 20 minutes and a succession of wides, combined with Galway’s dogged persistence, brought the holders right back into it with less than ten minutes to go. Two points from play from Gary O’Donnell, another from play by Bergin and another de Paor free hauled Galway level and with the clock running down the chances of this weakened Galway team extracting revenge for the humiliation the county had suffered at our hands a fortnight ago looked fairly good.
But it wasn’t to be as two points inside a minute, the first from Ronan and the second from Chris Barrett, pulled us two clear once more. Then Enda Varley scored our first and only free of the afternoon but with the game entering injury time another de Paor free cut the margin back to two. Galway still needed a goal to win it but with all of their sharpshooters missing, this was always unlikely to happen. Instead, we had the final word when Seamus O’Shea burst through and fisted over to round off a three-point win for us.
According to Billy Fitz, our main men this afternoon were Donal Vaughan, Ger Cafferkey, Peadar Gardiner, Ronan McGarrity, Tom Parsons and Enda Varley but he said our Man of the Match was, once again, Andy Moran. Whatever Andy is on at the minute, we obviously need to keep feeding him with it as he’s started the year like a man possessed. Let’s hope he can keep it up.
It’s only the FBD so nobody is going to get too excited about this result. While it does represent a four-in-a-row over the neighbours, it’s worth bearing in mind that only one of those four wins was in the championship and it goes without saying that we’ll have one hell of a battle come summer if and when we get the chance to do them for a fifth successive time. It’s also worth noting that we came uncomfortably close this afternoon to seeing our first-strength team come a cropper against a weakened Galway outfit and it’s that which will no doubt have given Joe Kernan most solace on leaving Castlebar this afternoon.
Johnno was in good form on Midwest afterwards and he stressed the importance of keeping a good run of form going. He spoke about the unity of purpose within the squad – pointing out that Keith Higgins had dashed home from his cancelled hurling match in case he was needed in McHale Park – and he stressed how hard everyone in the squad is working “to create a platform for later in the year”. In a most unJohnno way, he noted that everyone inside the set-up and more generally were on a downer when the team isn’t winning but that “we want to put a buzz back into it”.
It’s still early days and we haven’t even begun to face the kind of challenges we’ll need to contend with and to surmount if 2010 is going to be one to remember for us. But the team has obviously made a very encouraging start to the year and with February not yet behind us and plenty of snow still on the ground, we can’t really ask for more from Johnno and the lads at this juncture.
MAYO: Kenneth O’Malley; Alan Feeney, Ger Cafferkey, Donal Vaughan; Peadar Gardiner (0-1), Trevor Howley, Chris Barrett (0-1); Tom Parsons, Ronan McGarrity (0-2); Andy Moran (0-2), Barry Kelly, Seamus O’Shea (0-1); Enda Varley (0-4, one free), Aidan O’Shea, Mark Ronaldson (0-1). Subs: Neill Douglas for Kelly, Kevin McLoughlin for Howley, Mikey Sweeney for Ronaldson.