We won and any win over Galway is worth celebrating. But don’t be fooled, this particular one – played out in front of thousands upon thousands of empty seats in Croke Park – counted for little in terms of the greater rivalry that exists between us. The looming championship clash between the two counties on 20th May was the proverbial elephant in the living room as a seventy minute bout of close but far from tense shadow-boxing took place between us.
Continuing the analogy, we were damn close to receiving a knockout blow early in the second half when we were three points down but we managed to dodge the punches and eventually land enough of our own to secure the narrowest of victories. Another one point win, another echo – following the similar win over Dublin a few weeks back – of 2006. Another step, perhaps, on the road to redemption. And now, next Sunday in fact, another final and this time no hairy hoors from Kerry lying in wait but, instead, far more manageable opponents in the shape of Donegal, who today huffed and then puffed and finally managed to get past a very ordinary Kildare. We should definitely beat them in next Sunday’s final – after all, we are the league specialists, aren’t we?
But back to today’s match with the Heron Chokers which, like the last four league matches we’ve played, started badly for us. Having won all of those, I took this to be a good sign – when we were 1-1 to 0-0 down after ten minutes, I was just ecstatic. Maybe this was part of an elaborate plan – the way Billy Joe lost possession actually looked like a pass to Bergin so it could have been that we intended to dig a great big hole for ourselves early on. Well, Galway took the bait: Bergin quickly transferred it to Padraig Joyce who sent Cormack Bane through for an easy goal. I don’t think we’d crossed their 21-yard line at that stage.
We soon did though, as the goal provided the impetus for our lads to arise from their posteriors and to start giving the Galway backs some grief. Andy Moran – what a gem that lad is – was first out of the traps with a fine point. Then, we got a lucky break when a high incoming ball was misjudged by the Galway backs and landed straight into the welcoming arms of Ger Brady. He still had plenty of work to do to make room for himself to shoot but he did and he rifled the ball to the net.
Back in the game, we stuck with them till half-time but already the shape of the contest was becoming clear. Our two main problem areas were the half-backs – who were poor all day but especially in the first half where three unforced errors led to Galway scores (including the goal) – and midfield, where Bergin in particular was cleaning us out of it. Set against this, our full-back line – especially the corner men O’Malley and Higgins – were having a superb day and our forwards were making the most of the limited chances that came their way.
Early in the second half, however, we were soon bailing water seriously. Galway hit us with three quick points and their midfield stranglehold meant that we couldn’t get the ball upfield to launch any attacks of our own. It was in this period that Galway could have landed the knockout blow but they missed a number of chances to extend the lead they’d opened up. Their failure to do so ultimately cost them the match.
Almost as suddenly, we were back in it again. Mort had been having an unhappy day, with his marker Damien Burke swinging out of him from the off and the ref not particularly interested (though he did find time to give Mort his customary booking late in the first half). However, a bit over ten minutes into the second half, Mort wriggles clear in the square, Burke hauls him down and the ref, for once, does the decent thing. Even then, Mort’s not having the best of days so he hits a poor penalty, which Doherty bats away, but only as far as Dillon who returns it with interest. This time it hits the net and it’s game on once more.
Galway, via a Padraig Joyce free, pulled ahead again immediately afterwards but it was our lads who now had the greater urgency. Campbell (on for Killer) and Conroy (for O’Neill) added pace and bite to the attack and a fine point from Harte followed by a Dillon free meant we had our noses in front for the first time. Galway levelled again but then points from Devenney and Brady put us two up. Galway got another one back but then a free from Mort stretched the lead to two once more and, despite considerable late pressure, Galway only managed one more in reply.
And so the day was ours but this was no day – unlike McHale Park the other week – to mount a pitch invasion. Sure, we’d beaten Galway, another one-point win to set beside last July’s precious memory, but the real contest with the Tribesmen still lies ahead. In between, we have the chance to claim a rare enough national senior title – and we should do so, because Donegal looked anything like world-beaters today – but all thoughts must surely now (as if they haven’t done so already) be turning to Pearse Stadium on 20th May. There was only a point between us last July and it was the same today. Can we reasonably expect it to be appreciably different in Salthill next month?
PS I had hoped to litter this post with loads of video clips from today’s match (I have clips of all the Mayo scores). Instead, in trying to embed the videos into the post, I managed to wipe most of the text so what you’ve just read is the post-midnight “oh f**K, I’ve just deleted the bloody thing” version. Videos tomorrow, then.