In his pre-match piece in today’s Sunday Times, Michael Foley said that the fortunes of both counties “have rarely dipped so low”. Whatever about this being a fair assessment of our current standing in the game, Galway certainly lived up to this billing today when we beat them with as much ease as we’d done in the corresponding fixture in Castlebar last year.
Our supporters in the sparse attendance at Tuam Stadium this afternoon would surely have gone home happy in the knowledge that our curve appears to be an upward one under James Horan and that this summer we should be well placed to atone for last year’s wretched championship campaign. The neighbours would, however, have departed knowing that they’re showing no signs as yet that their tailspin is over. They were truly abysmal today and we beat them without really having to leave second gear.
Our winning margin was all of eight points but it could easily have been twice that. The last score we got – an Aidan O’Shea free – came with 10 minutes still left on the clock and Galway then went on to land four unanswered points and so put a gloss of respectability on the final scoreline.
Ultimately, the number of points we won by isn’t as important as the fact that we did go out and win today. While I don’t think anyone is too panicked about how this league campaign has started, if we’d found ourselves on a single point with three matches played and a few tough contests still to come (notably against Dublin and Cork), our days in Division One would surely have been numbered. I know league success isn’t what James Horan will be measured on but I’m equally sure that relegation wouldn’t have been top of his to-do list either.
Anyway, we did win and we won handsomely. Unlike the matches against Down and Kerry, we started this one fully switched-on and had most of the possession in the opening ten minutes. We did nothing with all that ball, though, as our forward movement – a mixture of inaccurate foot passes and too many short handpasses – left a lot to be desired.
When Galway finally got some forward momentum of their own, they quickly made it pay in the form of three unanswered points. That seemed to provoke us into a reaction, with Alan Dillon and Andy Moran pointing in quick succession to get us off the mark.
I was a bit concerned at this stage about our looseness at the back – where Alan Feeney was on yellow as early as the third minute – and these concerns were heightened when Cummins was put clean through but Robert Hennelly made a super save to deny him. Armstrong pointed the resultant ’45, though, to restore Galway’s two-point advantage.
Dillon and Armstrong then traded frees (I thought the one given to us for a free on Andy was of the soft variety) as our ongoing inability to to close down the home team’s forwards made it look as if the afternoon would continue to be a difficult one for us. Then, however, the game took a different direction.
The first sign that the match was on an altered trajectory was when Aidan Campbell – whom I thought did very well today – was put through and his fierce shot was superbly turned over the bar by the Galway ‘keeper Padraic Lally. Soon after, debutant Jason Doherty collected the ball forty yards out and raced through the heart of the Galway defence before dispatching it emphatically to the net. Another soft free, this time for a foul on Doherty, was popped over by Dillon and suddenly we were a goal to the good.
Another Armstrong free and a second point from play by Bergin cut the gap back to the minimum but we then closed out the half with a neat point from Kevin McLoughlin and another free from Dillon.
A three-point lead facing into the wind didn’t look to be a huge advantage but it didn’t take us long after the restart to double this lead. Kevin McLoughlin got his second of the day to get us going, Campbell pointed a free following a foul on Doherty after he’d been cleverly played in by a quick Campbell pass and then Dillon tapped over a 14-yarder after Aidan O’Shea was fouled.
We’d started to make a few changes too, with Cathal Hallinan replacing the booked Alan Feeney at half-time while Tom Parsons came on for James Kilcullen with around 15 minutes played in the second half. Soon after Jason Doherty was played in with just the ‘keeper to beat and he slipped the ball into the net to put the result beyond doubt. For good measure, the Burrishoole man then pointed to stretch our lead to ten.
You could sense that Galway were losing the will to go on at this stage as further points from Campbell and McLoughlin – his third in a sparkling performance at wing-forward – put us all of twelve points clear, with Galway still to score in the second half. Sean Armstrong finally did so with 13 minutes to go but this point was answered by an Aidan O’Shea free, in what proved to be our final score of the day with ten minutes to go.
Galway dominated those last ten minutes as three points from Bane (one from a free and two from play) and one by Bergin cut our victory margin back to eight at the end. In racing terms, though, we won this one pulling up.
We had a fair few good performers today. Robbie Hennelly was again excellent between the posts and provided further proof that he’s more than ready to challenge all-comers for the position. While the backs were loose enough early on, we shut up shop effectively when it mattered in the second and third quarters and I thought Ger Cafferkey – who made a superb goal-preventing block late on – had his best day so far at centre-back. Midfield was okay but no more than okay against a mediocre Galway challenge in this sector.
The forwards, though, showed significant improvement compared to the last day. Aidan Campbell was always in the thick of things, while Kevin McLoughlin raided with effect on the other wing. Andy Moran was his usual busy self while Alan Dillon put in a better shift than he’d done against Kerry. Aidan O’Shea still had trouble getting hold of the ball but at least today the fouls on him (and he’s a players that gets fouled quite a bit) were rewarded with frees that produced scores.
Man of the Match, though, was unquestionably Jason Doherty who marked his competitive debut for the county with an eye-catching 2-1 haul. Through his performances at under-age and third level, the Burrishoole man has shown he has a keen eye for goal and it’s great to see him bring this kind of form to senior inter-county level.
So, it was a good afternoon’s work for us today in Tuam. We’re now up to fourth in the table – with Monaghan, Kerry, Armagh and Galway all below us – and we can be happy enough with how things are shaping up at the minute. Another solid performance the weekend after next at home to Armagh would help us to build nicely on that.
Mayo: Robert Hennelly; Tom Cunniffe, Alan Feeney, Chris Barrett; Richie Feeney, Ger Cafferkey, James Burke; Ronan McGarrity, James Kilcullen; Aidan Campbell (0-3, 2 frees), Alan Dillon (0-5, 4 frees), Kevin McLoughlin (0-3); Aidan O’Shea (0-1, free), Andy Moran (0-1), Jason Doherty (2-1). Subs: Cathal Hallinan for Alan Feeney, Tom Parsons for Kilcullen, Peadar Gardiner for Burke, James Moran for Campbell, Lee Keegan for Cunniffe.