It’s been a fair while since our championship season was defined by how we got on against the neighbours but, having played them down the years a grand total of 85 times in the championship since our first clash back in 1902, our frequent summer clashes against Galway certainly makes the fixture our greatest rivalry.
A proper rivalry it is too, with (by my count) 40 wins for us, 39 for them and 6 draws – which means that our five-in-a-row of wins over them since 2009 has also allowed us to overtake them (for now at least) on the head-to-head count. In addition, we’re currently one ahead of them (since last year) in terms of Connacht titles won, a lead we’ve got the chance to extend if we go on and complete the five-in-a-row of Nestor Cup titles on July 19th.
Having grown into young adulthood at a fairly bleak time for us in this rivalry – I was there in Tuam in 1982, Castlebar in ’83, Pearse Stadium in ’84 and Castlebar in ’87, Connacht finals we all lost to the Tribesmen – I can well remember when the shoe was firmly planted on the other foot. We’ve had good times since then, of course, but I missed out on much of this (I wasn’t at the 1989, 1997, 1999 or 2004 wins, although it was only for the first of these that I was living outside the country) so that when I was in MacHale Park to see us beating Galway in the 2006 Connacht final, it was only the second ever championship victory we’d claimed against them that I was there to see in the flesh.
After that dramatic win, of course, came the reverses of 2007 and 2008 so the lead-in to our current purple patch was one where they had the upper hand. Indeed, as we headed to Pearse Stadium in July 2009, they were aiming to complete a hat-trick of championship wins over us.
I’ve done match reports here on the site (and many of you have provided comments) on all five of the wins we’ve had over them since 2009. Seeing as Sunday’s win marked the completion of a feat we’d last achieved against the Tribesmen over a hundred years ago, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a ramble back over the five successes and to point you in the direction of what was being said on the site after each of them.
Micheál Jackson and Peadar Gardiner
The first of the five, the 2009 Connacht decider, was the closest run one of the lot. We went to Pearse Stadium seeking to end a 42-year ‘hoodoo’ (remember that?) with John O’Mahony bidding to record his first championship win over Galway since his return to the county management position three years previously, while Galway were looking to lower our colours for the third summer in a row.
The Twin Towers of Barry Moran and new kid on the block Aidan O’Shea were the focus of much talk in advance, following the demolition job they’d done on Roscommon in the semi-final a few weeks beforehand. It was substitute Conor Mortimer, however, who grabbed all the headlines, with his individualistic celebration after his palmed goal put us seven points up with less than ten minutes to play. It was, though, the more understated Peadar Gardiner who swung the contest in our favour that day, thumping over an injury-time point to secure the win just after Michael Meehan had goaled dramatically for them at the other end.
The report I did on that 2009 win is here.
Out of the gloom
Our paths didn’t cross in 2010, a year where we both lost to Sligo in Connacht, so it wasn’t until the following year that we got to renew acquaintances. James Horan was now in charge of us but his tenure had got off to a very rocky start in that year’s provincial championship, with a calamitous defeat to London in the opening round only averted thanks to some charitable refereeing and the boot of Andy Moran.
When Galway came to Castlebar for the semi-final a few weeks later, we were plagued with self-doubt about ourselves. By half-time on that miserably cold and wet afternoon those doubts had been amplified, with the new manager’s team floundering and Galway four points to the good. There was plenty to criticise at the break, not least our awful freetaking, but we came out in the second half with a much firmer resolve and a willingness to knuckle down and get the job done.
A flurry of points and an Alan Freeman goal in that second half saw us home by six points and while debutant Cillian O’Connor (who’d come off the bench in Ruislip in the opening round but started in this one) finished the day on just one point, that was the first and only time that he wasn’t our freetaker when playing senior championship for us.
My report on the 2011 semi-final win is here.
Ripping up the script
We didn’t meet in 2012, with Galway falling to a first ever Connacht championship defeat on home soil to Sligo. Because of this, it was the following May before we met the Tribesmen again, once more back in Pearse Stadium, this time in a preliminary round tie.
After our near-miss with Sam the previous September, there was a burning desire – eventually unrequited, for reasons I still can’t properly accept or understand – to go one better in ’13. We started against the Tribesmen like an express train and what we got to witness was slaughter on a scale that almost defied description.
The script going into this clash was all about the unique ecosystem surrounding this derby tie, how there was a never a kick of the ball between us and all that. It was a script the lads proceeded to rip to shreds as they recorded our biggest win over the Tribesmen in over a hundred years, a victory capped so memorably when Andy Moran came off the bench to apply the finishing touch with our fourth goal of the afternoon.
My attempt at chronicling what I saw that day is here.
After what had occurred at Pearse Stadium the previous year, Galway were never going to let a defeat of the same proportions happen when we met at MacHale Park in last year’s Connacht final. This time they set up far more defensively but while this meant that it took us a bit longer to break them down, once the first goal went in before half-time we were well on our way to a fourth successive victory over them.
Two further goals followed after the break, as we strolled into the winners’ enclosure in a sun-washed MacHale Park pretty much at our ease. This Nestor Cup success was particularly sweet as it edged us one ahead of the Tribesmen in the provincial roll of honour.
My match report on this one is here.
Seeing as this one was only played last Sunday, there’s no need for a retrospective on it. In short, they fronted up in an overly aggressive and stop-us-at-any-cost manner but we always looked likely to prevail, even when they twice exploited our soft centre to claim two eminently preventable goals.
Ultimately, Aidan O’Shea’s trojan efforts combined with Cillian O’Connor’s dead-ball accuracy was enough to steer the team – now jointly managed by Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly – to an historic fifth successive win over the home side. It was also our third win on the trot at Pearse Stadium – hoodoo, what hoodoo?
My take on last Sunday’s success is here.
That’s the lot: five very different wins secured in very different circumstances but the one thing in common with the lot of them is that they were all wins, all secured over our nearest and greatest rivals. Long may this positive streak against them continue.