Galway’s tame exit from the big stage as Sligo tore up the script
By BILLY COSS
Sligo ……………………… 2-14
Galway …………………… 0-15
A DAY that appeared set up perfectly for Galway to build on their impressive form in Roscommon and keep their end of the bargain in setting up a provincial final with Mayo ended in the most disappointing fashion after a flat, lack-lustre display saw them bundled out of the Connacht SFC by Sligo.
Their clinical performance in last month’s Championship opener fuelled hope that Galway’s ailing football fortunes in recent seasons could be consigned to the past. This defeat, however, Galway’s first on home soil to Sligo in Championship football, raises many of the same questions posed during the Joe Kernan – Tomás Ó Flatharta years and the cold, harsh reality is that Galway have failed to make any meaningful impression in the past three provincial campaigns with just two wins to their name, one of which came in New York.
For all the plaudits that came their way three weeks ago, the jury remained out on Galway’s true worth, given the feeble nature of Roscommon’s challenge. and while it’s undeniable that Sligo were full value for their five-point win, this must still go down as an opportunity missed by Alan Mulholland’s team.
Apart from occasional flashes, there were too few signs of a re-energised Galway team from Dr Hyde Park. Expectations among home supporters – who made up the two-thirds or so of the official attendance of 8,556 – were for further progress and a Connacht final berth. Instead, they left Salthill after one of their most deflating Championship results in recent times with talk of false dawns and revised opinions on whether the corner has yet been turned in the county’s football fortunes.
While Alan Mulholland and his squad came to terms with this defeat, his counterpart Kevin Walsh could quietly savour another Championship win against his native county. Sligo had defeated Galway only twice in Connacht prior to 2007; they have now achieved that feat three times in six seasons, twice during the Killanin man’s tenure.
After weathering Galway’s dominance and staying in the game during the opening half, Sligo took a decisive grip when it was there to be won in the second with Adrian Marren’s scoring return of 2-6 and their superiority around midfield the most crucial factors. The hangover from their 2010 provincial final defeat to Roscommon carried over into last season and after their defeat to Leitrim was followed by a swift qualifier exit in Wicklow, speculation grew that Walsh’s fourth season could well be his final one. Saturday’s win, however, lifts them back to another provincial final and must go down as an impressive day’s work for the former midfield ‘great’ as his team made a mockery of Galway’s status as overwhelming pre-match favourites and both out-fought and out-thought them on the day.
Sligo won all the game’s key battles and many of the positive features from Galway’s display in Hyde Park were countered. Galway’s full-back line endured a torrid afternoon against Marren and David Kelly, while Gareth Bradshaw’s forays forward were kept in check until late on. Paul Conroy had nine scoring attempts, yielding 1-4, in Roscommon and although the St. James’ full-forward finished with three points and was fouled for three more converted frees, Sligo full-back Johnny Martyn managed to successfully restrict his impact, particularly under the dropping ball when Galway took the direct route.
Certain realities were once again highlighted for Galway, none more so than their recurring failure to win primary possession. Despite a solid start in which Joe Bergin handled plenty of ball, Galway came off a distant second best in the midfield sector and Sligo’s dominance in the air and particularly on breaking ball through the likes of Shane McManus, sub Tony Taylor and Pat Hughes proved central in overturning a 0-9 to 0-4 deficit after 30 minutes to the point when Adrian Marren’s second goal put Sligo 2-12 to 0-13 ahead and out of Galway’s reach late on.
More than anything else, this match will be remembered for Marren’s marksmanship. While his full-forward colleague David Kelly grabs the headlines on a more regular basis, Marren’s threat had been well flagged coming into this match. FBD matches on cold Sunday afternoons are long forgotten days come Championship in high summer but the Curry attacker’s form against Finian Hanley in January didn’t go unnoticed and he continued in the same vein in their duel here, finishing with a personal haul of 2-6 as well as directly laying on two more Sligo points. That match-winning contribution brought his 2012 League and Championship tally to an incredible 8-41, 5-24 from play.
Aided by the wind, Galway were 5-1 up after 16 minutes, 9-4 up five minutes before half-time and appeared in a strong position. They were applying ferocious pressure on the ball-carrier as Sligo struggled to build from defence early on; midfield were winning their share of possession, and Seán Armstrong started well in his duel with Ross Donavan and Paul Conroy had drawn a number of fouls from full-back Johnny Martyn. Sligo’s poor tackling in defence presented Mark Hehir and Gary Sice with a series of converted frees but Galway’s accuracy from play was below where it needed to be and nine wides in the half allowed Sligo to remain well in contention, trailing by just four points at the break.
Worryingly from a Galway perspective, there was an over-reliance on scores from frees whereas none of Sligo’s points had came from placed balls. That trend continued and tellingly, by the final whistle, the visitors had outscored Galway in open play, 1-11 to 0-6.
Lead wiped out
Galway’s interval lead was quickly wiped out as Sligo reeled off the first four points of the half with the aid of the wind through McManus, Kelly and two more from Marren and soon after Paul Conroy ended a 20-minute barren spell for Galway, Alan Costello responded to leave the sides deadlocked at 0-10 apiece. An enduring image was of Sligo players latching onto breaking ball at midfield and coming away with possession and throughout the second half their hunger for battle, ball-winning ability, teamwork and finishing power were all at a superior level to anything a surprisingly flat Galway team could produce. Finian Hanley and Keith Kelly were in all sorts of trouble against Sligo’s two-man full-forward line of Marren and Kelly, who were supplied with quality ball, although Galway did little to help themselves with a lack of protection to their over-exposed full-back line throughout.
The all-important, game-changing goal arrived when Hanley hauled down Paul McGovern in the 52nd minute and Marren dispatched the resultant penalty to give Sligo a lead they would not relinquish. Padraic Joyce and Michael Meehan came off the bench and while Galway did manage to reduce the deficit, Sligo were funnelling players into defence and came up with some big interceptions while their greater attacking edge, that thrived in the open spaces afforded to them, always found a response to keep their lead intact.
The seal was put on a brilliant second-half display by Walsh’s team when Marren stole inside the defensive cover to latch onto a pin-point Alan Costello pass and finish Sligo’s second goal with four minutes remaining.
While they look forward to the Connacht final and the opportunity to right the wrongs of two years ago, Galway must regroup and hit the ground running in the qualifiers — which they have consistently failed to do since 2001 — if they are to salvage something from a season that promised so much more.
Sligo: P. Greene; N. Ewing, J. Martyn, R. Donavan (captain); C. Harrison, M. Quinn, P. McGovern; S. McManus (0-1), E. Mullen; A. Costello (0-3, one free), P. Hughes (0-1), B. Egan; M. Breheny (0-1), A. Marren (2-6, goal penalty, one 45, one free), D. Kelly (0-2). Subs., T. Taylor, for Mullen, 46 mins; D. Maye for Hughes, 70 mins; J. Davey, for McGovern, 70 mins.
Galway: A. Faherty; C. McGrath, F. Hanley (captain), K. Kelly; G. Bradshaw, J. Duane, G. O’Donnell; J. Bergin, G. Higgins; G. Sice (0-3, all frees), D. Burke, T. Flynn; S. Armstrong (0-1), P. Conroy (0-3), M. Hehir (0-7, six frees). Subs., M. Meehan (0-1), for Flynn, 42 mins; G. Sweeney, for Kelly, 46 mins; P. Joyce, for Burke, 53 mins; C. Forde, for Hanley, inj., 57 mins.
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
HeraldSport Man of the Match: Adrian Marren (Sligo).