U-21s set a great example for Galway seniors

By JIM CARNEY Galway .......................... 0-9 Mayo ............................ 0-7 THE CORRESPONDING fixture at MacHale Park, Castlebar last year went to extra-time before Mayo won it â€â€ and then lost the Connacht final to Roscommon. At Tuam Stadium last Saturday, on a bitterly cold day, Galway and Mayo kept a large and appreciative audience on their toes in a well-contested, highly entertaining provincial semi-final that looked to be heading for extra-time until the Man of the Match, Shane Walsh, kicked two magnificent points from play to put Galway into the final. Roscommon, 4-10 to 2-8 winners over Leitrim in the other semi-final last weekend, will have home advantage for the final, at Hyde Park on Saturday week, April 6th. It will be eagerly awaited, and not to be missed! The U-21 grade has been good to Galway since its inception in 1964. As recently as 2011, the fourth All-Ireland U-21 title was won by Galway and it was the third in ten years. At the same time, we know that the U-21 victories of 1972, 2002 and 2005 were not launching-pads for senior glory and this year we might not even get out of the province. Remarkably, even allowing for how far Sligo and Leitrim are behind in this grade in recent years, Mayo havenâ€Ëœt won the Connacht U-21 title (and JJ Fahy Cup) for five years but Galway still have to worry about Roscommon. From the All-Ireland final victory over Cavan two years ago, Galway U-21s can call on Fiontán Ó Curraoin (Mícheál Breathnachs) and goalkeeper Tom Healy (Corofin), a sub in 2011; but injuries have ruled out two other very talented players from that victorious panel, Thomas Flynn (Athenry) and Peadar Óg Ó Griofa (Mícheál Breathnachs). The Galway senior management team â€â€ Alan Mulholland, Donal Ó Fátharta and Alan Flynn â€â€ are also in charge of the U-21s, with Alan Flynn at the helm and two former senior stars also involved, Paul Clancy and Declan Meehan. Clearly, a lot of work is being done with this team and the players are responding really well, having eliminated Sligo and Mayo inside one week. It was the second half that got the best out of them against Mayo. They had started quite well with Adrian Varley sharp and on song at full-forward again; Shane Walsh a scoring threat in the right corner, and Cathal Mulryan working very hard at right half-forward. Mayo settled into their task with Danny Kirby of Castlebar Mitchels prominent in the aerial exchanges at midfield and captain Cillian Oâ€â„¢Connor landing a brilliant point from a long-range free. To a certain extent, the wind was the biggest factor in shaping the pattern of the game. As the hour wore on, Shane Walsh was the only man who could control it and his kicking, off right and left, was so technically perfect that he gave a masterclass. From leading 0-4 to 0-3 at half-time but looking shaky in the closing ten minutes of the first half, around midfield in particular, Galway upped the tempo in the third quarter and it was significant that Damien Comer of Annaghdown, a new name to many football followers this year, hit great form in centrefield at a crucial time. Mayoâ€â„¢s other man at midfield, Michael Forde from Ballycastle, ran and carried well in the second half but the Galway defence did not shirk their responsibilities and Thomas Healy was strong and determined between the posts, a commanding figure when Mayo went on all-out attack in the closing stages. Cillian Oâ€â„¢Connor, back from the shoulder injury which had sidelined him since last yearâ€â„¢s All-Ireland senior final against Donegal, could not work any magic for Mayo but Shane Walsh worked his magic for Galway and scored two fantastic late points to clinch an impressive victory. Despite the cold day, it was a hugely enjoyable game to watch. No doubt about it, thereâ€â„¢s always something special about Galway vs Mayo at Tuam Stadium, in any grade. It simply never fails as an occasion, or for atmosphere. As Alan Flynn said to Kevin Dwyer on Galway Bay fm on Saturday evening, it was like old times! Galway: T. Healy; Daithí Burke, J. Shaughnessy, L. Silke; M. Loughnane, E. Walsh, P. Varley; F. Ó Curraoin, captain, D. Comer (0-1); C. Mulryan (0-1), S. Moran, P. Cunningham; S. Walsh (0-6, two frees), A. Varley (0-1), G. Kelly. Subs., C. Rabbitte, for Cunningham, half-time; S. Maughan, for Kelly, 38 mins; E. Ó hEochaidh, for Moran, 53 mins; I. Burke, for A. Varley, 57 mins; G. Canavan, for Comer, 59 mins. Mayo: P. Mannion; B. Harrison, N. Freeman, A. Butler; C. Horan, C. Walsh, E. Collins; D. Kirby (0-1), M. Forde; A. Gallagher, E. Regan (0-2, frees), F. Durkan; D. Coen, C. Oâ€â„¢Shea, C. Oâ€â„¢Connor, captain (0-4, three frees). Subs., J. Shaughnessy, for Gallagher, 42 mins; E. Jordan, for Durkan, 44 mins; E. Lavin, for Coen, 49 mins; K. Ruttledge, for Regan, 59 mins. Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon). Herald Sport Man of the Match: Shane Walsh (Galway).