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Murph's Sideline Cut: Finally a win Galway fans can hang their hat on

But with Cork next up, no one’s getting carried away, writes Ciarán Murphy.

Galway's Danny Cummins celebrates scoring his side's opening against Armagh.
Galway's Danny Cummins celebrates scoring his side's opening against Armagh.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

I THINK MOST people seek the company of the same people at GAA games, where possible.

There is a comfort in watching your team with the same people year in, year out… the same old rhythm of conversation, the same old scapegoats blamed, the same old conclusions drawn.

It just wouldn’t be the same if I was at a Galway game without Brian and Paul, two of my older brothers, and in truth it wouldn’t even be the same if I had my pre-match conversations with anyone else.

So it was on Thursday night that I rang Brian, looking for his thoughts ahead of Saturday evening in Pearse Stadium.  And it was he who reminded me of Armagh in Round 3 of the qualifiers in 2001, with Cork awaiting us in Round 4, as they were in 2001.

I tweeted this on Friday morning, and got a barrage of people telling me how ridiculous it was to be drawing comparison (as if I didn’t know that already). Truth be told, I sought out the Irish Times report of that game from the archive on Friday evening, and it was instructive to see just how good that Galway team was, and indeed how good that Armagh team was.

There’s no doubt that both counties have fallen away quite a bit since then, but their meeting in Pearse Stadium on Saturday evening had all the makings of a season-defining game.

Both counties had suffered humiliating first-round provincial defeats, and had struck it lucky with their draws in Rounds 1 and 2 of the qualifiers.  Where Armagh had clinically and spectacularly dispatched of Wicklow and Leitrim, Galway had struggled past Tipperary and Waterford… and for that reason many had installed Armagh as red-hot favourites, with Galway, at home, available at 2/1 or even 5/2.

The reality was that both counties had beaten teams they were expected to beat — nothing more.  The goals that Armagh had poured onto Leitrim were eye-catching but ultimately of little value.  The key to this game would not be the lessons learnt in the first two rounds of the qualifiers, but the lessons learnt by both teams from their original provincial championship defeat.

Leading from the front

It turned out Galway had made the more steady improvement, and for us all, there was a real feel-good element to finally winning a real championship game in the height of summer.  We’ve done a pretty good job of shoring up our defence, particularly given Armagh’s propensity for all-out attack, and the way in which we were able to handle the threat of Jamie Clarke, holding him scoreless, was particularly pleasing when you look back to 19 May and that horror-show from our full-back line against Mayo.

The big story from our little trek through the qualifiers has been Paul Conroy.  Midfielder and captain on the All-Ireland winning minor team from 2007, his accuracy in front of goal has led to successive managers utilising him at centre- or full-forward, and in truth he’s done well in both positions.  But the area of greatest need for this Galway team has been midfield, and his return to that sector has seen a big improvement.

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To see him expend every last drop of energy in the game against Tipperary was to finally see a player of his age profile become a leader on this team.  The only moments of genuine quality we produced against Waterford were his barrage of first-half points (and the late goal from Michael Meehan), and he led from the front again on Saturday, ably helped by Tom Flynn in the centre of the field.

Flynn was voted the best U-21 player in the country two years ago, and won another All-Ireland at that level in May, but there are some in Galway who remain unconvinced. That might have a lot to do with the fact that he comes from Athenry, an intermediate club obviously better known as a hurling stronghold, but he has all the physical attributes, and on Saturday evening showed enough to suggest that he and Conroy could be a pretty decent midfield partnership.

No-one is getting too excited, particularly with Cork on the horizon for next week — but as I wrote here in the immediate aftermath of the Mayo game, the qualifiers held a chance at redemption, if Galway were willing to take that chance.  They have been helped by three successive home draws obviously, but they have done what’s been required of them, and they can say they have had a summer of football now, at least.

The win on Saturday evening has given Galway football a championship victory to hang their hat on — a win that rubber-stamps where we are in the national pecking order. For all the criticism after the Mayo game, that’s worth something.  There are still massive problems — the issues in the dressing-room that arose after the Mayo game are still not completely resolved, and we still don’t have anything like the quality required to really trouble Cork… but the sun was shining in Salthill on Saturday, and we managed to do the business.  That’ll do.

  • This Week Murph Was – briefly going to campaign for the Galway-Cork qualifier to be played in Thurles on Sunday afternoon, thereby sparing Cork and Galway fans two days out in a row.  But then I remembered — the hurlers and footballers are both now sponsored by Supermacs, us football types rowed in behind the hurlers last year like the bandwagon-jumpers we most assuredly are… if we were to start going to Thurles for football qualifiers there really wouldn’t be anything to separate us at all.  Best try and keep our distance from those hurling folk for as long as possible I say.

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