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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 23 February, 2019

Galway avoid another big day implosion but question marks remain over their All-Ireland credentials

“It was important here to show who we are,” Kevin Walsh said after a fine second-half display delivered the Connacht crown.

ON PAPER, GALWAY’S 2018 campaign has gone pretty much to plan so far.

Damien Comer celebrates with manager Kevin Walsh the changing room Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

They made it through the round-robin phase of Division 1 unbeaten and gave a good account of themselves in the league final against Dublin. That four-point loss in Croke Park remains their only competitive defeat of the year.

Galway annexed their 46th Connacht title following victories over Mayo, Sligo and, in Sunday’s final, Roscommon. They became the first team to advance to the Super 8s in the process.

But Galway’s over Roscommon in Dr Hyde Park leaves plenty of question marks over their ability to challenge for the All-Ireland. By half-time on Sunday, Galway were trailing the 3/1 underdogs by three points after playing with what Kevin McStay later  described as a “three or four-point wind.”

At that stage, the Tribe looked like they might implode on the big day just like they did in last year’s Connacht final against the same opposition, and to Tipperary in the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final.

“We’ve found our way out of holes in the past as well,” reasoned Galway boss Walsh after the game. “I know everyone keeps coming back to the one or two bad performances in the last three years. There were a lot of good performances out there.

“I’m sure, as I said, plenty of people that don’t do a lot of homework just keep firing that stuff out. It’s crazy stuff. There’s times – and in fairness today, if you play like that in the first half and you kept playing like that, giving away all the turnovers, you’re heading for a nine-point defeat.

“But then again, the top teams aren’t supposed to be doing that.”

Galway celebrate after the game with the trophy Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Writing in his Irish Independent column on Saturday, Tomas Ó Sé wondered about the psychological damage another provincial final defeat to Roscommon would have on Kevin Walsh’s talented young side.

But if another big game defeat would have scarred them mentally, then surely the experience of finding themselves in a familiar hole and digging a way out will be a major boost to their self-confidence.

Walsh certainly felt so: “Were we off-colour? Of course, we were off-colour at that point.

“That’s something we addressed at half-time. But, in the long run, it’s probably a good thing to experience – that these boys had to knuckle down and dig back deep.

“And when the penalty came again after going two points up…it was hard work to go two points up, and on the sideline it’s tough when those things happen. But in fairness, you put your faith in the lads and it’s a good experience now to have to dig that out.

“Obviously at half-time, we certainly wouldn’t have been happy. It wasn’t that we couldn’t get our hands on the ball – there was an awful lot of ball given away, a lot of silly passes, kick-passes, passes in front of the forward but kicked too high, five-yard handpasses given away. That’s a lot of turnovers and it put us on the back foot for a lot of that first half. And when you have the breeze at your back, you can’t afford to do that.

“We got in at half-time and had a stern enough chat and you can’t say anything but good things about the lads in the second half. We got hit by a point directly after half-time to go down four and then a penalty out of the blue.

“We were finding it hard ourselves to get a few frees down at the edge of the square and so the penalty was another sucker punch. But maybe in the long run, it’s not such a bad thing. It asked lads to stand up and that’s what they did so fair play to them.”

Ciarain Murtagh celebrates scoring a goal Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The Galway boss made a few tactical tweaks at the interval, including a full-court press on Colm Lavin’s kick-outs, but his players brought a greater aggression in the tackle and attacked with real intent in the second-half.

The composure of the Tribe forwards in front of goals after half-time and the impact of their bench will please the two-time All-Ireland winner, while Shane Walsh shot the lights out in a stunning eight-point display.

Ian Burke clipped over three points from four shots and his quick hands lay on countless scoring chances for runners off the should when he’s targetted with accurate ball inside.

On the flip side, Galway didn’t see anything near the best of Damien Comer, who was well-marked by Niall McInerney and had Niall Kilroy stationed in front of him, until the closing stages when he kicked a couple of scores.

Does the Tribe’s system get the best out of Comer, who alongside Shane Walsh is their best player? Elsewhere up front, wing-forward Eamonn Brannigan took some erratic shots and hit three wides.

After half-time, Roscommon posted just 1-1 and were scoreless from play. If they had taken even half of their scoring chances in the second period, the result could have been a very different one.

“Today was about today,” continued Walsh. “It was important, particularly after last year. I won’t go behind the curtain on that but we really felt that we just didn’t perform last year. I know Roscommon were very good but a nine-point defeat isn’t where this team are at.

David Murray with Ian Burke Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“So it was important here to show who we are. If we were beaten by a better team on the day, so be it. But now we’re the first team to make it to the Super 8s so maybe it’s a bit of legacy in itself.

“At the same time, we’re still young, we’re still trying to learn from all these teams. We’re into the Super 8s now and we’ll have a few weeks’ break, which is nice. Back to club football at the weekend. These lads just want to get better. We had a bad first-half but we got better on the second-half and we’ll assess that better on Tuesday night.”

Galway are not due out in the Super 8s until the weekend of 14/15 July where they’ll take on the Munster champions in a mouthwatering clash.

How they fare in the three Super 8 games at the business end of the season should tell a lot more about their All-Ireland credentials than a rainy June Sunday in Roscommon.

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Kevin O'Brien

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