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Rossies book Super 8s, Cunningham's impact and can Galway save their season?

5 talking points after Roscommon dethroned Galway in Salthill.

Kevin O’Brien reports from Pearse Stadium

Anthony Cunningham Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

1. Anthony Cunningham’s impact

IN THIS FIRST season in charge, Anthony Cunningham has delivered a Connacht title after thrilling away wins over both big guns Mayo and Galway. It’s a remarkable achievement for Cunningham and another trophy to go into his extensive medal collection.

A two-time All-Ireland hurling winner with Galway as a player in the 1980s, Cunningham led St Brigid’s and Garrycastle to Connacht and Leinster club football crowns respectively. In hurling he delivered Galway U21s to All-Ireland success and brought the Tribe to two All-Ireland senior finals, in addition to delivering a Leinster title.

This Connacht victory deserves to go right up there with the St Thomas native’s greatest achievements on the sideline. His decision to bring 25-year-old Kerry forward Conor Cox on board this season has also proved a masterstroke.

Enda Smith lifts the Nestor Cup Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

2. Roscommon return to the Super 8s

Roscommon are the first team to book their place in the Super 8s this season. As a group, they were extremely disappointed with their performance at the All-Ireland quarter-final phase in 2018.

The Rossies lost their three games against Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin by a total of 39 points and looked a level or two below their opponents last year.

Physically, they appear better placed to contend in the Super 8s this campaign and they have a month to get the bodies right before their next championship game on the weekend of 13/14 July.

As Connacht champions they’ll go into a group with the Leinster winners, and the runners-up in Munster and Ulster – or the team that beats them in the final round of the qualifiers.

Enda Smith celebrates after the game with fans Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

3. Galway’s second-half collapse

This defeat is a significant blow for a Galway squad who’ve badly struggled with injuries this campaign. Connacht champions in 2016 and 2018, Galway without their best player Damien Comer who hasn’t featured yet this season after undergoing foot surgery.

Midfielders Ciaran Duggan and Paul Conroy were also significant absentees for Kevin Walsh’s side, but the manner of their second-half collapse will be deeply concerning to their manager. 

In a devastating seven-minute spell before the break, Galway reeled off five unanswered scores and would add just 0-2 to that tally in the second-half with a strong wind at their backs.

Ian Burke found himself well shackled by David Murray, although  Galway failed to deliver any quality ball into the All-Star in the second period. The Tribe converted just two of their nine scoring chances after half-time, which sums up their day.

4. Half-time Roscommon changes

Trailing by 0-10 to 0-5 at the interval, Cunningham opted to move Cathal Cregg closer to goal in the link role he performed so well in against Mayo. Enda Smith, who had been operating in that position, withdrew to the middle third and helped Roscommon compete better on the kick-outs.

Cregg had a decisive impact for Diarmuid Murtagh’s 40th-minute goal. Cregg claimed possession around the 45 and ran at the Galway defence before releasing Murtagh with a deft handpass. Murtagh’s low finish past Ruairi Lavelle gave Roscommon a massive lift, bringing them to within a point so soon after the restart. 60 seconds later, Cox was curling over the equalising score.

From there Roscommon never looked back, with Cox and Murtagh in devastating form up front. They competed for better on the breaking ball at centre-field, as Galway counted the cost of Fiontain O Curraoin’s injury-enforced departure after 21 minutes.

Enda Smith with Peter Cooke Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

5. Can Galway save their season?

The Tribesmen head to a round 4 qualifier on the weekend of 6/7 July with plenty of question marks hanging over them. There are a few big guns lurking in the backdoor system, with Mayo, Tyrone and Monaghan three potential opponents they could face.

The side that reached the last four of the All-Ireland series in 2018 have not been playing with the same sort of quality or purpose this season.

That could be put down to the spate of injuries they’ve suffered or coach Paddy Tally’s departure over the winter to take charge of Down. Or it may be the case that the defensive style of football Galway are employing is beginning to grate on the players.

It doesn’t look like a whole lot of fun to play in the Galway team at the minute. When the tide turned against them in the third quarter, their players showed little ability to think on their feet and change up their attacking style.

They have three weeks to figure things out before a season-defining qualifier clash.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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