Posted by Ciaran Whelan
Monday 21 May 2012
During the week I tipped Galway to win Connacht but I was surprised how easy it was for them against Roscommon. Alan Mulholland has come in and there is a freshness about the Tribesmen.
He has that respect from the successes at minor and under-21. Galway quietly got through the league so they came into the championship slightly under the radar. They have had some impressive performances and they were very good again on Sunday. Really, they had it won in the first 20 minutes. They worked hard - particularly in the forward line - and pushed up on the Roscommon defence to force them into errors.
They were dominant in the middle of the park where Joe Bergin was excellent and they hit their full-forward line with quick, direct ball. Paul Conroy was in fantastic form, kicking an early score, and it was all Galway for the opening quarter.
Their opponents, however, handled poorly and lacked the hunger and desire for the battle. They were on home turf at Hyde Park and I expected a lot more from them. Maybe there’s still a hangover from their Connacht success a couple of years ago but it’s time for Des Newton to bring through a few more of the under-21s. I think he will do that during the qualifiers.
Mulholland said that they were edgy before the game but now the challenge will be to keep their feet on the ground. After the margin of victory expectation levels will certainly soar.
I expect them to beat Sligo to get to another Connacht final which will underline the quick progress that they have made.
There is room for improvement, particularly in the full-back line where they looked a little shaky at times. From there up the field, though, they look pretty formidable. Gareth Bradshaw has been one of the linchpins of the team and he gave them real pace on the flanks and popped up with two points. As well as the excellent platform Bergin gave them at midfield, Gary Sice was prominent at wing-forward and in front of him all the full-forward line scored.
They also had the added bonus of bringing on Michael Meehan and Padraig Joyce. I think we could see Meehan in the starting 15 soon. He has that experience and an awareness on the ball. He brings others into the game and he could do a job for them at centre-forward. Having said that, Damien Burke led the line well in terms of their work rate.
It’s too early to judge whether Galway will challenge the main All-Ireland contenders. It’s difficult to know how bad Roscommon were. Galway built up that momentum in the first 20 minutes and from there they were never tested. We won’t see them with their backs to the wall until later on in the championship.
They have all the fundamentals of a good strong team and they have that strength in depth which will be important as the summer goes on.
There has been a lot of talk over the last number of years about midfield not being as important as it once was. But with the way Galway play, they need that platform. Michael Finneran was a big loss to Roscommon and as soon as he went off Galway turned the screw. The side is in the early stages of its development so I wouldn’t put them in the same league as the top three at the moment.
In Ulster, Donegal were up against a youthful Cavan side with five debutants. Terry Hyland is attempting to introduce a number of the underage stars that they have had recent success with and I do see a good future for them. Donegal’s greater experience told in the end and it was a fine performance without Michael Murphy.
What I noticed about them during the league was that they were committing more players forward. They still funnel players back but Jim McGuinness is tweaking their approach. He knows that the style of play they adopted last year won’t be good enough to push them all the way.
They may have learned certain lessons, particularly that if the game is there for them they can open up and attack it. Without Murphy, though, Donegal are an average outfit and a lot will hinge on whether he is in the side over the coming months.
Longford made a big step-up at Pearse Park. To come back from six points down against a side with the recent championship upper hand over them continues the progress they have made under Glenn Ryan. They came into the game with momentum from a successful league campaign while Laois were at the other end of the scale.
It is a massive boost for Longford to be going to Croke Park with a game under the belt and I think they can make a mark on the championship. They play a nice brand of football in contrast to Laois who are playing a game that doesn’t suit them. I’m not so sure they can improve. They are playing a more defensive game but that only works if you have a strong forward line, which they don’t have at the moment.
Westmeath dominated for large parts against Louth but kicked an awful lot of wides. Louth have another chance against Dublin after feeling they didn’t do themselves justice against them in the qualifiers a couple of years ago. It may be a step too far but scoring a winning goal so deep into injury time will drive their confidence levels up.
In Munster, Limerick were expected to win and they came through the test against Waterford handy enough in the end. They are on the right side of the draw from their perspective with a game to come against Clare. We’ve seen them go close before in Munster finals but they have a fair bit of progress to make and I can’t see any other outcome except another provincial title for one of the big two.
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