Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Wednesday 23 May 2012
It’s so predictable at this stage that you could sign off on the beginning of summer when Pat Spillane tramples over the same old ground.
Galway had just come off the pitch on Sunday and already he was justifying his lengthy campaign regarding putting the foot back into football purely based on what he’d witnessed in a one-sided Connacht opener.
Yes, the victors were as sublime as the opposition were shocking. And yes, they were easy on the eye. But judging Galway and their style of play on a day-one massacre was about as relevant as writing off the modern game because of a day-one war in Ulster. Remember, it’s not always footballers over athletes.
We believe Alan Mulholland knows that and what was more telling was his analysis of Sunday’s game. He impressed us initially with what he has achieved with the same group of players who have been disappointing their county over and over again in recent seasons.
But he continued to impress us once the final whistle had blown with an immediate recognition that things won’t always be this easy and it’ll be their back-up plan that defines their season.
To Plan A first though and it looked so effective because every aspect of it worked and was allowed to work. It may seem obvious to suggest midfield was crucial but while a predictable statement, it’s for unpredictable reasons. For Galway, and particularly Joe Bergin, getting their hands on clean ball wasn’t so much about possession but about quick delivery.
In that regard the loss of Michael Finneran from the Roscommon ranks was as crucial as it was early and the home side were too happy thereafter to let it be a traditionalist’s battle and not a slog at centrefield. It also said a lot about the true meaning of Galway’s win that Bergin, a player who has consistently proven he isn’t an alpha midfielder, looked like one. For that reason alone, Galway need to be cautious when going forward.
It wasn’t the only way Galway were allowed to give quick possession into their forwards though. Johnny Duane at centre-back was immovable. Aside from Roscommon’s brief flutters at the start of either half, they rarely got the ball into the inside-forward line and Duane was a huge reason.
He helped turn over shovel loads of possession and had the option of laying off to Gareth Bradshaw, who was up and down the wing like a cable car, or of hitting it long into a huge target zone that surrounded Paul Conroy. And if the foundations were further out the field, Conroy was the spectacular dwelling built on top.
Indeed, it again says a lot about the management’s vision because we’ve seen Conroy several times at centrefield and he looked limited, not only in terms of ball-winning but also in terms of mobility. Yet what we got at the weekend was someone that looked so much more than a big lump close to the goal, hoping to exploit the changes to the square-ball rule.
With the half-forward line dropping deep until ball was delivered and corner-forwards Mark Hehir and Seán Armstrong often going wide, it left acres in front of and either side of Conroy.
With delivery relatively accurate and the full-forward looking more like Tommy Walsh than Brenda Walsh (we swear it was our sister that made us sit through Beverly Hills 90210 back in the day) he was able to win it easily, score off either foot and lay it off to the five other forwards coming at him at different angles and different paces.
Galway though want to be much more than a side remembered for swatting away a poor Roscommon who took too long to react to the obvious problems. After all, Conroy wasn’t double-teamed, no sweeper was employed, the home side's zone defence was too deep and static, they never pressurised runner or ball and they never bullied Galway around the middle.
But against better teams, and in the games that will tell us just how far Mulholland has brought this side, various aspects of their plan won’t work and it will be crucial to see if that stops the entire machine.
Take a look at the teams above them in terms of ambition and expectation and see how they’d cause problems to that Galway system. With Cork, Conroy would struggle as Michael Shields is one of the best long-ball and high-ball defenders about. With Kildare and Tyrone, there will be a sweeper. With Donegal there’ll be a pack defence.
With Kerry, the Galway half-forward line will find itself on the back foot rather than being playmakers. And crucially with Mayo, if Aidan O’Shea is fit, there’ll be a battle around midfield and that area will become more about physicality and pressurised possession than delivery.
All of that is why the two men that left the bench and were a joy to watch, albeit it in garbage time, will be key. In a slower, tighter game, Pádraic Joyce and Michael Meehan have vision and execution to find space where there is none and get scores where they shouldn’t.
They are most likely to be that back-up plan Mulholland talked about although it remains to be seen if they can execute that as well as they executed on Sunday. For sure, Galway are going in the right direction, but it won’t be until the Connacht final that we see how far they can go in that direction.
If you have any opinions, contact Ewan @EwanMacKenna
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