Ouch! Another hammering we didn’t see coming and another one that had its genesis in a complete failure to compete around the middle coupled with woeful defending over the course of the opening quarter. Galway hit us with two early goals and that, really, was that. We never looked like we were going to get back into the game and we never did.
Other significant factors contributed to the loss. Galway, as they’d done in 2005, opened up with the rough stuff and, as always seems to be the case when faced with dirt, we simply couldn’t cope. The ref was pathetic, an obscenely incompetent fool whose inability to stamp his authority on the game allowed Galway to keep pulling, dragging, pushing and belting but who then reduced us to fourteen men early in the second half. It would be going too far to say that the incompetent ass cost us the game but we got nothing from him all day and he let Ford’s men away with far, far too much.
But I think we need to look closer to home to see why we were beaten so comprehensively today. Once again, we just didn’t get going from the throw-in and, just like what happened in the league semi-final against Galway last month, we were 1-1 down before we had got past the halfway line. It was even worse today because at Croker their goal was the jolt we needed to arise from our slumbers whereas today we'd conceded two goals before we realised the game was on. By then, it was already too late.
I have to say all the switching around at the start had me worried and it wasn’t just the fact that Heaney (who played well today, one of the few to do so) was starting in on Joyce at full-back. There was a myriad of switching prior to the throw-in, with BJ at left-half, Gardiner back in the corner, Keith (for a while anyway) at centre-half, Nallen at centre-field. (There were also switches in the forwards but the ball didn’t get to them in the first ten minutes so they were only of interest to the anoraks).
It looked as if with all the switches nobody seemed to know where they should be or who they should be marking and this was soon to have disastrous consequences as Galway carved us open for two early goals, both scored by Cormac Bane. Liam O’Malley seemed to have been given the slip for the first one but, for the second, Bane was completely unmarked when put through by Meehan and had all the time and space in the world to pick his spot and lash the ball to the net.
Our defending in the first half was little short of comical. It was the sort of stuff you’d be effing under-14s out of if they did it and the space afforded to Bane for the two goals had to be seen to be believed. Then there was an incident soon after the second goal where Nicky Joyce was making heavy weather cutting in from the left but Devenney and at least two others let him fumble and dither before finally standing off him to let him boot the ball over the bar.
Poor old David Brady! Today was the third time in recent years that he was brought on in a match with us already more than two goals down, having been given the thankless task of rescuing what was already a disastrous situation. He did okay too, even though he wasn’t fully fit but, just like the 2004 and 2006 finals, the damage was done by the time he was introduced.
But let’s not let Mr McQuillan off the hook totally. What a nob. Galway employed exactly the same kind of tactics in 2005 and, as I recall, largely got away with them then too but there were aspects to McQuillan’s performance today that were mindblowingly pathetic. He was presented with the chance early on to stamp his authority on the match when Joe Bergin, Niall Coleman and Ja Fallon all hacked down one of our lads as they broke through. Every time, the ref flashed the black book so, of course, the boys took this as the green light to do it again. Coleman managed to get to half-time without being booked, although he had committed at least two yellow card offences by then, Bergin had got a yellow but should have had two. No matter how you cut it, Galway’s persistent, cynical tactics should have seen them reduced to fourteen men before the break.
Although I didn’t think we were out of it totally at half-time (a hope that was based completely on the strong wind we’d have in the second half), my main concern at half-time – which I voiced to all and sundry round me at the break – was that we would be the ones who’d lose a player first. I’m no clairvoyant but the crass incompetence shown by the ref in the first half, allied to rising frustration in our ranks, made me worried and, sure enough, we didn’t have long to wait. Pat Harte did use the elbow and it could have merited a sending-off but, if so, Galway should have been down to thirteen at that stage. The sending-off came shortly after a melee – which the ref missed completely and allowed play to continue while the battle was in full flight around the middle – that was started with Coleman clattering into Harte and knocking him to the ground. If Harte deserved to walk, then so too did Coleman and although the scut did so later, the match was well over then.
With Pat gone, we were truly buggered and this was confirmed with the rather sad sight of a patently unfit Super Mac being sent into action. My hope in advance was that we wouldn’t see Mac in action at all today as I felt that if we did, we’d really be in trouble. I can’t say that I understand why we brought him on – Killer, Aidan Campbell and Marty Mac were all on the bench, all of whom were potential scorers – and he did little when he did come on. Similarly, I didn’t see the logic in replacing Alan Dillon with Austie. Dillon wasn’t doing much but Austie did even less.
As I said, I did think we had a chance with the strong wind behind us in the second half, despite being two goals down at half-time (the same deficit as in last year’s All-Ireland). However, when Conor’s shot came back off the post early in the second half and then Pat Harte’s effort was saved soon after, you could sense that nothing was going to go our way today. In the end, Galway outscored us in the second half too but long before the final whistle, we’d lost all shape and purpose.
So that’s our 2007 Connacht championship campaign done with. Gone with it, too, are any hopes Johnno might have had for that final seat in Mayo come Thursday. I can’t see too many sympathetic FFrs giving him the kind of 2s, 3s and 4s that he’d have needed to keep him in the hunt for the final seat. Indeed, he could be wanting for no.1s as well.
More to the point, also gone is our nice, handy route to the All-Ireland series. Instead, we’ll have to fight our way through the qualifiers and, as we showed again today, fighting just isn’t our forte. It had better start becoming part of our armoury, otherwise we can kiss goodbye to any chance of having a big day out in Croker later in the Summer.
All is, however, not lost. We have seven weeks to regroup and to prepare for the qualifiers and while it would now be fanciful in the extreme to imagine us as contenders for Sam this year, we can certainly position ourselves as one of the teams that could ask severe questions of those who think they are. We’re a hell of a better side than we showed today but now we’ve got to use the time available to us to show that this is the case.
PS I have some video clips from today's match (unsurprisingly only the pointed frees we scored) but I'm still operating on GPRS and won't be able to upload them till I'm back on the other side of the digital divide. I should get them up on Tuesday but I don't expect there'll be a stampede to view them.