Connacht Senior Football Championship Semi-Final Preview: Galway vs Roscommon
By Tom McLoughlin
Sunday 4th July
Roscommon v Galway
Venue: Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)
Connacht rivals Roscommon and Galway go head to head in Dr. Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon with both Anthony Cunningham and Pádraic Joyce under pressure to secure victory and reach a provincial final. Both counties had disappointing league campaigns culminating in relegation to Division Two. Having been drawn in a brutally daunting Division One South along with Dublin and Kerry, a relegation play-off was always probable and Roscommon went down limply in their play-off to an improving Armagh side whilst Galway suffered a crushing one point defeat after extra time to Monaghan.
Arguably, Galway can draw the more positives from their league endeavours. After receiving a schooling first day out in Tralee when Kerry defeated them by 22 points, the Tribesmen improved as the league progressed. To their credit, and having shipped a lot of criticism, they bounced back immediately in Round Two with a six point victory over Sunday’s opponents and finished their campaign with a narrow defeat to Monaghan. Roscommon, on the other hand, failed to register a win and indeed that six point defeat to Galway was their closest margin of defeat. However, there is that old GAA adage which holds true that “league is league and championship is championship” which holds even more weight in this knock-out structure of 2021.
It will be interesting to see how both teams set up on Sunday. Under Kevin Walsh, the criticism levelled at him was that Galway were too defensive under his watch, too stifled by systems. Joyce came into the job, a legend of the county, and embarked on an open and attacking, almost man to man traditional approach that was the antithesis of Walsh’s tenure. Joyce seemed to get immediate results with his charges the form team of the league in 2020 before the pandemic halted action. However, since then, Galway have suffered two drubbings in the past nine months at the hands of Mayo and Kerry, elucidating that perhaps Walsh had some valid reasons for adopting a more defensive system under his reign. Galway, and Joyce, were much more pragmatic following the league defeat to Kerry, securing a solid win over Roscommon in Salthill and against Dublin in Tuam where they flooded numbers back in defence and came out of the game with a creditable defeat.
Galway averaged a decent scoring return of 19 points, including 5 goals, in their four league games and in the likes of Shane Walsh, Rob Finnerty and Damien Comer, they certainly have the capacity to trouble Roscommon’s backs. However, even whilst playing more defensively, they remain porous themselves at the back and had an average concession rate of 22 points, including 8 goals, which clearly Joyce has been trying to remedy.
The Galway squad has seen some experienced stalwarts depart with Ian Burke, Gareth Bradshaw, Michael Daly, Gary Sice, Adrian Varley and the injured Cillian McDaid being some of the high profile absentees in 2021. Where there are absences, there are opportunities and young players such as Matthew Tierney, Rob Finnerty, Finnian O’Laoi and Paul Kelly all stepping up and showing well. If Joyce can blend the young talent with the skill and power of the sublime Walsh and fit again Comer respectively, then the capacity for Galway to cause Roscommon problems is certainly there. Paul Conroy is also still a massive influence on this Galway team and his experience and leadership qualities will be important on Sunday.
Roscommon, under Cunningham, also adopt conservative tactics largely to their detriment. Their semi-final exit from the Connaught championship at home to Mayo was uncharacteristically meek. Mayo got out to an early lead and Roscommon seemed reluctant or incapable of changing their defensive strategy. This unadventurous approach appears to have continued in this year’s league where Roscommon averaged a scoring return of just 15 points in their four games against a concession rate of 22 points. Also, worryingly Roscommon raised a green flag just twice in the campaign and it is difficult to see them winning on Sunday with such a low return.
Roscommon will look to the likes of Enda and Donie Smith for inspiration as well as the Murtagh brothers, Ciarán and Diarmuid up front, whilst they will also need Conor Cox to return to form after a quiet and ineffective year to date. Also, in Roscommon’s favour is home advantage and having a crowd, albeit it a severely reduced one, will possibly give them an edge. A tight encounter beckons in ‘The Hyde’ and I expect Galway with the greater attacking impetus to prevail and set up a Connaught final date with Mayo or Leitrim.
Verdict: Galway by 3