Galway’s trip to Ruislip for Sunday's opening championship game might have ended differently if London's Killian Butler's late effort had been on target to level the game with just two minutes of regulation time left. Luckily for Galway, however, it went narrowly wide, and Kevin Walsh's men closed out the game and won by four points, 0-16 to 1-09.
Whether it was due to missing a large number of experienced players, the travel, or the carnival atmosphere, the Galway players never hit their stride. They created more than enough opportunities to win this game easily, but they did not click on the day.
However, there were positives, not least the solid performances from debutants John Daly and Antaine O’Laoi, the introduction of exciting prospects Robert Finnerty and Finian O’Laoi, and Liam Silke’s first championship involvement for Galway since the loss to Kerry in 2017. Ian Burke looked rusty at times, but having only played three competitive games at any level since last November, this was to be expected. These players are sure to improve as the summer progresses.
London set themselves up defensively and were more than happy to slow the game down at every chance, especially the kickouts, which frustrated Galway, forcing them to alter their game plan which left them somewhat isolated at the back.
The absence of Sean Kelly was noticeable. His ability to track back, help turn the ball over and attack again with pace, was Galway’s vital missing link between defence and attack.
Galway created a couple of goal chances in the first 20 minutes that would probably have killed off the game, but a slightly overcooked pass from Daly to Heaney, and a fine save by McEvoy from a Tom Flynn effort stymied Galway's efforts, and left them just five points up when London's Butler took full advantage of an unfortunate Eoghan Kerin slip, and smashed the ball into the top corner of Ruairi Lavelle’s net.
Scoring three of the last four points, the Exiles brought the game level at half-time. Knowing they were well in contention, London continued how they started, trying to frustrate Galway's efforts. And with Philip Butler keeping a close eye on Ian Burke, he timed his runs extremely well to cut the supply of ball for Galway.
However, Galway's pressure on London’s kick-out forced McEvoy to go long and Tom Flynn mopped it up. This alone meant he deservedly won the Man of the Match award. Shane Walsh continued to score from every placed ball chance, but it was not enough to kill the game for Galway, who were lucky when Butler missed his chance for a second goal.
However, they saw out the game as winners and now the Connacht champions move on to face Sligo in the semi-final in Markievicz Park on May 19 for the chance to reach their fourth consecutive Connacht final. However, a much improved performance will be needed for this to happen.
Galway: R Lavelle; E Kerin, S A O’Ceallaigh, D Wynne; L Silke (0-1 ), J Daly, G O’Donnell (0-1 ); T Flynn (0-1 ), M Daly; A O’Laoi (0-1 ), P Cunningham (0-1 ), J Heaney (0-1 ); I Burke (0-2 ), S Walsh (0-7, 5f, 1 ’45 ), D Cummins. Subs: R Finnerty for Cummins (48mins ), F O Curraoin for Cunningham (52 ), G Bradshaw for O’Donnell (61 ), E Brannigan for Daly (70 ).
London: G McEvoy; P Butler, M Moynihan, C O’Neill; D Carrabine, M Clarke, E Flanagan; A McDermott, L Feerick; M Gottsche, L Gavaghan (0-1 ), B Tully; C Doran (0-6, 3f ), F McMahon (0-1 ), K Butler (1-1 ). Subs: A McGarvey for Tully (64mins ), S Hickey for Doran (64 ), J Hynes for McMahon (64 ), D Dunne for Carrabine (64 ), P McGirr for O’Neill (70 ).Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh )