That’s entertainment - Galway hold their nerve to set up semi-final date

Galway players celebrating at Croke Park.

Galway players celebrating at Croke Park.

Where the hell do you start with this? An afternoon that had everything that you want to and don’t want to see on a football field - the great and the good, the old and the new and something completely different to round it off.

There are two things that can be taken from this game for sure, and they are that Galway are playing Derry on Saturday week for a spot in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final and that when it was put up to them - the Tribesmen didn’t wilt or buckle under the most intense of pressure.

It’s as well to start at the end the penalties - Galway kept their cool with Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Rob Finnerty all nailing their first three spot kicks.

Armagh saw Rian O’Neill drive home their second penalty, sandwiched between misses from Stefan Campbell and Conor Turbitt. It was left to Matthew Tierney to win it for Galway and he made no mistake and the celebrations that followed showed just exactly what this win meant to all involved.

It’s year three of the Padraic Joyce era, but really when all things considered its year one proper and without Covid complications and only a second All Ireland semi-final for the county since 2001.

Armagh played their part, and boy what a part it was in a dramatic day in Croke Park, but ultimately Galway were the better team.

Another late fade out almost cost them, they’ve got out of jail against Mayo despite being far superior, they let Roscommon close the gap far closer than it should have been in the Connacht final and again last Sunday - they had Armagh dead and buried but somehow didn’t see it off in normal time.

The clock had already ticked into the red by the time Kieran Molloy had swept the ball over the bar with the outside of his right boot and Galway were 1-16 to 0-13 ahead and all was rosy. They failed to deal with a long ball in by Rory Grugan and Aiden Nugent was able to bundle it over the line. Things were about to get serious.

However, it looked like Galway had shaken any nerves away when Damien Comer swept over a point to extend Galway’s lead back out to four points - far from it.

Rian O’Neill pulled the ball out of the sky near the end line and forced the ball across the face of goal, Conor Gleeson looked like he’d cut out the danger - however, his attempted pass away to safety was ran into by Conor Turbitt who first time connected with the ball and it was in the back of the net and it was just a one point game.

Time was ticking and Galway had the advantage still just about on the scoreboard - the ball was worked to the one man you’d probably want it to end up with in such an occasion.

Shane Walsh collected the ball out under the Hogan Stand and all expected him to head for the end line. Instead, he tried to pull off an outrageous switch pass, something he undoubtedly has in his locker, but it was picked off by Armagh and they were able to work a free. It was still an arduous task to get it over the bar, or so it seemed from out past the 45 metre line tight enough to the Cusack Stand. Rian O’Neill put it down and he launched it straight and true over Gleeson’s bar and we were heading for extra-time.

What happened as both sides headed into the tunnel on the full-time whistle, can’t be condoned and what happened to Damien Comer, in particular, is something that has shocked, angered and disgusted a nation.

Referee David Coldrick subsequently decided that Sean Kelly and Aidan Nugent were the ones to exit the action for extra time was a plot twist nobody saw coming. Armagh were also able to return to their full complement of 15, with Greg McCabe having picked up a straight red card for a tackle on Matthew Tierney on 62 minutes. GAA rules, regulations and disciplinary process have come in for serious scrutiny in recent weeks, but this is surely one weird quirk that needs to be gotten rid of going forward.

Extra time ticked along without much major incident until Armagh rattled the Galway net for a third time. Rian O’Neill pulled the trigger for a point, the ball ballooned up in the air and dropped well short, bounced of the deck and sprung back towards the goal and Rory Grugan was able to punch to the net. The tide could easily have turned very much for Armagh at that stage, but Galway weren’t for moving.

Billy Mannion showed great awareness to pick out Cillian McDaid breaking at pace into the Armagh penalty area. How McDaid got his shot off as quickly and accurately as he did is a question the Armagh defence will be asking for a long time to come, after it hit the back of the net.

The drama just kept coming as penalties began to loom large. Jamar Hall, danced his way clear and could have taken on the goal for Armagh, but opted to put it over the bar and Armagh clear by a point - the crowd were electric at this stage and how the players were able to hear themselves, never mind keep their composure is a wonder.

No man kept his composure as well as McDaid, he had to escape the clutches of a couple of Armagh defenders out on the Cusack Stand side to create some space. That space was no bigger than a phone box and he was moving at pace and still at a tight angle when he unleashed his shot. Taking on a shot like that to level a game up adds even more degrees of difficulty and McDaid got full marks from the judges as the white flag was raised and everyone got to draw breath for a second. The drama still had an epilogue to be played out.


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