Galway edge three-in-a-row thriller

Galway captain Seán Kelly lifts the Nestor cup

Galway captain Seán Kelly lifts the Nestor cup

Connor Gleeson was the hero in Pearse Stadium last Sunday in the Connacht Championship final. His last-gasp free won Galway’s third consecutive provincial title, as the Tribesmen now look ahead to the group stage of the championship.

Galway will enter group 1 as top seeds and will play the Ulster runners-up (Donegal or Armagh ), Derry and Westmeath in a testing six weeks starting on May 18/19 at home to Derry. Two weeks later they will play away to Westmeath on the June bank holiday weekend. Padraic Joyce’s men will finish the group games with a match against either Donegal or Armagh on June 15/16 at a neutral venue.

The last time Galway won three Connacht championships in a row was 1982-84. This year’s triumph was all the sweeter, particularly considering the negativity surrounding the squad since their first-round league defeat to Mayo.

In a season marred by injury, one of Galway’s ever-present players was last Sunday’s match winner. Gleeson showed his worth with some fine kickouts, disrupting the Mayo restart for Galway’s equaliser deep into injury time, and scoring two frees of his own, the second one being the late late match winner.

The Dunmore man - in his fourth year with the team - continues to improve. Manager Padraic Joyce heaped praise on his goalkeeper after a tough week leading up to the game.

Joyce has never been a man to mince his words. Post-match, he referenced the media speaking of his poor record against Mayo, the negativity surrounding his squad all season, and the unfair treatment of his goalkeeper within the county.

Additionally, he was full of praise for his sides character: “We were given no chance going into the game. One thing I say, you can never question the character of these boys and the way they train.”

Galway started the year well in 2023, reaching the league final and winning the Connacht championship. However, they lost a number of players in the group stage of the All-Ireland series. This year players are returning at the right time, and to some effect.

Damien Comer started his first game of the year in Pearse Stadium last Sunday. He looked like a man determined to make up for lost time and deservedly won man of the match.

John Maher, Cathal Sweeney and Matthew Tierney all returned to the squad after injuries at different times of the year, with each player having their own impact on the game.

Cillian McDaid also togged out for the first time since fracturing his leg in a club championship match last October.

Furthermore, despite not starting the game, Shane Walsh entered the fray late in the first half and appeared to show a return to form. He kicked three points in the second half, letting his football fire back at some recent criticism.

With players of this calibre returning for the Tribesmen, they will surely be looking forward to rectifying last year’s disappointment, as hopes of an all-Ireland were ended by Mayo before June was even out.

 

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