The best aspect of the Galway u-21’s terrific victory over favourites Cork in Cusack Park on Saturday was the superb display of Tomás Flynn and Fiontán Ó Curraoin at midfield. They were outstanding.
For too long we have wondered from where the new blood would come to man the engine room of senior Galway football teams. Based on the exceptionally high quality of play these two lads produced on Saturday evening, we may be a giant step forward in finding the answer.
They were immense from start to finish of this All Ireland u-21 semi-final in which they faced no less an opponent than current All Star Aiden Walsh. From the first throw-in Flynn signalled his intent for the evening with a lovely point after only 15 seconds.
When a team dominates midfield the way Galway did, it has a great chance of success, and in some ways it was a game Galway could have won by more, with seven wides in the first half - some of which were relatively easy.
Michael Boyle, who had a storming game throughout, was guilty once or twice of shooting after lung-bursting runs when it may have been better to lay the ball off to Mark Hehir, who is accurate and composed in possession.
Boyle has tremendous pace and one of the highlights of the game was watching him haring up the wing in possession with Ciarán Sheehan trailing in his wake. Indeed it was the Killererin player’s superbly-taken goal in the last quarter that put Alan Mulholland’s men into a winning position. A lovely pass by Hehir to impressive substitute Adrian Murphy, who laid the ball off with pace and precision, set up the in-rushing Boyle to bury the ball into the back of John Mellet’s net. It was a simply worked goal. Quality pass. Great lay-off to a speedy half-forward, clinical finish, and three points on the board. Super stuff.
The win was based on a marvellous team work ethic that never diminished. From Manus Boyle up to the three subs who came on, there was a real sense of unity in the panel. Team captain Colin Forde never put a foot wrong at full-back and the Dublin-based physio student is fast developing into a top-level senior intercounty player.
Gary Sweeney was lively at right corner and although the half-back line of Joss Moore, Johnny Duane and Tomás Fahy were all under pressure at different stages, they kept plugging away and drove on well in the final stages. Moore seemed to be happier when repositioned to centre-back and his arrival there signalled the end of Cork’s Mark Collin’s influence.
Up front Conor Doherty did some good things and Mark Hehir’s five points were crucial. Eric Monaghan scored two good points and his second one signalled the start of the revival when Galway were four points down, at 0-11 to 0-7.
Danny Cummins won a lot of ball, but he needs to lift his head up and link the play more with his other forwards. On too many occasions he brings the ball into cul-de-sacs rather than opting for the give-and-go tactic. If he could improve in that area, he would be a more dangerous poacher.
Galway now face Cavan, who were victors over Wexford, in their semi-final in Croke Park at 2pm on Sunday week in a double header with the Kilkenny v Dublin hurling league final.
Regardless of what happens in that final, and Cavan will be very difficult to beat, last Saturday was hopefully the real beginning to restoring the Galway football brand.
It was a fabulous victory of top-class football, with the foundation block the high fielding and good use of possession by the two teenagers at midfield.
A quick word of praise, too, for Castlegar man Neil O’ Toole, the team’s fitness and strength coach who has the team in great condition and they were flying in the crucial last 10 minutes.
It was great to see and hopefully we will get more of the same on May 1 in Croke Park in the final.
Galway: M Breathnach; G Sweeney, C Forde, A Tierney, T Fahy, J Duane, J Moore, T Flynn (0-1 ), F Ó Curraoin, C Doherty, M Hehir (0-5, 0-3 frees ), M Boyle (1-1 ); D Cummins, P Sweeney (0-1 ), E Monahan (0-2, 0-1 free ). Subs: A Murphy for P Sweeney (41 mins ), M Farragher (0-1 ) for Cummins (57 mins ), JJ Greaney for Monahan (61 mins ).