One of the scary aspects about last weekend’s one point (0-11 to 0-10 ) defeat to Antrim in Casement Park was that so few football people in the county were genuinely surprised by the loss.
With Galway’s absolutely appalling record in the All-Ireland football qualifiers - they have lost by a single point now for the past four years – what made people think that last Saturday was going to be any different?
Unfortunately when the chips are down and a big championship game is in the balance, this panel of players have not been able to deliver a winning performance over the past few seasons. Obviously there are some new players on the senior panel and team this season, but that inability to close out a game in a ruthless professional manner is still totally lacking. And it was in evidence again last Saturday as Galway led by one going into injury time.
The past few years have been particularly sickening.
In 2009 Donegal could have been beaten in Markievicz Park but we succumbed by 0-14 to 0-13. In Pearse Stadium in 2010, we conceded a crucial and very harsh penalty near the death and went out to Wexford 1-11 to 0-13, and last year Meath beat Galway by 0-11 to 0-10 with Galway having a chance to snatch a win in the last minute.
Now, last weekend, we reached a new nadir with Antrim clipping us by scoring two late points in injury time.
Antrim’s victory may have come in dramatic circumstances, but this latest setback was of our own making.
The home side played with purpose and a solid game-plan. Liam Bradley’s players knew what they were doing and they stuck to it. It was not pretty, but it was pretty effective.
Galway were just not able to break them down, and only scored four points from play in the entire game. It was a very disappointing display and Alan Mulholland was offering no excuses after the harrowing defeat.
"We always knew it would be difficult. A lot of people under-estimated them, but we knew what we were getting into. I have no problems with the players or the way they played. I think the performance was much better than against Sligo. We were more disciplined and organised. But we’ve still gone another year without beating a team outside of Connacht.” he said.
Mulholland who managed Galway to an All-Ireland minor title in 2007and an U-21 title last year suggested Antrim’s defensive strategy had made Galway look slow and laborious, particularly in the first half.
"It’s hard to play football against that shape but more and more teams are playing that game. It looks like you’re not getting going, but what’s the alternative? We have no excuses. We had our eyes open that we’d have to confront that and unfortunately we weren’t able to break them down."
Antrim played with an extra man at the back which allowed Johnny Duane to be a spare man. However he rarely pushed forward and did not offer an attacking outlet. Time after time in a dull first half, Antrim invited Galway on to them, and then stripped them of possession.
Despite playing badly Galway still lead by 0-5 to 0-4 at half time, however a good burst from Antrim early in the second half which saw them reel off three points in a row from play, including a brace of sweet long-range efforts from midfielder Michael McCann.
Padraig Joyce came on for Mark Hehir after sixty minutes and fisted over a point with his first touch. That put Galway in front, at 0-9 to 0-8, in the 61st minute. Antrim came back to level, before a Joyce free again gave Galway the lead 70th minute.
However, they couldn’t hold on to their advantage and McCann and O’Hagan scored two points in injury time to send Galway crashing out of the championship before the Galway races again this year.
Galway: A Faherty, K Kelly, F Hanley (Cpt ), J Duane, G Bradshaw, G O'Donnell (0-1 ), T Fahy; J Bergin, F O Curraoin; G Sice, S Armstrong, C Doherty (0-1 ); M Meehan (0-2, 2fs ), P Conroy (0-1 ), M Hehir (0-3, 3fs ).
Subs: D Cummins for Armstrong (34 ), T Flynn for Bergin (45 ), K McGrath for Fahy (46 ), P Joyce for Hehir (60 ), G Sweeney for Doherty (67 ).