The secret to winning a county final is to have a few players who really step up to the mark and produce the goods on the big day. And if a few of them are scoring forwards, that is even better.
Last Sunday in atrocious conditions for football at Pearse Stadium in front of 4,822 dedicated supporters, Salthill/Knocknacarra had a few leaders who stood up and who did most to grind out a tough, 0-12 to 0-7 win over Tuam and helped the club annex its third county senior title.
Team captain Finian Hanley was superb at full-back, especially in the first half when he mopped up anything that came within his radius. He was the rock on which most of the Tuam Stars' attacks floundered in the opening 30 minutes. His ability to nullify their main attacking threats like Conor Doherty and Jamie Murphy was crucial.
With neither Doherty nor Murphy able to get going, it left the Stars’ attack far too dependent on some superb efforts for points from side-lines and placed balls from Shane Curtin.
The vastly experienced David Tierney also stamped his authority on the game, winning some really dirty ball around the middle and using his huge reserves of stamina to keep Salthill ticking over in the engine room for the full hour.
His role was even more pronounced as the team's other regular midfielder John Boylan was away on peace keeping duties with the UN and could not get back for the game. Young Conor Healy grafted hard out there too and was not found wanting.
Dual All-Ireland club winner Alan Kerins was superb too in a sweeping role and he carried an amount of ball forward and won some great breaks around the middle. His workrate was top class and he adds another medal to his impressive collection.
However, centre-forward Seán Armstrong was correctly selected as his team's most valuable player for a sterling performance over the full hour.
Armstrong was immense
From the get-go, "Armie" lorded things from centre-forward and it was very surprising that Tuam did not try to play an extra man in front of him as he was totally dominant over his county colleague Gary O' Donnell.
Perhaps Tuam could have put Aonghus Tierney on him in a man-marking role or dropped a wing-forward back to try to nullify Armstrong's influence.
Armstrong, a teacher at St Mary's College, shot 0-7 (5fs ), but he was involved in almost everything positive that Gerry Hughes' men did. It was good to see him back to top form as he has been plagued by hamstring injuries over the past few seasons and he has had to put in months of work to try to keep himself injury free. Hopefully he will remain so.
Level going into the last quarter
It was 0-6 each going into the last quarter and Tuam will rue missing an easy free that would have given them the lead at that stage and also a good goal chance that was blazed wide by Shane Gaffney.
Salthill was the better side, though. They pulled away, eventually firing over five points without reply in the closing 10 minutes. It took Seamie Crowe to hit a really sweet effort off his left to put some daylight between the sides and after that score Tuam just seemed to run out of ideas while the home side flourished.
More points from Brian Conlon and Tomas Burke left Tuam chasing the game and the killing strokes were supplied by Crowe and Armstrong.
At the back Salthill had stout defenders in Derek O’Flaherty, Cian Begley and young men like Gearoid Canavan and Conor Halloran.
Tuam Stars will be devastated to have suffered back-to-back county final defeats, but they will know they did not play well enough to win. They had hard-working performers in Ian McGough, Tony Costello, Shane Curtin, Donal Marley and David Connern.
However it was up front where they found it hard to get going and they never looked likely to hit a match-winning tally. When Tuam last won the county title in 1994, they had young star forwards like Ja Fallon and Tommie Carton in their ranks. They could have done with a low mileage version of one of them last weekend.
Scorers for Salthill/Knocknacarra: S Armstrong 0-7, (5fs ), S Crowe 0-3, (2fs ), B Conlon 0-1, T Burke 0-1. Tuam Stars: S Curtin 0-4, (2 S/Ls & 1f ), D Marley 0-1, J Murphy 0-1, JR Bodkin 0-1.
Salthill/Knocknacarra: C Connolly, C Begley, F Hanley (cpt ), C Halloran; K Conlon, G Canavan, D O’Flaherty; D Tierney, C Healy; A Kerins, S Armstrong, T Burke; G Cox, S Crowe, B Conlon. Subs: R McTiernan for K Conlon, 38; S Gavin for Canavan (inj ), 51; B Malone for Burke, 60, E O’Mahoney for Crowe, 60.
Tuam Stars: J Trayers; D O’Rourke, I McGough, A Tierney; T Costello (cpt ), G O’Donnell, D Marley; D Connern, P Doherty; S Curtin, C Doherty, N Quinn; J Murphy, N Henry, JR Bodkin. Subs: P Collins for Henry, 46; B Devaney for P Doherty, 55.