NUIG served notice of their title credentials with an impressive second half performance against last season's county finalists Milltown in Tuam Stadium last Saturday evening. Such was their class, the final scoreline told no lies. 0-16 in total, 0-12 from play from seven different sources was an impressive return by NUIG, who are undoubtedly a major force as the business end of the Galway SFC approaches.
The north Galway side had first use of a significant wind, however the students enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, establishing a 0-4 to 0-3 lead after the opening quarter. The impressive Fiachra Breathnach notched two excellent scores from play while David O'Gara and John Connellan also pointed.
Milltown's replies came from Darren Mullahy, Damien Brennan and a superb left-footed effort from Ciaran Murphy. One the game's pivotal moments arrived in the 23rd minute when an ankle injury forced centre-back Diarmuid Blake to depart the action. The loss of the 2007 Footballer of the Year deprived Milltown of one of their main driving forces and the source of much of their attacking momentum. Connellan, who featured for Westmeath in the 2006 All-Ireland SFC qualifier defeat of Galway, traded scores with Damien Brennan to end the half's scoring.
Milltown began the second period with greater intensity and the spark to ignite their performance almost came when a flowing move saw Brian Forde lay on a goal chance for Seán Hehir, however his powerful shot flew wide of Brendan Doherty's goal. Within a minute, Fergal Nicholson restored parity.
As the second half unfolded, NUIG raised their game and began to seize control. In a blistering six minute spell, Eoin O'Donnellan's side rattled off five unanswered points to race into a 0-10 to 0-5 lead. Shrule-Glencorrib's Mark Ronaldson was the star turn during this period, scoring two excellent efforts from range while also turning provider to set up Eddie Hoare for the first of his four second half points.
At the other end Sligo's Karol O'Neill, the sole survivor from NUIG's Sigerson Cup final winning team in 2003, and St Coleman's Gary O'Donnell were effective in intercepting the supply lines to Milltown's full-forward line. It is to Milltown's credit that they thundered back into the game just when it looked to be slipping away. Former Galway senior John Devane entered the fray, and the next 10 minutes were dominated by Tom McManus' side as the influence of midfielders Damien Brennan and Cathal Blake grew.
Ciaran Murphy and Brennan reduced the margin with a brace of frees. Alan Feerick then struck an inspirational score from the right wing, much to the approval of the vociferous Milltown support. The comeback continued as Seán Hehir, whose battle with Ger Cafferkey was one of the game's highlights, utilised his pace and strength to rifle over. With the gap down to a solitary point, suddenly it was very much 'game on' with little over 10 minutes remaining.
Milltown had seized the momemtum, yet NUIG showed real character and class to extend their lead immediately with an Eddie Hoare free from 45 metres. Brendan Guckian stretched the margin as NUIG's fluid movement and slick interplay began to stretch the 2007 county finalists. Milltown's frustration grew and substitute Brendan Molloy received a straight red card from referee Frank Kinneen following a cynical lunge as NUIG launched an attack. The students pressed home their advantage and put clear daylight between the sides with four of the game's last five points to run out deserved winners.
Milltown displayed great spirit, however the absence of key personnel from last year's side ultimiately undermined their championship challenge this season. On this evidence, NUIG look to be timing their run perfectly. Manager Eoin O'Donnellan and his backroom team of Paul McGettigan and Adrian Hassett have access to a panel loaded with exceptional talent. With players of the calibre of Matthew Clancy, Laois' David Conway and Carlow's Paul Broderick to return, NUIG's attacking options will be further strengthened. The students now look forward to their second successive Galway SFC semi-final. One senses there is more to come from this side and their clash with Cortoon Shamrocks next weekend is eagerly anticipated.
NUIG: B Doherty; J Healy, G Cafferkey, C McDonald; P Domican, G O'Donnell, K O'Neill; E Hoare (0-4, 0-3f ), D Duffy; F Breathnach (0-2 ), M Gottsche, D O'Gara (0-2 ); J Connellan (0-3, 0-1f ), M Ronaldson (0-3 ), B Guckian (0-1 ). Subs: J Farrell (0-1, for Duffy, 44 mins ); L McLoone (for Connellan, 59 mins ); C McHugh (for O'Gara, 59 mins ).
Milltown: G Bowens; S Varley, B McGrath, C Blake; D Hernon, D Blake, D Mullahy (0-1f ); D Brennan (0-3f ), C Blake; B Forde, C Murphy (0-2, 0-1f ), P Glynn; A Feerick (0-1 ), S Hehir (0-1 ), F Nicholson (0-1 ). Subs: D Forde (0-1, for D Blake, inj. ); B Molloy (for Varley, 42 mins ); J Devane (0-1, for Glynn, 42 mins ); C Ruane (for Feerick, 54 mins ).
Referee: F Kinneen.