The Galway and District League got their Oscar Traynor Trophy campaign off to a winning start on Saturday night at Terryland Park when they gained revenge on the Inishowen League for last year’s defeat at the same stage of the competition.
This game was brought forward a week due to Galway United’s involvement in next weekend’s FAI Cup semi-final and this meant that no friendlies could be arranged to get a side, which had no fewer than eight changes from the side that lost last year in the last 16 to Wexford, used to playing together. Many of last year’s team have since gone on to play in the Eircom A Championship.
Oranmore’s Brian Mannion was chosen to partner the league’s leading scorer Conor Clery in attack, and the pacy striker repaid the faith shown in him as early as the eighth minute when he rifled Galway into the lead from 18 yards. Until then it had been pretty even as both sides looked to utilise the wide expanses of the Terryland surface.
Ryan Griffin, rewarded for his early season efforts for Corrib Rangers, had to be smart to keep out a crafty lob from Paul McLaughlin in the 17th minute. Griffin retreated swiftly to gather but also had to ensure he didn’t slide over the line with ball in hand. Unlike the Finn Harps ‘keeper’s attempt against Sligo Rovers on Friday night, Griffin accomplished this relatively easily.
Paddy Quinn went close to doubling Galway‘s lead with a header from Mannion’s cross before Steve Harkin rattled timber at the other end with a header from McLaughlin’s corner. A quick free kick undid Galway’s advantage in the 26th minute as McLaughlin worked a neat triangle of passes with Eamonn Donnelly and Steve Harkin to create space for sub Seannan McLaughlin to ghost into the box and slide the ball under Griffin.
Buoyed by the equaliser, the visitors controlled the next few minutes but it was Benny Lawless’ deliveries from the left which next posed a threat as he fed Athenry teammates Jamie O’Driscoll and then Quinn, but neither could hit the target with their efforts. Galway then regained the lead when a moment of madness at the back by Donnelly gifted Mannion the ball and he teed up Cleary, who had enough time to take a touch and steady himself before sliding the ball into the bottom corner.
It was slightly harsh on Inishowen, but they had pegged their hosts back again before the half time interval. Brian Tracey’s cushioned header six minutes before the break fell perfectly for McLaughlin and he volleyed powerfully past Griffin at his near post. Minutes later Gareth Gorman scorched a long range effort past the post in the last meaningful moment of an entertaining first half.
The second half saw both sides improve defensively as the space which was so abundant earlier began to evaporate and the game turned into a scrappier affair. Mannion did flash a shot wide of goal in the opening minutes and Griffin had to be alert to deny Stephen McLaughlin before the hour mark, but apart from that there was minimal goalmouth action until the home side grabbed control of the game with 18 minutes to go.
There was a touch of good fortune in the build up as sub Colie Kelly’s misplaced pass across midfield somehow found its way to O’Driscoll, who fed Seamie Crowe. The Irish junior international suddenly had space to move into and strode forward before unleashing a curling shot which smacked the bar.
The rebound fell for Clery who quickly set himself and fired goalwards, only for Gerard Crossan to push his shot back onto the bar. The ball then hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity before landing on the grateful head of Mannion who finished from close range.
Three minutes later the tie was decided as Galway were spared an anxious closing spell when Clery raced onto a through ball and clinically smashed the ball into the far corner past Crossan. The visitors did manage to test the woodwork again in the dying minutes, again from Harkin, again unchallenged from a corner.
In a three-team group which also contains Mayo, Galway are now in prime position to finish top of the group. Mayo’s season has just come to an end so the strength of their squad will be unknown, but at least Jimmy Nolan will now have time to properly prepare his troops and they may well go a few steps further than last year’s representatives.
Galway League: Ryan Griffin; Brian Griffin (Colie Kelly, 55 ), Mark Moran, Keith McHugh, Gareth Gorman (Dave McDonagh, 83 ); Paddy Quinn, Jamie O’Driscoll, Seamus Crowe, Benny Lawless; Conor Clery (Dave Cooke, 78 ), Brian Mannion.
Inishowen League: Gerard Crossan; Joe Grant, Dermot Diver (Seannan McLaughlin, 11 ), Martin Farren, Eamonn Donnelly; Malachy McDermott, Steve Harkin, Jimmy Gallagher, Paul McLaughlin; Joe Doherty (Stephen McLaughlin, 55 ), Brian Tracey.
Referee: Martin Hynes.