I noticed in a post match interview that Sligo’s wing back, Charlie Harrison is credited with saying that they (Sligo ) had no doubt whatsoever that they were going to win last weekends game in Salthill. I didn’t believe they would. In fact few did. I did, however, chat in the press room prior to the game with a few former Sligo players and they really did believe they were in with a great chance of pulling off a coup! It was quite remarkable because after the opening 20 minutes Galway were so much in control all over the field that I had a feeling then that they would stroll into a Connacht final largely untested after two games. Ha, how foolish of me! I completely underestimated the mindset of Charlie Harrison and the rest of his team mates. And consequently I had greatly overestimated the mindset of the Galway team after their first round victory over Roscommon.
In fact, in hindsight, Roscommon did Galway a huge disservice in that game. Galway’s manager, Alan Mulholland, learned nothing about the ability of his team to handle the cut and thrust of championship football. He discovered after the opening 20 minutes of last Saturday’s game that there still exists a huge brittleness in his squad. He also discovered that senior championship football is far removed from minor or u21 standard where he had such great success in recent years.
Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I see now that Sligo held all the aces coming into this encounter. There wasn’t a squeak from their camp prior to the game. In fact all the talk was about a Connacht final between Mayo and Galway in Pearse stadium next month. It was the perfect pre match scenario for Kevin Walsh and his team and there wasn’t a thing Alan Mulholland could do about it. Irrespective of what Mulholland might have said to his charges, many would have been listening to ‘how good’ they were and to ‘bring on Mayo’! Meanwhile, Sligo barely got a mention in the pre–match build up. They had an indifferent league campaign in division three so, as 5/1 outsiders, they arrived in Salthill with little or no pressure on their shoulders. It is part of the magic of championship football to see the underdog prevail. But now it will be interesting to see how they cope with the pressure of trying to win a Connacht final. We all know that it was Sligo that got caught in the glare in 2010 when, after disposing of both Galway and Mayo, they arrived in Castlebar as overwhelming favourites to win the Connacht title. I think they will be smarter this time and I am convinced the hype will be controlled a lot better this year. Deep down I am a little sad however that it won’t be a Mayo/Galway Connacht final in Pearse Stadium. We here in Mayo love having a crack at Galway in the championship. After all they are our big rivals in the province. Am I now also becoming a little complacent, seeing as Mayo are not yet even in that final?
The bog waits for no man
I got a dreadful pang of guilt around 11.30am last Sunday when I saw the forecast predicting heavy rain showers for the week ahead. You see, I had the turf turned and it needed ‘footing’. I couldn’t contain myself and decided to head for the bog for a few hours. I left instructions to ‘pause’ the Cork v Kerry and the Tyrone v Armagh matches so I could tune in when I came home from the bog. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the games ‘live’ as my instructions went unheeded. I called my good friend Martin Carney who was doing co-commentary on the game with RTE sport. We had spoken earlier in the morning and both had agreed that Cork would win it with four or five points to spare. And so it transpired. Martin went on record and apparently suggested on air that “this is the day that the music has died for Kerry”. After watching the highlights later that evening and having seen the three goal chances that Kerry had in the game, I am not nearly as convinced that the show is over just yet for these boys. I know Jack O’Connor is on record as saying that the last thing he wanted for ageing legs was a long mystery tour of the country with a series of back door games to get to the play- offs in Croke Park later this summer. Whether he likes it or not, that is the challenge facing him now. Most of us probably agree, however, that it seems that things may not be going as well in the kingdom as they have done in years gone by. I mentioned some time ago that Jack dispensed with the services of the team trainer of the last two years, Donie Buckley. He is highly regarded as coach and trainer and rumour has it that he was too popular with the squad. Then we had Kieran Donaghy defying Jack’s orders and heading off to the European Cup finals a few weeks ago. Jack was furious, left the big man on the bench for the Tipperary game, before calling on him late to get his team out of, what turned out to be, a sticky encounter. Also, it is said that Kieran’s dog went missing on a night recently that saw the big man arrive an hour late for training. Jack, it seems, was apoplectic with rage. Yeah, Jack has a major challenge this year, but write them off at your peril!
There’s life up north still
I did manage to see the second half of the Tyrone v Armagh match live and I was so happy that I did. It was a cracking game of football. For a change, here was an Ulster championship match that was just so good to watch. It had everything that we would expect to see from two good sides, but have so rarely witnessed in recent times, particularly in the Ulster championship. Tyrone looked so impressive throughout the league this year with one exception, their poor performance in the division two final versus Kildare. I was at Croke Park for that game and it was most unenjoyable. Tyrone played a very defensive style of football on that occasion and when you have a second team (Kildare on this occasion ) that do the same, the term ‘puke’ football re-emerges! However, Tyrone sparkle when the pressure is greatest and they produced the resilience and class, that has now become embedded in their DNA, when Armagh came thundering back at them in the final quarter of last Sunday’s game. Tyrone have an abundance of quality players and, more importantly, great leaders amongst their numbers. The unique thing about Tyrone is that they are a team that relish and respond in a collective fashion when the occasion demands. When they can play open attacking football like they produced last Sunday, I wonder why they ever have to resort to playing so many players behind the ball. If they can manage to sustain the effort and intensity over the summer, we are in for a very interesting campaign.