Galway flattered by winning margin against gutsy Westmeath
Gerry Buckley at TEG Cusack Park
For the second Saturday running in front of a big crowd, Westmeath’s senior footballers proved that they are worthy to dine at the game’s top table, but being a man down in scorching sunshine for the final quarter proved to be a bridge too far for Dessie Dolan’s charges as Galway eased to a flattering eight-point win.
His opposite number, the legendary Padraic Joyce graciously conceded after a true championship-style encounter in TEG Cusack Park that “Westmeath controlled the game for maybe 40-45 minutes”. An interested spectator in Armagh seven days earlier, the Galway bainisteoir will undoubtedly agree that the Lake County men are unfortunate not to be on the points table, and are now looking for an unlikely single - or double - result in the third and final round to prolong their summer. But that is the harsh reality of the Sam Maguire Cup.
It was only in the final quarter when they had the aid of an extra man after Ray Connellan’s dismissal that Galway were able to pull away from a well-drilled side in maroon and green jerseys. The second yellow card to the Athlone man seemed justified, but it came moments after a very harsh call at the other end of the pitch when Senan Baker appeared to be held back, but instead the free went Galway's way when the Westmeath man touched the ball on the ground. In truth, Lady Luck has not smiled Westmeath’s way in the opening two games. Nationwide plaudits have been plentiful – and they are welcome – but moral victories are not listed in the record books.
Westmeath were a point ahead at the end of a fine first half display.
With the aid of a useful wind and with skipper Kevin Maguire already inspirational, the Lake County were deservedly two points clear after five minutes, via a 45-metre free from John Heslin and a well-worked score finished by Ronan O’Toole. Cathal Sweeney, who replaced Damien Comer in the only change to either side from the selected teams, got Galway on the scoreboard in the seventh minute, but Connellan responded with a converted ‘mark’.
Connor Gleeson’s tardy kick-out strategy was already irritating Joe McQuillan. At the other end, it needed great defending from both Jason Daly and James Dolan to prevent the Tribesmen from converting a triple-chance of a goal in the tenth minute at the expense of an unconverted ‘45’. Quickfire points from Ian Burke (when a goal beckoned) and the outstanding Peter Cooke levelled the contest with a quarter of an hour on the clock.
Ronan Wallace pointed at the end of a patient move, but scores from Johnny Heaney and Paul Conroy edged Galway ahead by 0-5 to 0-4 after 22 minutes. Unanswered points from O’Toole (via the crossbar), Luke Loughlin, and Sam McCartan (a grandson of Galway legend Sean Purcell) restored the Lake County’s two-point lead. A rasping shot
from the ever-dangerous Cooke came back off the crossbar in the 33rd minute, but Shane Walsh converted a free immediately afterwards (after the advantage had been played). Westmeath led by 0-7 to 0-6 at the interval.
On the change of ends, point exchanges up to the 48th minute kept the losers’ one-point lead intact. The scores came via Walsh (a free directly from the throw-in) and his opposite number Stephen Smith (a great team score), Heslin and Cooke, Jack Smith (a fine solo effort) and Cian Hernon, and Loughlin (with his fist) and Walsh (a classy finish). Hernon’s second outstanding point tied up the game at 0-11 each in the
The game turned two minutes later when strong claims for a Westmeath free some 25 metres from the Galway goal were waved away and it was the winners who got a free out for a handball on the ground by sub Senan Baker.
Moments later, Connellan picked up a second yellow card for a foul on sub John Maher. Walsh’s successful free after the red card put the Connacht champions into a lead they never looked remotely like relinquishing.
The introduction of Comer to a great reception from the large band of travelling fans in the 55th minute had an immediate impact and he fired over a rapid-fire brace to put his side 0-14 to 0-11 ahead. Sub Eoin Mulvihill scored what proved to be the losers’ last point on the hour mark, while Galway scored six unanswered points in the closing stages to win with a bit to spare.
The half-dozen white flags came courtesy of Matthew Tierney (a ‘45’, after Daly had saved superbly from Maher), Heaney (a ‘mark’), Comer (a low-trajectory effort), a Cooke brace (either side of which claims for a Westmeath penalty were waved away after Baker seemed to have been impeded), and Maher. Indeed, Comer also unlucky not to find the net with an audacious lob, while sub Paul Kelly had a ‘goal’ disallowed for a throw-ball earlier in the move.
Scorers – Galway: P Cooke, S Walsh (3fs) 0-4 each, D Comer 0-3, J Heaney (1m), C Hernon 0-2 each, P Conroy, C Sweeney, M Tierney (‘45’), I Burke, J Maher 0-1 each.
Westmeath: J Heslin (1f), R O’Toole, L Loughlin 0-2 each, J Smith, R Wallace, R Connellan (m), S McCartan, S Smith, E Mulvihill 0-1 each.
Galway: Connor Gleeson; John McGrath, Seán Kelly, Jack Glynn; Cian Hernon, John Daly, Cillian McDaid; Paul Conroy, Peter Cooke; Matthew Tierney, Cathal Sweeney, Johnny Heaney; Ian Burke, Robert Finnerty, Shane Walsh. Subs used: Tomo Culhane for Finnerty (inj., 7), John Maher for Culhane (46), Damien Comer for Burke (55), Paul Kelly for Walsh (inj., 69), Seán Fitzgerald for Hernon (70+3).
Westmeath: Jason Daly; Jack Smith, Kevin Maguire, James Dolan; Jamie Gonoud, Ronan Wallace, Andy McCormack; Sam Duncan, Ray Connellan; Sam McCartan, Ronan O’Toole, David Lynch; Luke Loughlin, John Heslin, Stephen Smith. Subs used: Jonathan Lynam for Duncan (inj., 20), David Giles for J Smith (inj., 47), Senan Baker for S Smith (48), Eoin Mulvihill for Gonoud (55), Conor Dillon for McCormack (64).
Ref: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).