No honour in Galway’s meek defeat to Kerry

No honour in Galway’s meek defeat to Kerry

EIGHTEEN minutes to go in the first All-Ireland quarter-final, and Shane Walsh cut in from the Hogan Stand side to curl a glorious 50-metres long and 15-metres high point and leave Galway two behind Kerry.

The sense of inevitability was temporarily suspended. Galway had already let one chance to start raining knockout blows on a strangely careless Kingdom slip by. Early in the second half, when Micheal Lundy goaled and Walsh pointed, Damian Comer had a chance to leave a point in it.

The crowd, with a larger than usual Galway contingent, was begging to be made believe, ready to give a roar to signal that a glorious victory was achievable.

Comer shot wide and it was hard to believe the Tribesmen would get another chance. Yet, 10 minutes or so later, here it was, the rare quality of Walsh’s point, the ample time remaining, and the sense that Kerry had lost their way and were not in sole control of the outcome all perking us up in our pews, waiting for some defiance that extended beyond the modest goal of avoiding embarrassment.

For a team with a serious desire to upset the narrative, with a deep belief in their ability, this was the moment they would have plotted for, the signal to tear into the overwhelming favourites and attempt to seize the momentum and dish out a severe punishment for Kerry’s disrespectful and slipshod treatment of their seven-point first-half lead.

Instead, there was nothing. Kerry did not even have to be near their best to quell a late rebellion, because Galway’s resistance ended there.

Instead of facing a team of Tribesmen possessed, they had the luxury of mucking about still further. Darran O’Sullivan kicked wide from a position where he shouldn’t have been shooting from in the first place. Anthony Maher followed his lead. Any fear that Kerry might rue the loss of composure was misplaced.

James O’Donoghue missed a sitting goal chance. Galway still could not sense the opportunity. They left the best forward in Ireland in acres once again and even after he pointed, David Moran could send a free wide and you knew it did not matter. Three points in it in the final 10, and still no sense of urgency, no railing against a season of work slipping away.

Look, sometimes teams give it everything and just aren’t quite composed or good enough – it happened to Kildare on Saturday. Sometimes they are destroyed by a better team – it could yet happen to two teams with the misfortune to be on Dublin’s side of the draw.

Neither of those things happened to Galway. They never got to find out if they were good enough because they could not see past the green and gold to begin with. They rebelled only when faced with a pasting.

Gareth Bradshaw was a warrior at wing-back, Lundy had enough self-belief to recover from some shocking mistakes and make a handsome contribution, and Walsh had the class to know he belonged here, but outside of that, there was nothing for Alan Mulholland’s team to be proud of.

If you think we are being harsh, watch again in those last 10 minutes as Barry John Keane saunters through to kick a point without a splash of maroon within a 15-yard radius. Compare and contrast it those moments on Saturday night when Monaghan were on the rack. The Farney played awfully at times, but never once failed to throw themselves into the contest as if death was only a slightly less preferable outcome to defeat.

Contrast the attitude with that of Cork in the game that followed. A hell of a lot went wrong for the Rebels but they cannot be accused of failing to live up to their nickname. We questioned here whether the spirit of Graham Canty and Noel O’Leary had been forgotten and if nothing else, Cork answered that question.

There was belligerence and even spite in the way they approached the task. They were not buying Mayo’s reputation; they believed the green and red could be bullied into submission, just as they were in the league final of 2012. Good for them.

Championship football, particularly at this time of the year, is supposed to be a test in every sense. Teams that want to be champions should have every possible obstacle flung in their road. And for onlookers, Cork’s desire to quicken Mayo’s pulse gave us the pleasure of seeing the Westerners respond in kind. It drew the best from Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan and the O’Sheas and Alan Dillon. It was a pleasure to watch.

Of course, if Cork had rediscovered the gumption they had on the better days of Conor Counihan’s reign, they also retained some of the problems. They succumbed to so many turnovers because too many of their players are not comfortable on the ball and their kick-out strategy strays too easily out of synch under pressure.

They will have the regrets of every team that loses a major championship match by a point. Every dodgy refereeing decision and every misplaced pass will be too easily recalled in the dark months ahead.

But at least they issued themselves a reminder of what is possible when a team is willing to go to the wall for each other, to believe that a famous victory is possible.

They retain a long list of problems but the first step out of the wilderness is the satisfaction of having treated a knockout championship match against a fancied rival with the determination it deserves. Cork left absolutely nothing in reserve and lost no honour.

Galway’s path to fulfilling their potential lies in realising that if think they can say the same, they are lying to themselves.