Galway striking in clash of styles
|Galway full back Gary Fahy and Kildare full forward Brian Murphy get in a tangle on the edge of the square at Croke Park yesterday
Seán Moran at Croke Park
Galway 0-15 Kildare 2-6
28/08/00: Given that semi-finals are often notoriously edgy affairs, it is pleasantly surprising that the penultimate stages of this year's Bank of Ireland football championship have redeemed the campaign to date.
Last week Kerry and Armagh staged a fascinating battle of styles which awaits resolution. Yesterday at Croke Park it was the turn of Galway and Kildare to enact the same drama.
In the end the Connacht champions lit the way for Kerry by demonstrating that the rapier can be mightier than the broadsword. Galway had to graft in order to showcase their attacking talents and, in the end, they deserved the hard-won victory.
They had to endure wet and slippery conditions that considerably hampered their favourite gameplan. Kildare did all that was expected of them: clammed up at the back, drove at the middle of Galway's defence and indulged their recent talent for goal-scoring and scored fewer wides than their opponents. It just wasn't enough.
Roll-calling the factors in this impressive display is easy enough. The continuing livewire form of Michael Donnellan, the killer dependability of captain Padraig Joyce at full forward (seven points, three from play), and the effective changes made by John O'Mahony all played their part.
Donnellan brought the form of two years ago back to Croke Park. On an unforgiving surface, far removed from the asphalt bounce that best suits his phenomenal pace, he came deep for ball and raced at Kildare using the ball astutely to create scoring opportunities.
To remind everyone that he's not merely a greyhound, he also unleashed great longrange ball into his busy full forwards. Then, to cap it all, he drove over a 50-metre free in the last minute to extend the lead to two points.
In that delicate period when Kildare's second goal had opened up a gap, it was Donnellan coming from deep that set up two of the answering salvo of three points within two minutes. Padraig Joyce scored two of them. Galway's captain had mixed returns with four wides (including one when he unwisely took a free after taking a knock) to set against his haul, but when the team needed scores he delivered. He was another playing in lessthan-optimum conditions and put in a great display over the 70 minutes.
These forward advantages appeared to count for little after a barnstorming exposition by Galway gave way to 28 scoreless minutes in which Kildare overturned a fourpoint deficit to lead 1-2 to 0-4 at half-time.
Shortly before the interval, John Divilly entered the fray. Having spent a long time recovering from injury this year, the AllIreland pivot of two years ago was in danger of ring-rustiness, a reservation born out by Karl O'Dwyer's three points in quick succession early in the second half. Otherwise, his introduction made a big difference.
His physique shut down the highway that had run so expansively before and the defence appeared to cohere around him as the match progressed. Galway were also well served on the wings by Seán de Paor and Declan Meehan's alertness and by Ray Silke's defiantly impressive display at corner back.
To meet the challenge of the second Kildare goal, O'Mahony sent on Kevin Walsh, another hero of 1998 who has been recovering from injury. Again the impact was beneficial. Walsh made the team competitive in the air and also did a great deal of tracking back to help block Kildare and initiate attacking movements.
The arrival of Divilly and Walsh showed up what was probably Kildare's greatest weakness: the lack of similarly formidable replacements.
Yet the Leinster champions hit the front in the 63rd minute and held the lead for a further five minutes before Galway burned them off in the time remaining with four unanswered points.
Galway used quick ball to get inside and dug out sufficient scores to reach the final.
For the first 10 minutes, the ball never saw Galway's half of the field. It was sprayed up to the full forwards and Kildare were in terrible difficulties.
Derek Savage roasted Brian Lacey and Padraig Joyce was beating Ronan Quinn. The half forwards posed a constant threat. Four points were scored, but it could have been more.
Reality set in with Kildare's first score, a goal in the 13th minute. Galway had been warned when it took a particularly fine tackle by Tomás Meehan to stop John Doyle two minutes previously. There was no let-off the second time. Martin Lynch's high ball found Murphy who placed Tadgh Fennin for the goal.
Galway, for their part, went on some sort of a scoring-strike from then until after halftime. Kildare gradually took over, but their rate of scoring was poor. In the remaining 22 minutes of the first half, Galway might have scored nothing, but Kildare managed only two points in return for comprehensive superiority.
As had happened two years ago, Galway hit the deck running on the restart. Within three minutes, they led by two points after well-taken scores by Paul Clancy, a rather dubious Padraig Joyce free and a great, zooming solo-and-point by Donnellan.
Kildare nearly reproduced their first-half response when Fennin got on to a break from Murphy and drew an excellent save from Martin McNamara whose shot-stopping instincts are obviously undiminished since his miraculous interventions at Croke Park in the 1998 season.
O'Dwyer snapped to life and hit three points in two minutes as a prelude to their second goal. The same cast were involved with Lynch again delivering the ball but this time it was Fennin, skinning Tomás Meehan, who set up Murphy for a diving, fisted strike into the net. It was the 45th minute.
Galway effortlessly retrieved the deficit and Kildare's composure began to erode. Willie McCreery, who never got going at full tilt throughout the match, was lucky to stay on the field after a high tackle on Divilly in the 53rd minute. He had been booked early in the match.
Three minutes later, John Finn wasn't so lucky. His off-the-ball foul on Donnellan was spotted and, added to a joint booking the pair had received, meant that the Kildare wing back had to walk.
The endgame came in the closing minutes as Kildare clung to their lead. One player who deserves credit is young Joe Bergin. He had found centrefield a hard station and, with three minutes to go, he went for a point and missed. It could have been a watershed. Instead Bergin plugged away and initiated the first two points of the decisive burst.
This energy and sharpness was now everywhere on the team and, with this combination of mental hardness and exhilarating creativity, Galway have proved that, for all the difficulties posed by injury and an undemanding provincial campaign, they are distinctly the team to beat.
GALWAY 0-15: P Joyce 0-7, four frees; N Finnegan 0-3, all frees; M Donnellan 0-2, one free; P Clancy, D Savage, T Joyce 0-1 each.
KILDARE 2-6: B Murphy 1-0; T Fennin 1-0; K O'Dwyer 0-3; P Brennan 0-3, two frees.
REFEREE: P Russell (Tipperary).