herald

Thursday 15 November 2018

A new rivalry is born

One game has lit the flame but will it kick off in Croker again when league final battle resumes?

Players from both sides tussle during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match between Galway and Dublin at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Players from both sides tussle during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match between Galway and Dublin at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

Kevin Walsh was doing his best Arsene Wenger impression on Sunday.

He had just witnessed his Galway team almost lose a game that was in their grasp, only to rescue a draw at the death. To become the first side this spring to achieve parity with the Dubs represented a not-insignificant achievement, especially with an Allianz Football League final rematch rapidly looming.

And yet reporters couldn't help but ask Walsh about the tetchy flashpoints that marred the closing chapters of an intriguing Pearse Stadium clash.

Smart

"I'm not being smart but you probably saw a lot more than I did even though it was right in front of me," he dead-panned.

"The ball was being kicked out and hanging in the breeze a bit, so you're going to have a lot of bodies in that area. It's a passionate game. Guys are trying to fight their own corner.

"I don't think there were too many belts," he added, "but there was a bit of cynical stuff going on. Probably didn't suit us at the time given how we were positioned. But either way, it's football."

Yet much of what transpired during an increasingly fractious last quarter had less to do with football and more with stopping the opposition at any cost. Be it yellow, black or red.

And it begs the question: what kind of league final can we expect on April 1? Will the off-the-ball pulling and dragging carry on in the same cynical vein, or will Croke Park's faster surface and presumably more clement conditions facilitate a more open game of football?

Unlike the 'familiarity breeds contempt' rivalry that exists between Dublin and Mayo, there is no reason for Dublin and Galway to dislike each other. Or at least there wasn't until now.

Notoriety

Prior to last Sunday they hadn't met in the league for seven years. For all the notoriety of 1983, they have no championship history since that All-Ireland final.

But so far this spring, we've seen signs of a new Galway - several of their forwards possess the pace and skill-set of former years, but the team has an attitude and aggression that haven't been such common Tribal trademarks.

Moreover, they are notably more defensive, preferring to soak up the pressure and punish on the counter. After their win in Kerry last month, Colm O'Rourke suggested on RTÉ that Galway had "turned a bit ugly" in reference to what he termed a "Tyrone defensive-type system", stemming from Paddy Tally's arrival out west.

On Sunday, Jim Gavin also alluded to Galway's set-up, saying: "When a team plays with 13 players behind the ball, for any team it's going to be a challenge."

The intriguing aspect is whether Dublin now view Galway as a genuine challenger. The stop-at-all-costs manner in which they sought to kill the contest, once Cormac Costello had kicked them ahead, suggested that they may well do.

Manhandling

Damien Comer, Galway's danger-man skipper sprung from the bench, seemed to be a specific target for illegal manhandling, carrying echoes of last September.

That said, there were two sides getting stuck into each other at different stages.

Galway accumulated five yellow cards and a black; Dublin earned three yellows, one black plus a straight red for Eoghan O'Gara.

Selector Jason Sherlock also got embroiled in a touchline spat between Ciarán Kilkenny and Barry McHugh; RTÉ footage showed him making contact with the back of McHugh, who duly pulled off Sherlock's hat.

But both Pat Spillane and Martin Clarke, speaking on League Sunday, maintained that Sherlock should not be liable for retrospective censure.

The dust has now settled on Salthill and it won't be long before thes e new-found rivals get reacquainted. Twelve days and counting to round two ...

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