By Oisín Bradley
As the curtain falls on the first year of Padraic Joyce’s reign as Galway football manager, SIN has decided to cast our eye over the chaotic year that has been 2020 for the men from Pearse Stadium, and examine their prospects for the coming year.
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The first game of Joyce’s tenure saw a novel finish against familiar foes, as the Tribesmen triumphed in the penalty shoot-out over Mayo at MacHale Park. It may have been a case of fresh faces on the pitch, but the serial performer that is Shane Walsh was to the fore with nine points to his name, while Brian Walsh’s missed effort saw Galway through to the decider.
A 1-14 to 0-11 victory over Roscommon saw Galway to the title in what was a successful bedding-in period for the new manager and his panel, and a great momentum builder as they entered the opening fixtures of the Allianz Leagues.
Galway came into the season with a lot of belief under their new man in the dugout, and would’ve been gunning for a result against a team of similar status in Monaghan. Salthill local Robert Finnerty’s 3-pointer left his side in the driving seat on his home patch, and a resurgent performance from the Farney Army just wasn’t enough to earn them a share of the spoils.
Heading to Tralee to take on the previous year’s All-Ireland finalists Kerry always proves a difficult task, and neutrals from Malin to Mizen keeping an eye on proceedings could scarcely believe their eyes as the clock ticked into the red with Galway leading 2-11 to 0-15. However, the Kingdom are never beaten until the final whistle, and Killian Spillane’s last-gasp goal made sure that there would be no end to their unbeaten home run.
Matchday Three saw the Tribesmen travel to Letterkenny to take on then reigning Ulster Champions Donegal, and a seven-point deficit severely tested their mettle in O’Donnell Park. Resilience took over though, and goals from Séan Kelly and Johnny Heaney breathed life into a Galway side who edged the men from the Hills by a solitary point.
Their good form wasn’t about to let up either, as they produced a scintillating display to dismantle Tyrone by 2-25 to 0-12 in Tuam. Shane Walsh epitomised Galway’s free-scoring form with 1-8 to his name, while eight different scorers got in on the act in a commandeering performance.
The men in maroon travelled to a Meath side who looked destined for the drop high on morale, and once again displayed a bad start on the road in Navan. With an eight-point mountain to climb, Shane Walsh once again displayed a talismanic performance to secure a two point victory.
Post-pandemic postponements, we saw the clash of both Galway and Mayo in the League, and while both sides had an eye on a potential Connacht Final clash later in the year, such a routing at the hands of Mayo would have surely been some cause for concern in the Galway camp.
Galway still had an outside chance of securing League glory as Dublin travelled West on a late October afternoon, but the five-in-a-row Champions dispelled any doubts with a handy enough 2-15 to 0-15 win to cap off Galway’s League campaign.
The story of Sligo’s withdrawal from their Connacht semi-final clash is one which has been extensively covered in the National and local media so we’ll save you the bother of going into too much detail. The impact of this is that the Galway footballers were denied the chance to play a ‘competitive’ game before they went toe-to-toe in the Connacht decider.
In truth the 2020 Connacht Final is one which Padraic Joyce and Galway will look back on with regret. Their opening to the clash was lacklustre, however they did well to drag the tie back to three points at the changeover.
Mayo looked like the more dangerous outfit for the majority of the affair, and a commanding performance from Galway goalkeeper Bernard Power played admirably to keep the Tribesmen in it as the game entered the closing stages.
However, the normally excellent captain Walsh misfired at the crucial juncture to level proceedings and it would be Mayo leaving Pearse Stadium with the Nestor Cup in tow.
Overall, this strange season has plenty of positives and negatives for new man Joyce as he stares down the barrel of 2021. The earlier stages of the Allianz League pre-pandemic showed plenty of encouraging and positive aspects of a team under new stewardship, including swash-buckling attacking in the Tyrone game, a game which saw them go toe-to-toe with the best in Tralee and a never-say-die attitude to come back from the brink in Letterkenny and Navan.
However, after the resumption of football things took a turn. The spark was there in fits and starts, but the loss of Damien Comer was doubtless a crucial factor. That said, give Joyce another year to implement his philosophy in a side with its biggest stars between the four lines, and anything is possible for this new-look Galway side in the New Year.