Back to basics works says Bradshaw

December 27, 2008
Galway's first Connacht senior football championship triumph in three years was a reward for their return to their traditional brand of expansive and attacking football according to impressive newcomer Gareth Bradshaw. 2008 will go down as a successful year for Galway and their new manager Liam Sammo, whose decision to abandon the defensive game deployed by his predecessor Peter Ford and return to the attacking game traditionally associated with Galway football was very much to the players' liking. "You could say that we went back to basics this year as far as our style of football was concerned," says Gareth Bradshaw, who made a big impression in his first year on the Galway team. "Under Peter Ford, Galway tried to play a similar brand of football to some of the Ulster teams and it didn't really work. I think Liam Sammon realised that if we were to start challenging for major honours again, we would have to revert back to the style of football that suited us. And that style of football is all about attacking and get the ball into the forwards as quickly as possible." One of Galway's top players in the late 1960s and 1970s, Sammon had coached teams at club, college, county and international (he worked with the Ireland International Rule teams from 1984 to '86) level for 40 years, and had written two coaching manuals, before he was finally given the opportunity to manage the Tribesmen. The vibes were good from the very start and Galway duly began the season by winning the FBD Connacht League. Galway were the form team for much of the National League and were looking good for a place in the final until they met Kerry in their last Division 1 game at Salthill. The home side only needed a draw, but proved a major disappointment as Kerry easily came out on top by 0-15 to 0-10 to leapfrog them on scoring difference and qualify for a final showdown with Derry. Galway led by 0-2 to 0-1 in the early stages, but the Kingdom gradually took control to lead by 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time. The All-Ireland champions added five more points without reply on the restart to surge into a 0-12 to 0-5 lead. A brace of Fiachra Breathnach points saw Galway cut the gap to three entering the closing stages, but two further efforts from top-scorer Bryan Sheehan ensured a surprisingly comfortable win for the visitors. "We were disappointed to miss out on a place in the league final, having lost only two games to Donegal and Kerry, but maybe that was the reality check we needed. It gave us plenty to work on going into the championship," comments Bradshaw, who excelled in the right corner back position. The Moycullen clubman's Connacht championship debut against Roscommon couldn't have gone any better as Galway cruised to a 2-16 to 0-6 victory at Pearse Stadium. Apart from a brief Roscommon flurry before half-time, Galway were always in control and they had the game sewn up by the midway stage of the second half. The Tribesmen opened brightly and had raced into a five-point lead before Roscommon - who had endured a turbulent spring resulting in John Maughan's departure as manager - opened their account in the 21st minute. The Rossies then enjoyed their best spell which saw them go into the break trailing by just two points, 0-4 to 0-6. But within 17 minutes of the restart, Padraic Joyce, Matthew Clancy, Michael Meehan and last year's All-Ireland winning minor captain Paul Conroy had all found the target to leave Galway coasting. Reduced to 14 players following the 44th minute dismissal of Gary Cox, Roscommon lost all their shape in the final quarter and Galway took full advantage by netting twice through man of the match Clancy and big midfielder Barry Cullinane. Liam Sammon's charges had to work a lot harder for their 2-14 to 1-13 victory over Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final which was also played at Pearse Stadium. Team captain Padraic Joyce proved a real handful for the Leitrim defence in the early stages when he scored 1-3 inside the first 13 minutes. The Tribesmen led by 1-6 to 0-4 after 20 minutes, but the underdogs brought themselves back into contention five minutes later when full forward Declan Maxwell rattled the net after a great move which had started in defence. Leitrim trailed by just two points at half-time 1-6 to 1-8, and with Emlyn Mulligan producing a flawless display of place-kicking, the margin was down to the minimum with 15 minutes remaining. However, just when it seemed Leitrim were about to draw level, substitute Cormac Bane scored a crucial goal for the home side and further scores from Joyce and Bane finally ended the visitors' brave challenge. After losing the 2006 and '07 Connacht finals to Mayo and Sligo respectively, it was a case of third time lucky for Galway at Castlebar where they edged out Mayo in a typically tense affair. The maroon and whites laid the foundations for their 2-12 to 1-14 victory in the first 28 minutes when goals from Padraic Joyce and Fiachra Breathnach helped them to a 2-4 to 0-3 lead. Mayo reacted by withdrawing rookie defenders Colm Boyle and Kieran Conroy in favour of old warriors Peadar Gardiner and Aidan Higgins, and these changes had the desired effect as they gradually reduced Galway's lead. John O'Mahony's side scored the last three points of the first half to trail by 0-6 to 2-4 at half-time, and their recovery continued apace on the restart when they outscored Galway by 1-4 to 0-2 in the first 16 minutes. Aidan Kilcoyne's 51st minute goal put Mayo one point ahead, 1-11 to 2-7, and the same margin continued to separate the teams until the closing six minutes when three fine points from play courtesy of Sean Armstrong, substitute Paul Conroy and Cormac Bane gave Galway the win. "There was as much relief as anything else after the final whistle because it would have been a disaster if we had lost three finals in-a-row. We built up a big lead early on and shouldn't have let Mayo back into the game. But games between Galway and Mayo are always tight and this one wasn't going to be any different," explains Gareth, who notes that the victory went some way towards atoning for the disappointment of missing Moycullen's All-Ireland intermediate club final success earlier in the year when he was suspended. Just as they had ended Galway's National League aspirations, Kerry also ended their championship interests at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage. On a day when the rain poured relentlessly and the Croke Park floodlights lit up a championship match for the first time, the teams served up a magnificent contest that was notable for the brilliant score-taking of forwards like Michael Meehan, Bryan Sheehan and Declan O'Sullivan. Donncha Walsh's goal helped Kerry to a 1-8 to 0-9 interval lead, but a similar score from substitute Joe Bergin in the 43rd minute looked to have turned the tide in Galway's favour. But Kerry's greater experience and class then came to the fore as they hit six unanswered points to wrestle back control of the game and they eventually won 1-21 to 1-16. Bradshaw, who scored for the second game running against the Kingdom, feels Galway would have stood a much better chance of victory if their goal had come later in the game. "The goal probably came too soon as it gave Kerry plenty of time to recover and get themselves back into the match. The strength of their squad showed the longer the game went on. We were missing two good forwards in Nicky Joyce and Sean Armstrong which was unfortunate because they might have made a difference had they not been injured." Bradshaw praises the roles played by seasoned campaigners Padraic Joyce and Declan Meehan in helping him to settle into the Galway set-up. "This was only my second year in the squad and my first year on the team. It was a great environment to come into and it helps when you're surrounded by so much quality and experience." The highly promising defender is in no doubt that Galway made significant progress this year and is confident the pattern will continue in 2009. "If we can learn the lessons from this year, we should definitely improve. We're now in the top five or six teams in the country, but there is an opening there for us to push through into the top three. That has to be our aim for the coming year."

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