Cathal Mannion dictated matters for Galway this afternoon in Mullingar.
Cathal Mannion dictated matters for Galway this afternoon in Mullingar.

Allianz HL D1: Galway prevail in Mullingar



Kevin Egan at TEG Cusack Park

If this was Galway after a long layoff, it bodes incredibly well for what the Tribesmen could be capable of when they get through a full league campaign to sand off any rough edges. Four games against high quality Munster opposition over the coming weeks will undoubtedly identify a few glitches in their system, but to dismiss this afternoon’s result as simply the outcome of hurling against a Joe McDonagh Cup county would be to completely misunderstand the events that unfolded at TEG Cusack Park.

That Galway capitalised on Westmeath errors is undeniable. With ten minutes on the clock, a delightful flick from Niall O’Brien set up Darragh Clinton with an opportunity for a point from 40 metres out that would have tied the game up at 0-3 apiece. A poor strike meant Clinton’s effort dropped short, and Galway moved the ball up the field with devastating pace in response. An immaculate pass from Cathal Mannion found Conor Whelan, and the Galway captain was able to sidestep Eoin Skelly and tap in a simple goal.

A failure to clear their lines when they had the chance to do so meant Galway fired in a second goal through Niall Burke immediately after the first half water break, so to some degree, Westmeath did open the door for Galway in a manner that they couldn’t afford to do.

For their part, Galway produced some absolutely top drawer hurling, executing their skills in a fashion that made light of the long gap between competitive games. By the time the half hour mark arrived, they had 3-15 on the board and just one wide accumulated. All six starting forwards had scored from play, their half back line was dominant under the Westmeath puckout and Evan Niland’s freetaking was flawless. Yet the real jewel in their crown was Cathal Mannion’s play at midfield.

If 2020 taught us anything about how the game is evolving, it’s the value that modern teams put on having a playmaker in the centre of the park. Tony Kelly, Jamie Barron and Cian Lynch all made an incredible impression on games from that position and it’s clear that Cathal Mannion is set to do the same this year for Shane O’Neill’s side.

His pass for the first goal was excellent, his run and distribution made life very simple for Jarlath Mannion for the third, but perhaps the most precise was his inch-perfect ball to set up Brian Concannon in the opening minutes of the second half, which the wing forward duly converted with a fine low shot across Skelly.

Throughout the game, Mannion looked as if everything around him was in slow motion. He repeatedly put the sliothar precisely where it needed to go with the minimum of fuss, opening up the Westmeath defence with his distribution and helping players like Conor Cooney and Niall Burke to gradually rack up the scores.

If man of the match was an obvious call however, so was moment of the match - a truly memorable volleyed point from Ciarán Doyle in the first half, struck from 50 metres out on the terrace side of the ground, one that’s sure to be replayed over and over. Could the score of the year have been registered in the very first game played? It’s very possible.

Doyle showed his undoubted class on a few occasions, his namesake Tommy Doyle did what he could to stem the tide at the other end of the field and Niall O’Brien couldn’t be faulted for his display, but other than that, bright moments were rare from a Westmeath perspective.

3-18 to 0-10 at half time became 4-23 to 0-12 when Niland, Mannion and Conor Cooney all pointed in quick succession, and while Niall Mitchell gave some respite when he blocked down Eanna Murphy for a home goal, it wasn’t long before Conor Cooney rattled in a fifth for the Galway men. Fintan Burke sliced over an elegant sideline cut, Shane Cooney surged forward to tack on two late points, and there was even time for two late penalties - Conor Cooney blasting his over the bar, while Niall O’Brien’s tame effort at the other end was easily saved by Murphy.

Not exactly the blood, thunder and drama that we’ve all craved after being away for so long, but plenty to chew on all the same, and from a Galway perspective, they’ll savour the whole experience.

Scorers for Galway: E Niland 0-13 (0-10f), C Cooney 1-5 (0-1 pen), N Burke 1-4, J Mannion 1-3, B Concannon 1-1, C Whelan 1-0, C Mannion, F Burke (0-1 sideline) & S Cooney 0-2 each, A Harte & J Coen 0-1 each.

Scorers for Westmeath: N O’Brien 0-11 (0-10f), N Mitchell 1-0, C Doyle 0-2, J Boyle, S Williams & D Glennon 0-1 each.

Galway: Eanna Murphy; Sean Loftus, Gearóid McInerney, Jack Fitzpatrick; Aidan Harte, Shane Cooney, Fintan Burke; Cathal Mannion, Johnny Coen; Conor Cooney, Evan Niland, Brian Concannon; Jarlath Mannion, Niall Burke, Conor Whelan.

Subs: Darren Morrissey for Fitzpatrick (23), Joseph Cooney for Concannon (44), TJ Brennan for Harte (44), Kevin Cooney for Whelan (53), Diarmuid Kilcommons for C Mannion (53), Declan Cronin for Loftus (56), Jason Flynn for Niland (56).

Westmeath: Eoin Skelly; Darragh Egerton, Tommy Doyle, Conor Shaw; Alan Cox, Aaron Craig, Derek McNicholas; Davy Glennon, Robbie Greville; Joey Boyle, Ciaran Doyle, Jack Galvin; Niall O’Brien, Darragh Clinton, Shane Williams.

Subs: Niall Mitchell for Galvin (22), Tommy Gallagher for Cox (half-time), Josh Coll for Clinton (42), Kevin Regan for McNicholas (49), Peadar Scally for Gallagher (56, temp), Shane Clavin for Greville (63).

REFEREE: Sean Stack (Dublin)