Galway have soundly beaten Meath by 0-17 to 0-8 in the All-Ireland Football final at Croke Park. The teams were level at 0-6 going into half time, but Meath only managed to score 0-2 in the second half. Galway, led by the outstanding Padraig Joyce, racked up 0-11 to record a comprehensive victory. Trevor Giles' weakly hit penalty miss in the 57th minute epitomised Meath's afternoon, as Galway showed greater hunger and drive right from the start.
And yet it could have all been so different. The game was evenly poised going into the second period. Galway were probably the better team in the first half, but their shooting let them down with seven wides. It had started out at a cracking pace, as the teams matched each other point for point for the first twenty minutes. Disappointingly, the match started to turn a bit scrappy, with unforced errors creeping in from both counties. The game was impossible to call at half time.
Things started to change in the second half, as Galway raced out of the traps with a Padraig Joyce point. He did well to escape the attentions of his marker, to go clean through on goal but the ball went between the posts when it should have been in the back of the net. He held his head in his hands, regretting a glorious missed opportunity. Given their first half misses, this was the big examination for Galway. Could they hold their nerve?
Galway passed the test with flying colours. The tentative wides were replaced with assertive scoring as Meath heads started to drop. Truth be told, Meath were finished as early as the 50th minute, when Nigel Nestor was sent off for his second bookable offence, hauling down Paul Clancy. The now-prolific Padraig Joyce continued to put daylight between the teams, as Meath were fading fast.
A lifeline was handed to Meath in the 57th minute when the Royals were gifted a penalty. The task of rescuing the All Ireland for Meath fell to Trevor Giles, who had been missing in action so far. He gingerly hit the spot kick left and wide of the Galway goal, and Meath were effectively finished.
Galway surged away in the final ten minutes, as Meath first needed one goal then two just to draw level. It would have taken something as unlikely as, well, Meath's semi-final thrashing of Kerry, but that just never looked like happening today and Galway eventually cruised to a richly deserved victory.
Afterwards, Meath boss Sean Boylan paid tribute to the new All-Ireland champions. "Galway took their chances but we couldn't take ours. If you look back on the game, it wasn't until about 10 minutes into the second half that they started to hit a purple patch and once they hit that purple patch they weren't going to let us back," he said.
Galway manager John O'Mahony was full of praise for his team and the effort they put in for the whole 70 minutes of this intense match. "The sustained effort of their performance was very satisfying because we got a fair bit of criticism during the year, maybe you could say rightly so, but what we did in the first half was we soaked up a lot of the expectant intensity of the initial period of the game and then we put our stamp on the game and I must pay great tribute to our lads for their sustained effort," he said.
"That was the most important thing, that we kept going for the game. We’ve talked a lot about things for the past few days, what we do in certain periods and what we do mentally in those periods and it was great the way our lads kept that intensity going," he added. "We missed opportunities but if you believe in guys you have to be patient and then things will come right and we also referred to the fact that three years ago we were there points down at half-time against Kildare and we came out and did it. All the lads have a great belief in their own ability and in each other and we felt it was going to come good."
"Winning things is about teams playing as a team and that's the greatest tribute I can pay to our lads today. Individuals will have huge games within that team but the basic structure of that team in critical periods was magnificent and the way that we didn't panic in any sense and kept it going was marvellous," said the Mayo man.
Filed by Greg McKevitt & Amanda Fennelly