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Dean Hayes reporting from the Galway Cup in the Drom.
The Macron Galway Cup 2017 has ended. Goodbye to the rugged West, to the rolling Corrib, to Gort na Coiribe, to The Wagon Wheel with Valerie Hughes on Galway Bay FM…
“Are you going away with no word of farewell…”
…to the massive Dunnes opposite our apartment, to Salthill, to Drom, to the perfumed night air, the sound of distant laughter and the endless hills always rising - the horizon.
It has been the quickest four days I can remember, and they each felt like eternity. The contradiction is mother nature’s, not my own.
The final day of the tournament centred around the conclusion of its two showpiece categories, the 2002 & 2004 Elite Cups.
The latter came first, as Sligo/Leitrim faced the Colorado Rapids in the early afternoon sunlight. Sligo/Leitrim were managed by former Sligo Rovers defender Alan Keane, while the Americans were of course led by Marcelo Balboa, the leading man of these review articles, and 127-cap veteran of the USMNT. The Rapids have been notable throughout the tournament for their ability to make up for a size disadvantage in some key positions by being prodigiously good at football, and that was again the case on Saturday. Central-midfield stalwart Connor Miller has best typified this phenomenon, his pint-sized perpetual motion always channelled economically and his range of passing so intelligently deployed.
The Rapids took the lead in the final, after a handball in the Sligo/Leitrim box was punished by a well-taken first-half penalty. Despite this advantage on the scoreboard, the play on the pitch remained even, and the Irish side defended impressively while searching for a crucial equalising goal. That goal came 10 minutes into the second-half, when Bridel Bosakani powered home a loose-ball after Colorado failed to clear a corner. Chances continued to be at a premium for the remainder of this tight, nervy affair and the spectre of penalties grew larger and larger on the horizon as time ticked away.
“Well, we’ve got a chance,” smiled Balboa as the sound of the final whistle died on the wind. For his Rapids side, who progressed from the semi-final stage on penalties, the sequel proved even better than the original as Colorado kept their cool from twelve yards to take the cup Stateside.
The 2002 Elite Cup final was a rematch of the previous days’ standout clash, Shamrock Rovers versus Leeds United. That game on Friday had been drawn 1-1 and there was no reason to expect that Saturday’s higher-stakes iteration would be any less closely-contested. Rovers, as they had done on Friday dominated possession in the opening half. Duff’s side have built patiently from the back throughout the tournament and centre-back Luke Turner set the tempo, demanding possession constantly and finding his man. Despite their relative primacy over the football, Rovers struggled to find a way through Charlie Creswell and company in the Leeds defence.
The second stanza opened uneasily for the Tallaght side, as Leeds struck the post with a cross that drifted beyond its intended recipient and almost snuck in. If that was a warning shot, the next one was designed to kill. Max McMillan was slipped in, after a rare intercepted Turner pass, and prodded the ball beyond the goalkeeper to put Leeds within touching distance of glory. It was a cruel blow for Rovers, undone by their commitment to playing the ball out. They sensibly however did not abandon what has been a strength of their side all tournament long, and went in search of parity by persisting with their passing. The reward came shortly before full-time, when Turner made amends for his error by heading home a free-kick from wide on the right flank to the delight of Duff, the Rovers sideline, and lovers of redemption.
Just as the game the day before between these two had finished 1-1, so too did the final, but this time penalties would be required to determine a trophy winner. Rovers ‘keeper Kian Moore had saved a penalty in that previous game from Leeds skipper Creswell to secure the draw, and he repeated the trick for the opening strike of the shootout to give his team an early advantage. It was one they seized upon, as Leeds hit the post and then Moore kept out another, while Rovers stuck three of their four to lift the cup. It was a final worthy of such a strong tournament, and ultimately we can say that there is precious little between these two terrific sides, both so willing to fight for the ball and so committed to its protection.
The entire four-day footballing festival at Drom has been a feast for the senses. From the quality of the play on the field, to the surroundings of Salthill, the Galway Cup remains a standout event in the calendar of Irish football. The incredible opportunity it offers for underage teams across the country, and the wider world, to come together and learn, to compete, and to share a love of the game should be acknowledged and celebrated. So farewell for another year to its hills and valleys, its changeable skies and its manicured grass; it’s a difficult place to leave, but that’s partly the five-hour journey home.
You can find all the results from the final day of the Galway Cup here: http://galway-cup.squarespace.