In a shock few anticipated at the Dub complex this afternoon, Queen’s mens footballers were humbled at home by Connacht underdogs Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), dropping out of the Sigerson Cup at the first round stage on a 2-6 to 0-8 scoreline. The game was still there for the taking in the closing stages, but as Queen’s pushed for an equalising score, two goals on the counter attack in the last ten minutes killed any chance of a fight- back and ensured that the hosts and 8 times winners will not be a part of the Sigerson finals weekend in two weeks’ time.
The visitors entered the game as an unknown quantity to many, with 5/1 odds of a GMIT victory advertised with one bookmaker beforehand and a side which, in contrast to the home team, featured few known inter-county names. However, the men from Connacht flew out of the blocks before their Belfast counterparts could find their feet, hitting four unanswered scores in a period of opening quarter dominance capped by a black card shown to Queen’s midfielder Harry Og Conlon, with Galway senior player Michael Farragher highly impressive at wing forward. QUB made two substitutions before its first score, with the pace of Owen Costello sprung from the bench after 20 minutes to help a struggling defence stem the tide despite a recent injury which kept him out of the preliminary round victory against the University of Limerick.
The Queen’s forward line soon began to show signs of life, with corner forward Ryan Rafferty opening his side’s account before effectively winning a free for fellow Armagh man Rory Grugan to dispatch. Another Grugan free which skimmed the cross bar could have gone anywhere and opposition keeper Shiel was fortunate to retrieve and clear his lines. However GMIT finished the half as strongly as they started it, with Farragher adding to his total and no doubt giving Anthony McGrath and the Queen’s management team much to discuss in the dressing room at half time, with the scoreboard showing 0-6 to 0-2.
With so much at stake, McGrath’s men needed a strong start to the second half and got it right from the outset, with surging wing halfback Ryan Mallon fouled in the process of passing. The resulting free was taken quickly from where the ball landed, setting up Antrim’s Ryan Murray for a well taken score. A long range Rory Grugan free sailed inches wide of the post, but whilst GMIT won possession from the kickout, a thumping shoulder charge characteristic of a hard hitting game turned the ball over at midfield and allowed Donegal All-Ireland medallist Martin McElhinney to launch another attack which Murray polished off again with another point.
At this stage, Queen’s looked set to take the game by the scruff of the neck and push on to victory. However, extensive possession could not be translated into scores in the key 3rd quarter of the game and it was probably in this period which the game was lost. In the 15 minutes which followed their strong opening 5 of the half, Queen’s probably had enough chances to win the game twice over but left every single one of them on the field, with more than one kickable free missed and numerous well worked chances kicked wide or dropped into the keeper’s hands. Time after time, ineffective hand passing and simple handling errors to give away possession in the middle sector of the field produced groans from the sizeable crowd and left the tie hanging in the balance.
Centre halfback Darran O’Hanlon ended this period of frustration by kicking the outstanding score of the day, a beauty from the outside of the boot to cut the GMIT lead to the smallest of margins, but Queen’s were showing the hallmarks of a team lacking in the conviction and belief needed to back up their status as overwhelming favourites. With attacking reinforcements such as the lively Ross McGarry brought on to provide a late spark and players flooding forward, gaps were inevitably going to open up at the back. A masterful GMIT team move on 22 minutes involving 7 different players and beginning with the ball in the hands of cornerback Alan Wynne ended with it fisted to the net by substitute Shane Hennelly with the goal at his mercy and the crowd, which had just begun to find its voice urging the home side to press on, was stunned into silence barring shouts from the handful of travelling supporters. It marked his side’s first score of the 2nd half and pushed them 4 points in front. McGarry hit back with a driven point and a long distance free won after fullback Che Cullen did well to dispossess his man and redirect play; but the wides which haunted Queen’s time and again throughout the game reared their ugly head, with Down men McGarry and Conor Maginn spurning good chances in quick succession.
If the game could have been summed up in one passage of play, it came with 3 minutes left and 2 points still in it, with a high ball from a GMIT kickout won impressively then inexcusably dropped by Queen’s at midfield. GMIT raced forward with the Belfast side unable to reorganise themselves; and another substitute, Aineas Lawless, rounded Michael Cunningham in goal and hammered home from close range to kill off the game. Perhaps the fact that the home team’s first attempt for a goal in the entire match came from a desperate 25 yard drive from Murray in injury time tells its own story. Referee Ciaran Branagan let the game flow and in truth could have issued more than the two black cards he did; and despite keeping their shape well and showing good organisation in absorbing what was thrown at them in the second half to hit back for two killer blows, GMIT clearly lacked the overall individual quality across the pitch that Queen’s possess. The hosts themselves were tactically sound, showed good fitness levels in the closing stages, and used their substitutions effectively; this is a game that was lost through consistent mistakes made on the pitch and not on the bench. Simply put, the Queen’s panel must pick themselves up from today’s crushing defeat knowing that they have no one but themselves to blame for their absence from the historic GAA Festival taking place across campus in the coming weeks.
Final score QUB 0-8 GMIT 2-6
Elsewhere in first round action, DCU over came NUI Galway 4-13 to 0-11, DIT narrowly beat St Mary’s 2-11 to 1-13, and Trinity were defeated by UCC on a 1-14 to 1-7 scoreline and Cork IT won 2-12 to 0-8 at home to Carlow IT.