HomeFootball‘Real legend’ Paul Conroy rolling back the years with vintage display for...

‘Real legend’ Paul Conroy rolling back the years with vintage display for Galway

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Conroy will be 35 this week but he rolled back the years with a performance of strong leadership in Galway’s first All-Ireland SFC group game against a Derry team that has lost its way since their league final win over Dublin.

Conroy scored three points and was active at both ends of the field in a game that went for some 77 minutes, prompting his manager Pádraic Joyce to describe him as a “real legend of Galway football.”

It was a renewal of sorts as Conroy came up against Chrissy McKaigue again, 17 years on since their first meeting when Galway beat Derry in an All-Ireland minor final.

“It’s funny seeing that. I think I was marking him that day in 2007. We were very lucky to get over the line. It’s great to see a couple of lads of your own age still playing,” he laughed.

Conroy’s longevity in the game is being driven by enjoyment and a better landscape over the last few years for Galway, he said.

“If I wasn’t enjoying it, I wouldn’t come back every year. There’s so much time every week going into it,” he added.

“There’s a lot of ups, a lot of downs. At the minute, it’s enjoyable. The last couple of years have been enjoyable. We’ve probably been better than we had been for the couple of years before that.

“The last couple of months have been very strange,” he conceded. “If any team loses a lot of their big players, they’re going to struggle. That’s it in black and white. We were down a lot of our main players. I know there were lads stepping up, and fair play to them, it was phenomenal to stay in Division 1 with all the injuries we had.”

Galway were 2-14 to 0-15 winners as Derry were bent out of shape by the loss of half-backs Conor Doherty and Eoin McEvoy to injury, on top of Pádraig McGrogan’s loss to a season-ending cruciate ligament tear before Gareth McKinless’s red card in the 20th minute for a stamp on Damien Comer after he had fouled him by pushing him to the ground.

Referee Brendan Cawley sent off McKinless after consultation with linesman Niall Cullen.

Galway opened a 0-5 to 0-4 lead from the subsequent free and led by 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time before being brought back to parity, 0-8 each.

But with their resources stretched – Niall Loughlin and Cormac Murphy were also unavailable – they were badly out of shape and conceded second-half goals to Seán Kelly and substitute Cein Darcy.

McKinless is facing a minimum two-game ban for an offence that Joyce described as “nasty and horrendous” afterwards.

His absence will further stretch Derry in the most competitive group but their manager Mickey Harte was adamant that, even if they don’t top the group to get straight through to an All-Ireland quarter-final, he could draw on his own personal experiences of turning seasons around with Tyrone to win two All-Ireland titles.

“When you don’t top the group, it adds pressure. You’ve an extra game and the next game follows on if you’re lucky enough to win that so it puts you in a place where you would choose not to be,” said Harte.

“Sometimes you have to go the road you’re sent as fate would have it. I’ve been down a few of those roads before and we managed rightly.”

Harte revealed that Conor Glass had been sick in the build up to the game and expressed satisfaction with an improved performance on the Donegal defeat.

Meanwhile. Joyce has stated a preference for Croke Park as the venue for their final group game against Armagh in four weeks. Last year the corresponding game was played in Carrick-on-Shannon which may be unavailable this time because of work being carried out there.

Galway gave competitive action to Cillian McDaid for the first time this year while Cian Hernon, who was studying in the earlier part of the year in North Carolina, has also returned to the squad, adding further to their growing options as they look to top the group and avoid a playoff that cost them in 2023.

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