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Inside Track

Footballers must get bitter for big test against Mayo

John McIntyre

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THERE was no hope a month ago, but there is some hope now – and, ironically, the change of mood among the local football fraternity has nothing to do with the Galway senior team itself. Instead, the shift in morale is the direct product of the county U21’s great deeds over the past few weeks when they made a mockery of pre-match opinion in overcoming the formidable challenges posed by both Kildare and Cork in do or die championship collisions.

Galway’s rising stars were a breath of fresh air; showing scant regard for the reputations of supposedly better equipped opposition on their way to All-Ireland glory. Apart from the team’s natural footballing expertise, they were willing to lay their bodies on the line to get the job done. Talent alone is rarely enough to achieve championship glory, but the young Tribesmen backed it up with a tremendous work ethic which proved too much of a combination for Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Kildare and Cork in turn.

Only four of that successful squad, team captain Fintán Ó Curraoin, Tomas Flynn, Shane Walsh and goalkeeper Thomas Healy are involved with the Galway seniors, but the feel-good factor around the county’s footballing heartlands ahead of Sunday’s big Connacht championship showdown at Pearse Stadium shouldn’t be under-estimated. Title holders Mayo are understandably strong favourites, reached last year’s All-Ireland final and have a largely settled line up, but it’s still difficult to entirely trust them.

They suffered an honourable defeat (2-16 to 0-16) to Dublin in the recent National League semi-final and have plenty of experienced performers in the likes of goalkeeper David Clarke, the O’Shea brothers, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor, Alan Dillon, poised to return after several months out with a groin injury, but the Connacht semi-final is likely to come too soon for Andy Moran and his absence would leave them somewhat more predictable in front of the opposition posts.

Undoubtedly, a Mayo outfit which is chasing a third consecutive provincial title represents a major obstacle for Galway to overcome on recent form alone, particularly as the home team continue to have well chronicled problems in bringing some stability to its central spine. The midfield sector largely remains a disaster zone and Galway’s chronic inability to secure primary possession is proving a killer at this level.

Nobody can accuse Alan Mulholland and his management team of not scanning through enough options during the Division Two league campaign, but some square pegs didn’t fit into round holes, leaving a lot of uncertainty around about what will be the formation of the Galway line up. Juggling around the same players hasn’t been serving the Tribesmen well of late and will hardly do so on Sunday either. The team also needs to stop playing in fits and starts.

The Galway players, at this stage, must be fed up of having their bottle and resilience repeatedly questioned. They are also regularly told that their confidence must be brittle and that they tend to go hiding when the going gets tough. That level of negative commentary makes it a difficult environment for players in which to progress, but it’s about time that the squad finally stood up inside the four white lines to defend their own reputations.

I have seen this group of Galway footballers train in the past and there is no shortage of commitment or ambition among them. They are proud young men too who respect the county’s tradition and the responsibility it places on their shoulders. What Michael Meehan, for instance, has gone through to be even playing at this level is nothing short of extraordinary. He has bucked medical opinion that his badly damaged ankle would end his football career prematurely and has slavishly worked to overcome an injury which must be, privately, soul-destroying.

Now don’t tell me that Meehan doesn’t care about Galway’s standing in Gaelic football. All it would take is one big win in a knock out match to change the overall dynamic, but for that to happen Galway are going to have to empty the energy locker, be prepared to be hurt for the maroon jersey on Sunday, and draw some inspiration from the deeds of the county U21s. Get angry and bitter, too, lads and, in the process, you might give the critics an overdue stuffing.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Potential fallow period ahead of Galway as big mileage takes toll

John McIntyre

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Galway's Joe Canning feels the pain of Gearóid Hegarty's late tackle during Sunday's All-Ireland hurling semi-final against Limerick at Croke Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THE end of year report on the Galway hurlers makes for mixed reading. On the surface, reaching an All-Ireland semi-final and only falling to the perceived best team in the land by three points is not a bad season’s work and there is no doubt that the Tribesmen have the capacity to remain a competitive force in the medium term.

But when you drill down a little more, their continued reliance on the vast majority of the All-Ireland winning team of three years ago is concerning as the evidence suggests several of them are now past their peak. Of the Galway players that featured in that long-awaited final victory over Waterford in 2017, including substitute Jason Flynn, 13 of them were also involved against Limerick last Sunday.

When you consider that Joe Canning, Aidan Harte, Johnny Coen and David Burke were already part of the squad when I finished up as Galway manager in 2011, it illustrates just how many miles some of the current panel have on the clock. Many more of them were involved in the All-Ireland final defeats of 2012 and ’15. That’s a lot of hurling.

In contrast, look at the Waterford team which enraptured the hurling world with their astonishing comeback against Kilkenny in last Saturday night’s first All-Ireland semi-final. Only five started against Galway in 2017 – Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadgh De Burca, Austin Gleeson, Jake Dillon and Kevin Moran. Sure, Padraic Mahony would be still involved only for injury, but you get my drift.

Since winning the All-Ireland title three years, about the only new player who has really established himself on the team is Killimordaly’s Brian Concannon and he had to serve a long enough apprenticeship at this level as well. It’s a concern going forward and Shane O’Neill’s big challenge next year will be to try and rejuvenate the squad.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway square up to Limerick a little earlier than we anticipated

John McIntyre

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Galway’s Padraic Mannion breaking away from Tipperary’s Paul Flynn during Saturday's All-Ireland hurling quarter-final at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

After the initial skirmishes in the hurling championship, the widespread perception was that Limerick and Galway were the two best teams out there, leading to an anticipation that next month’s final would end being a repeat pairing of the 2018 decider.

Of course, that assumption was premised on both teams staying winning, but after Galway were caught napping by Kilkenny in the Leinster Final all bets were off. Now as it transpires Galway and Limerick will be meeting after all except it will be earlier than expected – a semi-final instead of a final.

From the outset, Galway have been burdened with the mantle of being the only team which has the capacity to stand up to Limerick physically. It’s a fair assessment when you shift through the imposing figures on the Tribesmen team, notably Daithí Burke, Joseph Cooney, Fintan Burke, Gearóid McInerney, Joe Canning and Conor Cooney.

They have several other six footers plus as well and given the vast experience in their ranks, it’s probably accurate to suggest that if Galway can’t stop Limerick no team can. But how good are Limerick? I for one don’t think they are quite as formidable as some commentators would have us believe.

If we go back to the 2018 final, remember Galway had come into that game possibly fatigued after being taken to replays by both Kilkenny and Clare. They conceded three goals from turnovers; were eight points down after 68 minutes, and were still only beaten by a point as the Shannonsiders staggered over the line.

Furthermore, they were taken out in last year’s semi-final by an average Kilkenny team – granted their average is higher than everybody else’s – which ended up losing the final by 14 points to Tipperary. More recently, they had a lot of troubled passages in their Munster Final triumph over Waterford.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Missing out on the opportunities that lay ahead will haunt Galway

John McIntyre

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Galway football manager Padraic Joyce digests their Connacht final defeat to Mayo at Pearse Stadium on Sunday with members of his backroom team, Cian Breathnach and Michael Comer. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

NOBODY needed to tell Padraic Joyce the consequences of their narrow defeat to Mayo at a near-deserted Pearse Stadium last Sunday. Losing Connacht’s showpiece match was bad enough, but the real pain was realising that the Tribesmen’s enticing pathway to a first All-Ireland final appearance in 19 years had been completely closed off.

With an All-Ireland semi-final date against either Cork or Tipperary the reward for the winners of the Connacht title, there was a lot more at stake in Salthill than provincial glory. Had Galway got the better of Mayo, they would have fancied their chances against either of those opponents. Suddenly, they would be preparing for an All-Ireland final.

And Galway are one of those teams whose tradition suggests that they would be capable of anything in that environment. Sadly, they are now denied that prospect after a muddling performance against their arch Western foes. Yes, Mayo were the better team and spurned two goal chances, but it was still a match the home team could have won.

Though some of the officiating didn’t do the hosts any favour, it was Galway’s carelessness in possession which must really haunt them. Some of their players were turned over too easily, while their decision making going forward in the opening quarter also left a lot to be desired. Nobody could question the team’s spirit or desire, but they needed to mind ball much better.

Given their injury woes, together with no competitive championship prep for the final and the recent trauma of that league trouncing by Mayo, the hosts’ preparations were far from ideal but Joyce wasn’t inclined to go down the excuses road. He was understandably more frustrated with Galway’s own inadequacies and mistakes, along with the team’s modest scoring haul of 13 points.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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