Unfair to expect miracles from Galway young guns
No quick fix for Tribesmen but experienced players must take pressure off U-21 heroes
Published 05/03/2014 | 02:30
After Manchester United lost the opening game of the 1995/96 season to Aston Villa, smug BBC pundit Alan Hansen famously uttered the line, 'You can't win anything with kids'. United went on to win the double that year and, 18 years on, Hansen has not lived this comment down.
Of course, the United team was not made up entirely of kids. They had experienced leaders like Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister, Eric Cantona and Steve Bruce to help young guns like the Nevilles, Beckham, Scholes and Butt settle into the team and take the pressure off them.
However, if you applied Hansen's line to the Galway senior footballers, you wouldn't be left with as much egg on your face.
Galway have started the National Football League in disastrous fashion, losing all three games and conceding 5-54 along the way.
Considering the Tribesmen have won two of the last three All-Ireland U-21 titles, this has surprised many observers. Against Laois on Saturday night, they lined out with seven starters from their winning U-21 teams of 2011 and 2013 – the two midfielders, two in the full-back line, a wing-back, goalkeeper and corner-forward.
The problem Galway have with picking so many young players is they don't have the experienced leaders with a winning mentality to nurture them through. They're coming into a panel low on confidence and with a culture of losing and this is difficult for youngsters who are used to winning.
In 1998, a Laois team I played on narrowly lost the U-21 All-Ireland final to Kerry. Laois had won minor All-Irelands in '96 and '97 and our group were looked upon as the saviours of Laois football. Seven of us were drafted into the senior team that summer. It resulted in an 11-point loss to an experienced, quality Kildare team that would later contest the All-Ireland final.
The game was a culture shock for me, with the speedy Eddie McCormack on a different level to anyone I had marked up until then. I remember being shocked at the intensity of the game and the physicality of the Lilywhites. It took us five years to make the breakthrough.
Bringing in so many inexperienced players into an unsuccessful senior team and expecting them to become leaders is unfair – it takes a few years to properly find your feet at senior level and a few more years before you become a leader on and off the field.
Look at Dublin last year. Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey and Ciaran Kilkenny added a new dimension to their team, especially in the early rounds of the championship. However, when they lost form in the All-Ireland semi-final and final, it didn't derail the Dubs. They had enough experienced players with a winning pedigree that they didn't need to rely on young fellas at the beginning of their careers.
I see Galway's problems being similar to Laois' in the late 1990s. Their older players like Sean Armstrong, Michael Meehan, Finian Hanley and Gary Sice, U-21 All Ireland winners in 2005 themselves, need to exert strong leadership and take the pressure off their young colleagues – or else it will be another lost generation for Galway football fans.
There is no quick fix. It was five years later in 2003 before we made the breakthrough in Laois. Maybe Galway should give Micko a ring!