Since 1990 Galway have more minor, U-21 and club All-Irelands than Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Offaly and Limerick combined. So why has the Liam MacCarthy famine lasted so long?
Published 19/03/2014 | 02:30
Portumna is home to the country's happiest hurling souls this week after their club scaled the All-Ireland summit for the fourth time in eight years.
It's quite an achievement, but even as 'The West's Awake' blared out around Croke Park to salute the success on St Patrick's Day, Galway supporters – whether in the stadium, watching back home or dipping in for information from overseas – could sense an outbreak of that strange, restless feeling which has been a bewildering presence in the county for so long.
A glance at the accompanying table will tell you why, offering in cold, stark figures the truth behind a quarter-century that has dismayed Galway people and bemused the rest of the hurling world.
As Portumna racked up another All-Ireland win without even being stretched to the limit of their considerable powers, the great unanswered question resurfaced with all its mocking undertones.
Why is it that Galway's club and underage sides are so successful while the senior inter-county team has been repeatedly corrupted by a destructive virus?
Irrespective of how often they reboot the system (eight managers in the last 20 years), it still comes up the same, working smoothly for certain periods before crashing calamitously.
The figures carried here today depict Galway senior inter-county hurling as a basket case. Since 1990, Galway have won seven more All-Ireland club, U-21 and minor titles than Kilkenny, hurling's ultimate powerhouse and as many as Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Offaly and Limerick put together.
They are seven ahead of their closest pursuers (Kilkenny) on the All-Ireland club table since 1990, lead the minor stakes by one and are second in U-21.
It gives Galway 36pc of the 73 All-Ireland titles in those three grades, leaving the other 64pc shared between Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Offaly, Limerick, Waterford and Antrim. Wexford or Dublin haven't won any titles at those grades in that period.
However, Wexford won one senior All-Ireland, a level which has baffled Galway's best. They have watched their main rivals, with the exception of Limerick and Dublin, share the All-Ireland senior titles between them while all the time wondering why the underage and club glory can't be transferred to the main stage.
It has long been accepted that successful minor and/or U-21 teams bring no guarantee of success at senior level, but when a county is consistently strong in those grades – as has been the case with Galway for so long – then it's logical to probe why some group hasn't made it as All-Ireland senior winners.
All the more so when Galway's champions have been providing annual evidence of the strength of the club game in the county. Despite all that, Liam MacCarthy hasn't gone west since the Cyril Farrell-managed, Conor Hayes-captained team completed the All-Ireland double in 1988.
The title blank since then remains one of the real hurling puzzles. Galway made a major statement for the underdog in 1980 when winning the All-Ireland senior title for the first time in 57 years, a breakthrough which, no doubt, provided huge encouragement for neighbours Offaly, who launched their greatest ever period around the same time.
It took Clare until 1995 to end their dry run, followed by Wexford a year later. Now, Clare are back as All-Ireland champions, having gone through a bad spell. Galway, meanwhile, have been unable to escape from the misery.
Whether it has become a psychological problem for Galway is unprovable, but clearly there's something wrong when so much success on three levels hasn't fed into the main event.
Galway's underage and club teams play with a real swagger on the All-Ireland stage, whereas the seniors either shrink or expand in direct proportion to the mood at the time.
There's no middle ground which, ultimately, leaves them dangerously vulnerable since success in any sport requires a capacity to limit the damage when the tide is flowing the other way. Galway have been utterly incapable of doing that.
A final and perhaps related point on what the future holds for Galway. Joe Canning played at midfield on Monday, a policy which has worked well for Portumna. However, in recent seasons, he has spent an increasing amount of time drifting out from full-forward when playing for Galway.
Opposition love to see that since it takes the best goal-scorer of his generation away from the main danger area. Brian O'Driscoll sometimes played like a wing-forward for Ireland but his main work was done in traditional No 13 environs.
Canning's permanent home should be in old-fashioned No 14 territory, certainly when wearing maroon and white.
Cavan and Roscommon see their football stock continue to rise
These are optimistic times in Roscommon and Cavan, both of whom have clinched promotion to Division 2 of the Allianz Football League after winning their opening five games.
It leaves them in the happy position of being able to further experiment in the remaining two rounds, the next of which sees them clash on Saturday week.
Roscommon have averaged 2-15 per game in five outings and are already 20 points ahead of their total yield for seven league games last season.
They are also 4/9 favourites to win this year's Connacht U-21 title.
Cavan, who play Tyrone in the quarter-final tonight, are favourites to win the Ulster U-21 title for a fourth successive year.
At senior level, they have by far the best defensive record in the Allianz Football League, having conceded no goals and a low average of 0-9 per game.
And if all that wasn't encouraging enough for Cavan, they have the new GAA president-elect Aogán ó Fearghail waiting to take power next year.
Happy days in Breffni-land.
Carlow have made final the hard way
Carlow had to play up to now without the Mount Leinster Rangers contingent, who had All-Ireland ambitions on their minds.
It was quite a handicap for Carlow, but they came through successfully and will have their county champions' representatives back for the promotion push.
Kerry beat Carlow by five points last Sunday, but will face a much tougher challenge against full-strength opposition in the final.