Galway draw hope as Dubs bring style back into fashion
Galway meandered between disaster and renaissance last year. They came as close to losing to Waterford as they did to beating Cork and this summed up an eventful summer, starting with a near-record defeat to Mayo and ending in Croke Park.
So far this year has seen more predictable unpredictability. Three games into the league they were staring relegation to Division 3 in the face with no points and an average concession of almost 2-16 per game. The low point was a 15-point hammering by Laois.
There was no 'clear the air' meeting that week. That card had been played in the wake of the Mayo game last summer and it was too soon to go there again. Instead, there was, as manager Alan Mulholland puts it, an unspoken "realisation that we have got to do things differently here, and we began to.
"Look, we can't hide from the Laois game, it was shocking," he said. "A couple of things went against us in the first half and the second half was just a poor performance.
"The only place you can look after something like that is in the mirror and everybody seemed to do that. In hindsight, it was possibly a good thing that it happened so early, it was a shock to the system.
"I think we were floating on a little bit of air since Croke Park last year and thinking that we had achieved something and that we were at a level we probably aren't at yet. It was a good wake-up call – we finished up the league last year losing to Armagh up there by six or seven points. This year, I think, we're in a better place having played our last four games with good performances."
Mulholland has been shooting straight since he took the Galway job. He came in with the Tribesmen at a low ebb, having lost two respected managers in Joe Kernan and Tomas O Flatharta in as many years.
Galway is synonymous with style, but as the preparation levels ratcheted up and new tactics were used, they were left behind. Dublin have led a return to more traditional values. Mulholland agrees that should suit Galway, but pedigree alone won't guarantee competitiveness.
"We have to be able to adapt. We look at Kerry as maybe a little bit of a template, in that they like expansive football, but they're trying to adapt as well, and that's what we're trying to do.
"Never mind within years or within fads, within games you have to be able to adapt to an attacking or defensive style and that's what we're trying to do. I think it's simplistic to say that it doesn't suit the Galway footballer. When you look at Dublin's play at the moment, that should be right up our alley. If you're good enough, you'll win games no matter what system you come up with."
After their disastrous start to the year, solace came from the unlikeliest source – the Railway Cup.
A Connacht side peppered with Galway players bridged a 42-year gap when beating Ulster in Tuam. The players like it there and when Galway stopped the rot by beating Down at the venue, they quickly switched the Armagh game from Salthill.
And, as their summer changed last year, so too did their league form this season. By the final round, they had built up such a head of steam that they came within a whisker of ending Monaghan's unbeaten record at home, which now stretches to 14 games across league and championship.
"I suppose what started off the Tuam thing this year was Connacht winning the Railway Cup there. We had a good representation on the team and the lads had a feel-good factor for the game," said Mulholland.
"The Down match had always been scheduled for there and the players came to me and asked was there any chance of getting the Armagh game there as well. So, we brought it down there and it obviously worked.
"We had four good performances to finish up with – Down, Louth, Armagh and we were unlucky not to beat Monaghan above in Clones on the last day. We felt that would have been a good scalp to get, since they had not been beaten there in a few years.
"So, overall. I would give us maybe a C in the league this year, maybe even a D-plus, but I am happy the way that the results fell for us. We started off poorly, but finished off fairly strong and we are trying to build on that."
Tomorrow they head for Ruislip, the home of London and now a "legitimate force" in Connacht.
"We're not too used to playing there and they're at their strongest there.
"Not only are you looking at the performances against Sligo, Leitrim and the Connacht final and up in Cavan and Croke Park, you have to factor in that these guys are stronger again in Ruislip," said Mulholland.
Galway seem to be going the right way again. But as the last 18 months have shown, it's anyone's guess what this summer holds for them.