Monday 29 May 2017

Galway's pressure point

Loss of Fitzgerald and Coleman fuelling rumours of discontent under O Flatharta

Galway football manager Tomas O Flatharta will now have to plan without Niall Coleman and Kieran Fitzgerald who've both left the panel.
Galway football manager Tomas O Flatharta will now have to plan without Niall Coleman and Kieran Fitzgerald who've both left the panel.
Niall Coleman
Kieran Fitzgerald
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Tomas O Flatharta is disappointed by the rather abrupt departure of two of his most experienced players over the weekend. That's no surprise.

O Flatharta has declared an open door for one of his trio of captains, Kieran Fitzgerald, and one of the safer pair of hands in Galway's troubled midfield division, Niall Coleman. That's no surprise either. A manager would rarely cut ties openly with a player anyway.

Nor it is a surprise that Fitzgerald is putting forward injury as the key determining factor in his decision to call time on an 11-year career. Nor that Coleman has chosen to immerse himself more in his work in the construction industry at the expense of his football.

Wobble

This was the public face yesterday of Galway football's latest wobble, a mopping-up operation made to look like a coincidence that two players of similar standing should arrive at the same conclusion, on the same weekend, that Galway football is no longer for them.

It is entirely plausible that it could happen that way. But coming so soon after the opening-round defeat by a severely depleted Monaghan it arouses more than a whiff of suspicion that Galway is not exactly the most pleasant environment right now. The signposts are not pointing a clear direction ahead.

That Fitzgerald was one of the three captains chosen by O Flatharta at the outset of the season only further embellishes that suspicion.

Fitzgerald, it must be said, has never been a bedfellow to controversy during his years with Galway. On the contrary he has been a diligent servant, always willing to put the jersey and the team first. A decision to remove himself from the squad, especially as one of the captains, could not have been taken lightly.

But why accept a captaincy role in the first place if there is a doubt about fitness? Two weeks ago at the launch of the Allianz National League there was no mention of frustration with injury hovering over him.

He has been troubled with a tendon injury for some time now and is known to have to resort to painkillers after games and sometimes in training to ease the inflammation.

He had been carrying an injury in the build-up to the opening game last week and was understood to have been quite surprised by the decision to start him at right corner-back in those circumstances. By the time he was hauled off the damage had been done and his opponent, Conor McManus, had run him ragged.

Fitzgerald still made three of the four training sessions slated for last week but for the weekend session, an internal practice match, he signalled his intention to go. Coleman made a second-half appearance against Monaghan in attack, not his favoured or best position, and when he balanced things up last week, it was quite clear he didn't see himself fitting into the overall picture any more.

But how much is their departure a sign of a deeper undercurrent of dissatisfaction within the Galway squad? One of the departed players has hinted at an absence of enjoyment at training under the current regime. For him the fun had gone out of it by comparison to the approach and methodology of Joe Kernan and his staff last year.

Others feel a communication vacuum has developed in a short space of time that needs to be bridged.

The former All-Ireland-winning captain Ray Silke did an interview yesterday with Raidio na Gaeltachta which the Irish language station flagged heavily, quoting suggestions from Silke that more players would follow. On RTE radio last night, however, Silke's prognosis was more reserved. The "would" had been replaced by "could" follow.

For Silke the problems are bigger than just a distant and dictatorial management style.

"Things are not good at the moment in Galway," he said. "It's a very legitimate question to ask how have we gone from All-Ireland champions 10 years ago to a situation where players are not able to commit as much time-wise as they would like. How has it gone so wrong in the last few years? How do we get back to being one of the top teams in Connacht, never mind the country?"

The choice of three captains for 2011 was left-field to say the least but shouldn't necessarily be a major issue or a stick to beat the management with, different and unusual as it is.

But if three captains were being chosen would it have made sense to have included one from the current county champions, Killererin? Clearly they hadn't Padraic or Nicky Joyce in mind for front-line leadership roles.

Significantly Nicky Joyce has repelled invitations to the return to the squad and looks like he won't be back, while Padraic has not yet resumed full training. Damian Burke is another who has yet to surface and may not now.

In any event, there is only one captain right now. Michael Meehan's sojourn to Australia, on top of his long-term ankle injury, means his immediate future with the team is in doubt so Finian Hanley is keeper of the armband.

Without a fully fit Meehan there will be little conviction that Galway can avoid relegation over the next two months. And that points to the more fundamental issues surrounding Galway football. They don't have the playing resources.

Downward

This latest wobble is only one of a number the county has been suffering in recent years. Their graph has been moving progressively downwards with no obvious solution to their midfield ailments and no defence formation that there can be real confidence in.

These are problems that O Flatharta inherited last October when he was appointed as successor to Kernan. The portents on that night in question weren't exactly good for the Kerry man, especially when the father of his marquee attacker, Michael Meehan senior, registered opposition to his appointment and drew reference to the style of defensive football he engineered for a year in Westmeath.

That said it was always going to be a difficult task to revive a flagging giant of the game. And in the coming weeks it doesn't look like it will get much easier.

Galway are away to Down this weekend and then have Mayo at home. Beyond that it's Kerry, Cork and Dublin, precious few opportunities to catch a break.

Already the pressure is on.

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