Mulholland banking on Galway to get back on right track
Published 30/01/2013 | 05:00
Prior to Galway's last league game against Kildare in Pearse Stadium last April, it was suggested to their manager Alan Mulholland that failure to win and consequently gain promotion wouldn't be a huge setback, considering where the Tribesmen were in their cycle of development.
Mulholland couldn't have disagreed more – his demeanour in the immediate aftermath of Kildare's last-gasp draw, which pushed them up instead of Galway, backing up that conviction.
Almost 10 months on and the same question is pitched to Mulholland, resulting in the same answer.
With Division 1 resembling a shark-infested pool and Galway in probably a more fragile state than they were after six rounds of Division 2, does he still think it would have been a good idea to be keeping such illustrious company over the next few months?
The benefit of hindsight doesn't coax him down a different road.
"Absolutely. The only way you are going to learn fast is to be up there with those teams. If that means being beaten by them, well I'd take that now still. It's the best place to develop," he said.
It was a challenging first year in charge for the man who had delivered All-Ireland minor and U-21 titles in the previous five years, and the perception that they are punching well below their weight is difficult to dilute. Losing to Antrim and extending the absence of a championship win over a team from outside Connacht to nine years (they last beat Louth in a 2004 qualifier in Drogheda) was, Mulholland agrees, a sobering experience.
"It was. But I'm not taking anything from Antrim. To go up to Belfast and to beat them was going to be difficult," said Mulholland.
"I think on the same weekend, Kerry were fortunate to get out of Mullingar. The thing we need to do is to get through those games, those tough encounters where you might not be at your best and the opposition is really putting it up to you. You need to be able to come through those games.
"If you look at Galway's games over the last few years, we have never lost by a significant margin. It has always been a couple of points here or there."
Mulholland suspects confidence eroded after the defeat to Sligo, an "eye-opener", as they collapsed in the second half. The disappointment of that was compounded by the way they felt leaving Hyde Park three weeks earlier.
"At the start of the year, I wouldn't have been bullish. But after the Roscommon game in the championship, we were very optimistic about where we were at," he said.
"The second half against Sligo was an eye-opener. I think our confidence drained a little bit after that. We needed to just get over Antrim. If we had got over Antrim we might have got confidence back again."
More recently, a harrowing loss to a depleted Sligo in the FBD League (0-9 to 1-4) has further weakened the faith of the Galway public in this team.
With Padraic Joyce and Joe Bergin retiring, a considerable bank of experience has been removed and Mulholland is effectively rebuilding a new team again.
"We need to be patient. Effectively, we may be in the process of taking two steps back and one forward. I preached about patience when I came in and people probably didn't believe me.
"I'm not talking about 10 years or anything like that. But it is going to be a long process," he warned.
Joyce was retained in an impact capacity for most of 2012, a role he played well, while Michael Meehan was also used sparingly as he recovered from his career-threatening ankle injury that still has to be managed with care.
Yet the level of responsibility seems to be drifting back on to him again, despite the prohibitive injury he has.
Mulholland is guarded about setting goals, but his desire for promotion is as strong as it was 12 months ago.
"I'd like to get up (to Division 1), but I'm thinking of 'Banty' (Seamus McEnaney) last year in Meath and I'm sure that their goal was to get up up to Division 1," he said.
"They came down to play us in the fourth game. We were both level pegging at that stage.
"We won the game narrowly, they ended up going down and we ended up having a crack at going up. That's the way the league goes, you can't say our goal this or it's that.
"Hopefully, we will get promoted but we have to be very careful as well. Every game is 'do or die'.
"I found that last year even though it was Division 2, people question whether you are focusing on the league or not. Every manager is focused on the league.
"The way the GAA is set up you only get a certain number of games in a year. You spend all this time training. For what? To win games of course. Winning is a habit."
Locally, there is pessimism that maybe the success in the minor success in 2007 and the 2010 All-Ireland U-21 championship has been a little misleading, distorting the underlying dearth of real talent.
Few of the 2007 minor team have made an impact at senior level, apart from full-forward Paul Conroy. But far away hills are greener and bookmakers have Galway at 9/4 to top Division 2. And with his own family bookmaking firm in the west, Mulholland is well aware that bookies don't often get it wrong.