Sunday 25 September 2016

'We've finally adapted to the modern game'

Galway football has been slow to move with the times, admits Sice

Published 19/07/2016 | 02:30

Gary Sice is congratulated by Galway manager Kevin Walsh after being substituted in the closing stages of the Connacht SFC final replay Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Gary Sice is congratulated by Galway manager Kevin Walsh after being substituted in the closing stages of the Connacht SFC final replay Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Danny Cummins scored two goals for Galway in Sunday's Connacht final replay. For both shots he kept his head down and, consequently, the ball stayed low to skid along the turf, outside Darren O'Malley's reach.

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What's the significance of that, you might ask? Well for so long Cummins has been known to spurn more good goal chances than he takes.

His propensity for shaving a crossbar, lifting a shot slightly too high, has been well known in Galway football.

Elusiveness

His elusiveness, willingness and tidy feet get him into positions many other corner-forwards wouldn't find. But for Cummins, execution hasn't always been smooth.

It's the type of forensic work Kevin Walsh has engaged in. The mechanics of guiding a player to keep his body over the ball more when he is shooting with force, rather than leaning back into the shot as Cummins might have done before, was something Walsh looked to drill into the player.

A small adjustment perhaps but one that, with Sunday's victory in mind, has paid rich dividends. Thus, it's a victory for Walsh the coach even more than Walsh the manager.

Right throughout the field the adjustments to make Galway a football team fit for purpose to deal with today's game are evident, the nurturing of Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn's talent into a hard-edged midfield pairing important too.

Galway have fashioned a first Connacht title in eight years in some style, but it has most definitely been built on substance.

The defensive shape they managed to retain for much of Sunday's game reduced Roscommon to taking shots from long range, something Donie Shine and Senan Kilbride were happy to oblige with but which were never going to launch a successful rescue mission.

Roscommon needed penetration. And penetration is something Walsh has built Galway to resist.

In three Connacht Championships they coughed up just one goal, to Roscommon's Enda Smith, and even that came courtesy of an unfortunate rebound off a Galway hand that should have cleared the danger. After that, goal chances were few and far between.

The achievement is franked by the fact that Walsh has rebuilt his full-back line completely since last year.

Eoghan Kerin and David Wynne were debutants, Declan Kyne a virtual newcomer too when they stepped out on to MacHale Park for a Connacht semi-final last month.

Three games later and Kyne is the frontrunner for All-Star full-back after a series of commanding displays, featuring such great physical presence.

They've kept their shape impressively. Even the torrent of criticism about the quality of game and lack of ambition seven days earlier didn't prompt a knee-jerk reaction.

What they had they held. They just did things quicker at the other end of the field.

Transformation

The transformation hasn't been easy. After last year's Connacht quarter-final win over Leitrim, opposition manager Shane Ward accused Galway of being "very negative" after his side were awarded 29 frees.

"Galway football hadn't moved on to what football became over the past few years," said Gary Sice, scorer of Sunday's second goal and creator of the third.

"Galway football was still playing Galway football. We weren't adapting to what was going on around us. We hadn't worked hard enough and we weren't adapting to modern football.

"Now we've copped ourselves on a bit, we've adapted to the modern game. And we can bring our own flair to a system that is able to deal with modern football.

"Anything new is hard. Lads have bought into it and with Kevin it is easy to do it. He is very charismatic, very easy to listen to it and if he asks you to do something, you feel you have to do it for him."

Team captain Gary O'Donnell made no apologies for the building blocks Galway felt they had to put in place before delivering that first-half performance on Sunday.

"A lot of teams have gone that way and we probably decided that we were leaking a lot of scores.

"It's not that we're dropping bodies back like people think but it's being more organised and knowing our jobs and roles, and we use it as a platform as well to play football."

Walsh himself referenced the fact that they had beaten two Division 1 teams to win the title back, something Mayo didn't have to do in their five-years of supremacy out west.

It's been a decent Connacht Championship to win and they assume control with the promise that players like Damien Comer and Shane Walsh will find Croke Park, where the county hasn't won a football game since 2001, even more to their liking.

"The first 20 minutes some of the best football we have played in a long time. It has always been in us," said O'Donnell.

"We've been frustrated at times, it hasn't been coming out consistently over the years. We've been our harshest critics in the dressing-room regardless of what people say. We've been driving ourselves on, we've a very motivated bunch of fellas.

Irish Independent

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