Cyril Farrell: Several Tribesmen are in last-chance saloon so expect them to come out with guns blazing
Published 23/07/2016 | 02:30
There's a lot more than an All-Ireland quarter-final at stake for Galway hurlers tomorrow. In quite a few cases, careers are on the line.
That might sound a bit exaggerated but it's not, because it can't be. Micheál Donoghue was appointed manager a few days before Christmas last year so he had very little time before putting a panel together for the start of the new season.
It was understandable that he would retain most of last year's squad, firstly because in All-Ireland terms they were the second best in the country and also because the 2016 campaigns were rapidly approaching.
Once a season starts, the pace gathers very quickly, offering little time to assess anything in great detail. In Donoghue's case, there was the added pressure of taking over the All-Ireland runners-up, who had just revolted against the manager.
After all, the only way Galway can be deemed to have improved this year is if they win the All-Ireland title. It's much the same for Tipperary, who are also under new management, albeit in more harmonious circumstances than Galway, where the change was forced by the players.
Michael Ryan or Tipp fans don't know how the season will end but, as of now, it's on track and looking very promising.
It has been different for Galway. Relegation to 1B was not in itself all that serious - although you would expect All-Ireland runners-up to avoid the drop - but if it's followed by championship elimination at the quarter-final stage, the year will have been a failure.
Obviously Donoghue will continue but in changed circumstances.
The panel he inherited - and in which he showed great faith - won't have delivered so culling time is inevitable.
Why go back with a group that won only one game (v Cork in Round 1 of the League) against top opposition? It wouldn't make sense, so several of the players on tomorrow's 26 would be cut adrift and replaced by youngsters who haven't yet got their chance.
Most of the players who are in danger of having their careers ended know who they are. As for those who may feel a bit more secure, they should not be too cocky either since there's always a big name or two included in any purge. Fear of what the future holds won't necessarily drive Galway to great heights tomorrow but it's still a mighty incentive to produce a really good performance.
The one thing we all know about this Galway squad is that when they play as they can, they are good as anyone else, with the exception of Kilkenny. And the gap isn't very wide there either, certainly not wide enough that it can't be closed on any given day.
Clare are approaching tomorrow's game from a different angle. They have won an All-Ireland title and while it might have been three years ago, it's still money in the bank.
It brings a different sort of pressure but also comes with the comfort of knowing that they are good enough to win the big prize.
Clare start as slight favourites, probably on the basis that they are coming off two qualifier wins, whereas Galway lost their last game. That's not the most scientific of assessments since Clare beat Laois and Limerick, two games they would have been expected to win, while Galway lost to Kilkenny.
Yes, it was another disappointment for Galway but would anybody else have beaten Kilkenny in the Leinster final? Losing to Cody's boys doesn't make a team bad all of a sudden.
Presumably, Galway have binned the negatives from that defeat while retaining the important lessons.
They must make a few adjustments in my view. For a start, they need more pace in the middle third. It wasn't there in the Leinster final, making life much easier for Kilkenny than it should have been.
Also, Galway got very little primary possession in the half-forward line - in other words lads were not winning their individual battles. You can have all the tactics and science you want but if a player can't win ball on his own, he is of no real value. Another area of concern for Galway came when they pulled their wing-forwards back.
Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley held their positions and must have been surprised how much loose ball was hit in their direction from the Galway defence.
Contrast that with Tipp's deliveries against Waterford in the Munster final. They were accurate and angled, giving the likes of Seamus Callanan plenty to work off.
When allowed, Clare are very good at using the spare man in defence, packing the middle third with high-energy runners and setting an agenda that the opposition have to counteract.
If Galway get dragged into that type of battle, they will be in trouble.
Instead, they need to get their own game working, starting with individuals in their individual contests, and extending across the various lines.
I actually believe they will do that. They will see this as an opportunity to save a season where they put themselves under enormous pressure by forcing out Anthony Cunningham.
They know that they have the forward capacity to accumulate big scores - as they did against Cork and Tipperary last year - and while Clare's set-up makes that harder to achieve, it's can be done. After all, Waterford took Clare for 1-21 in the Munster championship.
Clare will attempt to raise the intensity levels through the Semple Stadium roof but Galway have the physique to deal with that.
They also need their big players to stand up and take charge. If that happens I fancy Galway to book another semi-final date with Tipp.
Finally, we all look forward to seeing Davy Fitz on the sideline. Knowing the man and the passion he has for hurling and for Clare, he'll want to be running the show as usual.
The great occasion will be all the better for that.