Wednesday 18 October 2017

Martin Breheny: Do Galway still feel like cuckoos in the Leinster nest?

Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan
Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Galway never expected it to be as barren as this when they joined the Leinster Championship in 2009.

They believed that it would remove a recurring obstacle to their All-Ireland ambitions, enabling them to end the long wait for Liam MacCarthy's return.

They didn't cross the Shannon to boost an ailing eastern campaign but rather to gain that little extra which might provide the missing link. There were pockets of opposition to the move in Galway, where it was claimed that playing in Leinster would not increase All-Ireland prospects.

The doubting ones have been proven correct to the extent that, eight years later, the All-Ireland wait has reached 29 years.

Nor have Galway done as well as anticipated in Leinster. Even allowing for Kilkenny's enduring strength, one title success (2012) in eight seasons is a poor return for the Tribesmen. One win in ten games (seven Leinster and three All-Ireland finals) against Kilkenny further underlines how imbalanced that rivalry has been.

And while Galway won their last two championship clashes with Dublin in 2015 and this year, they are still running at only 50 per cent success against opposition they would have expected to dominate when they joined Leinster.

It leaves Galway with only three wins from 12 games against Kilkenny and Dublin since 2009, a disappointing return, which was not in the script penned by the 'move east' lobby.

Indeed, if Galway had any inkling that their trans-Shannon sojourn was about to yield so little success, it would have been a near-impossible sell in a county which had bad memories of the ill-fated decade in Munster (1959-'69) when they won only one game.

Still, times had changed and those who favoured the switch east argued that not being involved in a provincial championship was a serious handicap for Galway who, in previous years, went into the All-Ireland qualifiers with teams that had at least one battle-hardening game in Munster or Leinster.

Conor Hayes, who managed Galway in 2003-2006, was a strong advocate of joining Leinster, arguing that there was nothing to lose and plenty to gain from it.

Playing in Leinster put Galway on an equal footing with the rest of the main contenders who had always enjoyed provincial competition but, so far at least, has not led to the ultimate success.

Galway would also have expected the Bob O'Keeffe Cup to have wintered with them more than once. That's one of the reasons why Sunday's Leinster final is so important to them.

They have lost three finals to Kilkenny and one to Dublin since 2010 and if that were followed by a loss to Wexford, it would raise questions as to whether winning the title means more to the native Leinster counties than to Galway.

With the exception of 2012 when Galway blitzed Kilkenny in the first half-hour, their Leinster final performances have been generally poor. Kilkenny beat them by an average of seven points in three finals, while Dublin romped to a 12-point win in 2013.

Wexford will have noticed that and while they are far less experienced than Galway, Davy Fitzgerald will be tapping into the emotional side of the brand new experience for his squad.

Wexford have generated a powerful momentum right from their opening game in the Walsh Cup last January and with their supporters set to travel to Croke Park in massive numbers on Sunday, Fitzgerald will be expecting them to provide an added lift for the attempt to win the Leinster title for the first time 2004.

He will try to turn the occasion into a cauldron of passion and fury, no doubt harnessing the fact that Wexford are authentic Leinster, whereas Galway are opportunists on an eastern adventure.

Wexford already enjoy a psychological advantage over Galway, having recovered from a seven-point deficit to win by two in a 1B Allianz League clash in Pearse Stadium last February.

It didn't look especially important at the time as Wexford were still in the very early stages of the Fitzgerald regime but he will, no doubt, be emphasising how a defiant response under pressure yielded a rich dividend.

He will also remind his squad of Galway's lack of success in Leinster and try to impress on them that there's a reason for it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Wexford have played Galway only once in the Leinster Championship, losing by 2-22 to 1-14 in Nowlan Park 2010.

Of the currents crops, Colm Callanan, David Burke, Aidan Harte and Joe Canning are still aboard the Galway team, while David Redmond and Paul Morris came on as subs for Wexford seven years ago.

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