Thursday 29 September 2016

Martin Breheny: Galway hurling myth exposed

Harsh reality for Tribesmen is that they are just not good enough

Published 06/07/2016 | 02:30

Galway players show their disappointment as the Bob O’Keeffe Cup is presented to Kilkenny after the Leinster Hurling final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Galway players show their disappointment as the Bob O’Keeffe Cup is presented to Kilkenny after the Leinster Hurling final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

For a very long time a myth has existed about Galway hurling. Bizarrely, it holds that whatever else may be preventing them from winning an All-Ireland senior title, it's not a lack of talent.

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Occasional super-charged performances, often delivered when least expected, enhance the perception that Galway are an exceptional team, held back by some mischievous little gremlin that continues to foul up the works.

Now if only it could be zapped, Galway's woes would be over.

Sure what else could it be? Haven't Galway been a powerful underage force for decades so surely the failure at senior level has nothing to do with a talent shortage? Really?

Myth

It's an argument that thrives year after year. It's also a myth, exposed by the most reliable indicator of all - cold hard facts. Galway managers have come and gone, some leaving of their own volition, others removed for no obvious reason and one banished by a player revolt.

And yet the pattern has remained the same: mediocre years, dotted with seasons where Galway reached All-Ireland finals but didn't win. The disappointing times have been many. Galway didn't reach a single All-Ireland semi-final for six successive seasons (2006-11), having failed too in '02, '03 and '04 and again in 2013 and 2014 before making a show last year. That's 11 of the past 14 seasons when results state categorically they were not even top-four standard. Yet, they were always mentioned pre-championship as potential All-Ireland winners, under the catch-all: 'Sure you never know with Galway.' Actually, results show that more often that not, you do.

The assessment of them as enigmatic types, capable of doing anything if the mood takes them, arises from occasional displays of excellence, as in the 2005 and 2015 All-Ireland semi-finals and the 2012 Leinster final.

They did well in the drawn 2012 All-Ireland final too, but could have done better, having put themselves in a position to beat Kilkenny.

Other than those few enough days, when did Galway do anything really special in the championship?

They have even dropped off in the league, winning the title just once in the last 12 campaigns, while reaching only one other final. This season, they were relegated to 1B.

Put it all together and the obvious conclusion is that Galway's failure to win All-Irelands has more to do with talent deficiencies than attitude, management or tactics, although obviously the players have a more self-regarding view of it.

The latest failure to Kilkenny has, inevitably, brought the focus back to the squad's revolt against Anthony Cunningham last autumn.

In that regard, the players deserve whatever criticism they get. Dumping the blame on Cunningham was weak and unfair. It might have looked like the work of men on a mission but this year's results prove otherwise, with only one win from seven games against Division 1 opposition.

Their inability to react to Kilkenny's power surge last Sunday has drawn heavy criticism on the basis that they knew it was coming, yet didn't stand up.

Actually, that's incorrect. Yes, they anticipated it; yes they were determined to withstand it but guess what? Yet again, they weren't good enough. It's as simple as that.

Unfair

New manager Micheál Donoghue obviously thought otherwise, remaining essentially loyal to the 2015 squad. Last Sunday, he used 14 of the 18 who played against Kilkenny last September. It probably would have been 16 of 18 if Jonathan Glynn (in New York) and Greg Lally (injured) were available.

His use of the bench was rooted in the past too, despatching Fergal Moore (34 tomorrow), Andy Smith (33 on Friday) and Cyril Donnellan (30) into the action.

It wasn't exactly a vote of confidence in the younger set. He should have undertaken a ruthless cull when he took over because several of the panel he inherited had failed before so why should it be any different under him?

Galway are fifth favourites of the eight remaining contenders for the All-Ireland and, based on last year, will believe that they can still make a significant impact.

They may make some progress but they won't win the All-Ireland because they are not good enough. In which case, a new generation should be given its chance, starting with several changes for the quarter-final.

Irish Independent

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