No excuses for Galway in bid to end last eight hurt - Hayes
As Galway bid to improve on what is the worst All-Ireland hurling quarter-final record among the top 10 counties, one of their highest achievers is adamant that there can be no excuses if they lose to Cork on Sunday.
However, Conor Hayes, the last man to captain Galway to an All-Ireland win in 1988 and the last manager to lead them to a quarter-final win 10 years ago, is worried that unless the team shows a big improvement on the Leinster final performance against Kilkenny, their season will end yet again without getting as far as Croke Park in August.
"I was disappointed with the reaction after they scored the goals against Kilkenny.
"They didn't drive on the way you'd expect. Joe Canning's goal just before half-time was something special and when they got a second one just after the break, it should have really lifted them, but it didn't.
"That was frustrating. It seemed to me at times in the second half that some lads were thinking 'we can't win this, but if we stay close enough, sure there's always the quarter-finals to look forward to. Quarter-finals are very hard to win too.
"It seemed to me that the team didn't use the Leinster final as a real challenge to themselves to see where exactly they stood. That's the sort of situation that tells you a lot about yourself, not just on the day but for the future too," said Hayes.
All-Ireland quarter-finals have certainly proved difficult for Galway, who lost their last six, four of which were in Thurles, with two in Croke Park.
They have won only three of 14 quarter-finals, two against Tipperary (2000 and 2005) and one against Derry (2001).
It's by far the worst record among the top counties, where Cork lead the way with an 83pc success rate from nine games. And while Galway have beaten Cork in their last three championship clashes, the Rebels are marginal favourites to end that sequence on Sunday.
Hayes believes that if Galway get everything right with their game, they will win, but fears that anything less will leave them missing out on an All-Ireland semi-final place for the 12th time in 14 seasons.
It's a dismal run, broken only in 2005 when Hayes led Galway to a quarter-final win over Tipperary and in 2012 when current manager, Anthony Cunningham presided over a shock Leinster final win against Kilkenny.
Galway later reached the All-Ireland final, where they lost to Kilkenny in a replay. Hayes was frustrated by the reaction of some Galway people after the recent Leinster final defeat by Kilkenny.
"They seemed to think that it might be a good thing in some way. They have this notion that you won't beat Kilkenny twice in the same year and that the time to get them is when there's no way back.
"That's pure rubbish to me. The time to beat Kilkenny - or anyone else for that matter - is the day you're playing them. You might not get another chance for a while," he said.
Galway's failure to even reach the last four so often in the new millennium raises questions about their overall standing. "We've lost quarter-finals for a reason - we weren't good enough. Maybe the expectations are unrealistic. There's plenty talk about why so much underage success hasn't turned into senior success, but it doesn't always work that way.
"If you look back at the Galway minor teams of 2004 and 2005 that won All-Irelands and the one that lost the 2006 final, not very many of them are on the senior squad now.
"Joe Canning, Aidan Harte and James Skehill are about the only ones. So where was all the talent that was supposed to become great seniors?
"Winning minor titles might have given Galway a false impression. Its all about the senior team and when you're even getting into All-Ireland semi-finals, on a regular basis, you have to face the reality that you're not a top-four side," said Hayes.
The chance to return to the semi-finals this year comes against a Cork side that relaunched its All-Ireland ambitions impressively with wins over Wexford and Clare in the qualifiers.
Both were achieved without conceding a goal, but Hayes believes that there are weaknesses in the Cork full-back line that can be exploited.
"Galway will have to ask questions in there, but they can't leave it all to Canning. They didn't bring Cathal Mannion into the game nearly as often as they should against Kilkenny.
"They've got find a way to get good ball through to those two. At the other end, it's important for Galway to provide plenty of defensive cover and take the sting out of the Cork attack.
"If they let the likes of Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy run into spaces and onto loose ball, they are inviting trouble," said Hayes.
In addition to Galway's quarter-final woes at any venue, they have an especially poor record in Thurles, both in Championship and League.
"They shouldn't worry about that. Every game is different. I'd see Sunday's game as a chance to make a big statement, not just about this year, but also about the next few seasons.
"Galway have had as many games as everyone else so it's not like the old days when we were going in cold against opposition that had been through provincial campaigns. There can be no excuses," he said.