Friday 24 March 2017

Galway have to face the reality that they are not good enough

Waterford exposed serious deficiencies in Tribesmen's game plan, says Jamesie O'Connor

Jamesie O'Connor

I should probably start this week by apologising to the Waterford supporters I met on the way in to Semple Stadium last Sunday. Once again they travelled in droves to support their side and, given what happened in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, shows the unwavering loyalty they've shown this team for most of the last decade.

Despite reminding me that in nine previous championship encounters, Galway had never beaten them, and that history was on their side, I simply couldn't see anything other than a Waterford defeat, and said as much last week. That was in the context of their atrocious Munster final performance and watching a vastly improved Galway drub Clare and Cork on successive weekends. I was also working on the assumption that Galway were coming to wage war after the heartbreak the Déise had inflicted on them at the same stage two years ago.

Given they had suffered their own humiliation at the hands of Dublin some weeks back, it was reasonable to believe the Galway players would know and understand where Waterford were coming from, and be braced and ready to meet the expected backlash head on. I couldn't see them lacking motivation to get the job done.

Consequently, that they exited as meekly as they did, effectively capitulating in the second half when Waterford upped the tempo, is almost inexplicable, and hints at something radically lacking in this Galway side. Most worryingly, with their season on the line, there was no urgency evident in their play and a complete lack of leadership on the field when the game was still there to be won in the second half.

In contrast, Waterford had players standing up to be counted all over the field. Shane O'Sullivan and the outstanding Kevin Moran completely took over at midfield, and with Brick Walsh and Tony Browne on top in a dominant Waterford half-back line, it was one-way traffic in the crucial 20-minute period after half-time. That they only outscored Galway by nine points to one in that spell was purely down to some wayward shooting. Had they converted all the opportunities they created, it would have been a rout. Either way, the game was over with a quarter of an hour to go.

While the lack of any real passion and heart in the Galway performance is one thing, the lack of any discernable game plan is another. Given the shelling the Waterford full-back line took from Tipperary, surely they should have played their biggest gun, Joe Canning, as close as possible to the Waterford goal and peppered him with ball. However, Canning spent much of the game on the wing, and instead of the direct approach that yielded such dividends for Tipperary, Galway rarely got the ball directly into the danger area.

In addition, there were plenty of aimless balls hit into the corners and slow build-up play from the back that meant the Galway inside forwards never got the early ball required to put Liam Lawlor and co under any real pressure.

One passage of play, two minutes into the second half, summed up the confused nature of Galway's play. Coming out of defence with ample time and space to pick out a forward in a good position, or better still drive the ball 70 yards into Canning on the edge of the square, David Collins opted to play a lateral handpass to Donal Barry ten yards away. Clearly not expecting the pass, which even had it gone to hand would still have been the wrong option, Barry, with his direct opponent Pauric Mahony in close proximity, was immediately under pressure to get the ball away. Because the

pass was over his head, the second it took to bring it under control meant Paudie Mahony was on top of the Galway man and it ultimately resulted in the ball being spilled and turned over. While Barry was the one incurring the wrath of the Galway supporters, as Mahony drove the subsequent free over the bar, the fault lay with Collins, or by extension management, if the players were getting mixed messages about the style of play they wanted.

Where Galway go from here is a mystery. After three years in charge, John McIntyre doesn't appear to have made any significant progress and the likelihood is that Galway will be under new management come the end of the year. However, a new manager will face the same realities. Blown out by both Dublin and Waterford -- the westerners simply don't have a team good enough, or with the strength of character required to compete at the highest level.

It's now 23 years since Galway last tasted senior championship success. At the level Tipperary and Kilkenny are currently operating, that drought will be extended for a little while longer.

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