Lane urges Galway to avoid qualifiers
IT'S crucial for Galway hurlers that they make real progress in the Leinster championship, rather than be forced into the early rounds of the All-Ireland qualifiers, according to one of the star names from the county's most successful era.
Noel Lane, All-Ireland winner in 1980, '87 and '88 and manager in 2001 and 2002, believes that it would be a terrible setback if they were to lose the Leinster semi-final to the Dubs.
"Obviously, you would expect Galway to beat Westmeath next Saturday, but then it's crucial that they beat Dublin. Going into the qualifiers so soon would be bad news for them, especially with the likes of Cork and Offaly in there. Dublin are good, but they're beatable if Galway play as they can," he said.
Like the rest of Galway supporters, Lane is baffled by their ever-lengthening wait for an All-Ireland title.
They reached the All-Ireland final under him, in 2001, and again in 2005 under Conor Hayes, but since then, haven't got past the quarter-finals.
"It's difficult to know why. Galway can beat anybody on a given day, but lack consistency," he said. "It's easy to blame team managers, but players have to stand up. Then again, they have had to deal with a lot of changes over the years. Continuity is important, not just with managers, but with back-up (staff), too, so that players get to know who they are dealing with."
Lane is concerned that Galway find it so difficult to settle all the key slots along the spine of the team and is worried that injuries could hamper them as they attempt to win the All-Ireland title for the first time since 1988.
"We need lads like Joe Canning and Damien Hayes flying at 100pc. We also need to be more settled around midfield. But overall there's a strong panel in place, although I'm surprised to see that young Joe Cooney didn't make the cut. He's the sort of player you'd be looking to for the future," said Lane.
Despite Dublin's surge this year, Lane believes that if Galway get their game right, they will at least make it to the Leinster final.
"After that, who knows? Galway have plenty of good hurlers, but if they are to make the breakthrough, they must stand up strong mentally when the pressure is on," he said.
He rates Tipp as the team to beat this year, with Kilkenny ready to relaunch themselves. "After what happened in last year's All-Ireland final and in this year's league final, Kilkenny will be a very driven force, but Tipp are looking very good right now. Their only downside is that they can get careless during games," he said.
He was also impressed by Cork last Sunday and predicts that they will make a big impact, via the qualifiers.