Sport Gaelic Football

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Alan Mulholland

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If, on the evening of March 21, 2010, the Mulholland bookmaking empire were asked to quote against Galway footballers going almost two years without a home win, what odds would they have offered? 100/1?

There would have been no takers, as Galway had celebrated spring equinox day with a 1-15 to 0-14 Division 1 win over Tyrone at Tuam Stadium and seemed well-tuned for an enterprising season.

Incredibly, almost 23 months later, Galway will be looking for their next home win when they play Louth at Pearse Stadium tomorrow. It's a truly dismal record, shared only by Kilkenny.

It's against that background that Alan Mulholland became Galway's fourth manager in four seasons.

After one-year stints by Joe Kernan and Tomas O Flatharta, Galway decided to shop local, settling for a man with an excellent pedigree as an underage manager.

Having steered Galway minors and U-21s to All-Ireland success in 2007 and 2011 respectively, Mulholland was the obvious choice for promotion to the senior ranks. His reign started most impressively last Sunday when a new-look side beat Derry at Celtic Park, a miserly venue for visiting teams.

For a county which won only one competitive game in 2011 (v Armagh in the league), the success in Derry came as a huge relief, accompanied by hope that the dark clouds may be finally lifting. It's very early days, of course, but there's a feeling in Galway that they have enough developing talent to make a sizeable move forward quite quickly.

Mulholland will be central to that, bringing his own personality to bear on a county that's in urgent need of a confidence boost. The U-21 success last year, achieved with a large sprinkling of traditional Galway creativity, was in total contrast to the anaemic efforts of the seniors, who were relegated from Division 1 and produced an embarrassingly poor second-half showing against Mayo in the Connacht semi-final before losing to Meath in the qualifiers.

As an entity, that team had no future, which is why Mulholland is now filtering through the young talent and giving them their opportunity.

"He has the advantage that he knows the young lads inside out. They were with him as minors and U-21s. There's no getting-to-know-you period which is a help," said John Tobin, former Galway and Roscommon boss.

Tobin knows the new man extremely well, having managed a Galway minor team to an All-Ireland win in 1986 with Mulholland at centre-back.

"He was a right good one," said Tobin. "Always prepared to play outside his comfort zone. He looked like a young Kevin Moran."


Unfortunately for Mulholland, his emergence coincided with the start of a grim period for Galway, who went from 1987 to 1995 without winning a Connacht title.

He spent a few of those years in the US, but was back for the '95 campaign. It was a false dawn, however, as Mayo won the '96 and '97 Connacht championships. Mulholland came on as a sub against Mayo in the '97 Connacht championship, but was off the scene by the time the great new adventure began under John O'Mahony a year later.

Galway's All-Ireland successes of '98 and 2001 have left a legacy of optimism among supporters, who continue to hope that another quick turnaround could be imminent.

It's a pressure which Mulholland will ignore because circumstances are much different than in '98 when Galway had deeper talent reserves.

"I'd be concerned that people will expect too much too soon. Alan and the squad have to be given time to develop. but he's very much the right man at the right time for Galway football. He'll have a great rapport with the players. He's a good communicator," said Tobin.

"Also, he'll listen to advice and then go and do his own thing. Insecure people take no advice because they think it's a sign of weakness when, in fact, the reverse is true.

"Alan believes in himself but in a very rounded way and that will rub off on the players, especially those who have come up through the ranks with him. They know they can trust him."

There is, of course, a huge difference between managing at underage and senior level, especially in the modern era when preparation techniques have become so sophisticated. That's why Tobin believes it's vital for the Galway public to give Mulholland time to adjust to the new and demanding challenges.

"What's important for Galway is that sustainable progress is made. I'd expect that to happen under Mulholland. He's very methodical in everything he does; he knows Galway football inside out and he has clear ideas on how he wants to build the team. What's more, he'll make the hard decisions when he has to," added Tobin.

Mulholland has talked about the need to restore stability to the Galway scene, which, after the turmoil of recent seasons, is a laudable objective.

Inevitably, though, supporters' hopes always run ahead of reality. The truth is that Galway have won only one of the last six provincial senior titles and haven't won any championship game against a non-Connacht county since beating Louth in the 2004 qualifiers.

It's a shocking return for such a traditionally strong county, so it's understandable that Mulholland talks of the need for stability before anything else can be achieved.

He made a good start last Sunday and will reach another milestone if Galway beat Louth tomorrow, as it will remind the supporters of what it's like to see a home win.

A small prize but, after nearly two years without one, it would be a start.

Irish Independent

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