Friday 13 December 2019


Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WAKE up, Galway, you're not at the races. Oh, you are? Isn't Ballybrit the fun capital of Ireland this week, while Galway city enjoys being the carnival metropolis of Europe? Hell, it might even challenge Las Vegas as the craziest place on earth.

Still, there's something else going on. Race Week may electrify Galway's social and tourist life, but it's a transient thing, a meteorite madness which flashes by in late July.

Galway people enjoy the excitement, but it no more identifies them in sporting terms than the Ryder Cup defines Europe. Galway is, essentially, a GAA county, and a very large one at that.

Right now, it's also an unsuccessful one, certainly at senior level, which is the only measurement that really counts. Ten years ago, the footballers won the All-Ireland title, while the hurlers lost the final narrowly to Tipperary.

Since then, the footballers haven't got past the All-Ireland quarter-finals; they have won only one of the last six Connacht titles; they have beaten only one non-Connacht team in the championship (Louth in 2004); they haven't won a qualifier game for seven years; and they have been relegated to Division 2.

As for the hurlers, they illuminated Croke Park when beating Kilkenny in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final, only to subsequently disappear into a dark hole.

Remove the froth which has masked Galway's reality since that win over Kilkenny and their championship record comes down to this: they have reached no All-Ireland semi-final in six seasons and have won just six of 19 games against what would be regarded as top-10 opposition.

The six were against Cork (2), Clare (2), Wexford (1) and Offaly (1) at a time when none of that quartet were anywhere near the peaks of previous eras. As for Galway v Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary, it reads: Played 8, Lost 8. Dublin jostled them further down hurling's chain of command this summer.

Galway are further spooked by the fact that the footballers and hurlers have between them lost 15 major games by a single point since 2002. How could any county be on the wrong side of so many marginal results? Is there a psychological trip-switch that malfunctions under pressure?

As for the theory that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, it has been more a case of the brightest hour being just before nightfall for Galway since the giddy days of 2001.

There are many counties who endure the annual ritual of working hard without ever coming close to the big prizes, but that should not be the scenario with such a large county as Galway. With size and resources comes responsibility, not just to the county itself, but also to the wider GAA.

Too many people in authority in Galway hide behind underage success, claiming that the basic structures are solid and that the problem only arises at senior level. That's certainly not the case in football where underage achievements have come about more by accident than design.

It goes back to the 1998 All-Ireland breakthrough, where the queues to jump aboard the bandwagon claiming credit were longer than at an Eyre Square taxi rank this week.

The truth of that success was that Galway had a solid base of experienced players who were joined by a crop of exceptional young talent which included the Joyces, the Meehans, Donnellan, Savage, Divilly and Clancy.

The official input centred on the appointment of John O'Mahony as manager. Admittedly, a good call, and he skilfully fitted the jigsaw pieces together, but they had been provided by Galway's traditional football pedigree rather than any developmental master plan.

Galway hurling has been consistently successful at underage level, but it hasn't translated into senior advancement. That has been evident for years, yet what has been done to address the blockage?

After all, if Aidan O'Brien produced brilliant two-year-olds every year only to see them flop as three year-olds, he wouldn't remain master of Ballydoyle for very long.

Galway senior footballers produced their worst championship performance for many years against Mayo this year, while the hurlers' effort against Waterford last Sunday was probably the most dismal since the heavy defeat by Offaly in the 1984 All-Ireland semi-final.

From a Galway perspective, it was grim beyond words; nor was it good for hurling that a so-called major power headed for the gate at the first sign of pressure.

The search for answers to Galway's football-hurling dilemma has to come from the top, not just from the hurling and football boards either, but from the county board too. After all, they are ultimately responsible for ensuring that GAA affairs are run properly in the county.

Senior results over several seasons show that there's a serious problem. And it will still be there long after Race Week glow has waned.

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