Galway will have to improve 'drastically' for Mayo – Joyce
IT was hardly a fitting way for Padraic Joyce to go out.
For a player who burst on to the scene in 1998, winning an All-Ireland in his first season, defeat at Casement Park to Antrim in the back door wasn't the Hollywood ending befitting a footballer of his calibre.
But then that had become the norm for Galway in recent years. That defeat to Antrim extended an unenviable record – they haven't beaten a team from outside Connacht in the championship since overcoming Louth in 2004.
Joyce's career began with two All-Irelands in four seasons but he'd never reach even an All-Ireland semi-final again after the 2001 campaign that saw him crowned Footballer of the Year.
"It wasn't as enjoyable for me because we were not winning anything," he said. "I served my time and I have no regrets about my decision. I have plenty more time to myself now. It was time to go, as simple as that."
Joyce's retirement, along with that of Joe Bergin, broke the last remaining links to the All-Ireland-winning team of '01, when Joyce produced a sparkling 10-point performance in the decider against Meath.
That was a swashbuckling Galway side and while his observation that the game is "totally different" from his debut season isn't new, he insists teams now play with a fear of losing rather than a desire to win.
"The emphasis that time was in getting the ball in early into what we called the scoring (zone)," he said. "We had a philosophy that if the ball was in there 30 to 35 times in a game and if we were to convert half of them, no matter how good or bad you would be, you would have 17 or 18 scores.
"Whereas now you're seeing 0-12 and 1-9 or 1-10 winning games. It has definitely come back and it is down to tactics and people afraid to lose. You watch matches now and you even count the number of players that even have a shot at goal – each team has only three or four players that are allowed to shoot."
Joyce's departure makes the returning Michael Meehan the senior partner in the Galway forward line. But for the first time since the start of the '98 season, Galway have a squad without a single senior All-Ireland winner.
They can go back to the All-Ireland minor success of 2007 and to the more recent U-21 success in 2010 but those teams haven't provided the boost Galway needed.
"If they are good enough to win U-21 level, two or three years down the line they should definitely be there or thereabouts because the average age of teams is coming down all the time," Joyce said.
"It has not been a great year for Galway so far, very up-and-down performances. One good day, bad the next, we need to find a bit of consistency because it is only four or five weeks to the championship. They would want to get a settled team because they will be up against it against Mayo."
Joyce can't recall a Galway team going into a showdown with Mayo so unfancied but the Tribesmen's poor record in the qualifiers means the front-door route is much the preferable option.
"If the two teams were to play next Sunday you would be thinking, on current form, Mayo would win the game easily," Joyce said. "But there is still a month yet, injuries can happen.
"Galway have an awful lot of work to do in a month but at the minute you would have to fancy Mayo to come out of the game, unless Galway improve drastically.
"Since the draw was made last November, I know for a fact Galway have been focused solely on that game. It is huge because we have only beaten Louth outside of Connacht in a good few years, which is a very poor record by any standard.
"You'd imagine we'd have fluked a game here and there. I know that we lost games by a point over the years but that's immaterial, our back-door record is very poor."