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Hanley backs U-21s to capture spirit of 2005


Michael Meehan

Michael Meehan

Michael Meehan

GALWAY senior football captain Finian Hanley is hoping that the county U-21s can emulate his squad of 2005 and upset the form book in today's All-Ireland semi-final against hot favourites Kildare at Tullamore.

Hanley will be on duty with the seniors at the Round Towers club in Clondalkin for a challenge match with Dublin, but he will take a keen interest in the outcome at O'Connor Park.

The eight years since he wore the maroon jersey in an All-Ireland-winning U-21 side have flashed by, it seems, but Hanley will never forget the semi-final against Cork.

Pre-game, the pundits were sold on the notion that Cork were destined for a place in the final. There were good reasons for that confidence, as the Rebels squad of 2005 included Michael Shields, Eoin Cadogan, Alan O'Connor, Patrick Kelly, Paul Kerrigan, Fintan Goold, Daniel Goulding and John Hayes.

Galway's marquee players were Sean Armstrong and Michael Meehan but there was a resilience within the group that stood to them when the chips were down.


"Cork were well respected and had more players who had featured on their senior team than us at the time, so they were favourites," said Hanley.

"It was a tough game, but I remember Sean Armstrong pulled it out of the fire for us with a few great scores."

Galway won that game 0-17 to 1-11 and went on to defeat Down in a high-scoring final, winning by 6-5 to 4-6.

"Sean Armstrong and Michael Meehan got three goals each that day," said Hanley. "It was a bit of a freak game, but you don't mind so many scores in a game once you are winning, especially at U-21 level, when you get lots of chances that result in scores. It's great to be on a winning side."

That victory gave Galway only their third All-Ireland success at U-21 level in the county's history. They captured their fourth title only two years ago and with players from that triumph, including current captain Fiontain O Corruain, still going strong, the Connacht champions won't be easily beaten.

Any championship clash between Kildare and Galway brings a frisson of anticipation and within each county hopes of seeing some of the younger talent emerge into winning sides at senior level greatly adds to the interest in the game.

Kildare have locked horns with Galway in an U-21 semi-final in the past and come up short. Back in 1992 a strong Lilywhite team won Leinster and carried the mantle of favourites into the last four of the All-Ireland series and went home disappointed.

In 1998 Kildare were strongly fancied for an All-Ireland senior win but were trumped by the Galway heroes who took the Sam Maguire Cup back across the Shannon. The long wait for any All-Ireland at any level continues for the Lilywhites, whose most recent near-miss was in 2008.

Kildare had got through an U-21 semi-final for the first time since 1976 when they overcame Down and earned the right to play Kerry in the decider. Result? Kerry 2-12, Kildare 0-11.

All that is the past, and today Hanley expects that both sides will play with a degree of freedom that opens up wider possibilities.

"At that level, you are more excited than anything else before these big games. The football is more free-flowing," said Hanley. "It's different to the senior game as regards physicality, and in both semi-finals we should see lads just going out to play because it's not so much about tactics at this level.

"A lot of those guys are not long out of school. It's just about getting performances from the players and securing a place in the All-Ireland final. It's all about your composure, and really good finishing."

The character of Galway and Kildare has been tested en route to their provincial victories and both sides emerged with flying colours.

Roscommon will feel they could and should have beaten the Tribesmen in normal time, even with the handicap of having two men sent off. Galway, however, dug deep to bring the match to extra-time and finished in style to win the Connacht title.

Kildare had a serious battle before they overcame a fancied Longford outfit in the Leinster decider, so they're prepared to give their all in the bid to gain that coveted slot in the All-Ireland decider.

Kieran McGeeney, manager of the Kildare seniors and U-21s, has blooded some of the youngsters at the top level during the last couple of months, and that senior-grade experience should be of benefit to the likes of Paul Cribbin, Mark Donnellan, Tommy Moolick, Sean Hurley, Niall Kelly, Daniel Flynn, Paddy Brophy, Fionn Dowling and Padraig Fogarty.

Galway boss Alan Flynn, who is also a selector in the back-room set-up of senior manager Alan Mulholland, hasn't quite as many lads with senior experience, but once the ball is thrown in to start the game today, as Hanley said, "anything can happen."

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