Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kernan facing moment of truth as Galway falter

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

ALANIS Morissette is not known as a GAA connoisseur, but you'd imagine that, given a quick briefing, the Canadian who crooned 'Isn't It Ironic' would have quickly spotted the black irony in Pearse Stadium last Sunday.

Unable to get a foothold in midfield, Galway had logged just two scores (one free) by half-time when they trailed by nine. The man wearing Sligo's 'bainisteoir' bib was Kevin Walsh, while his old playing partner and buddy Sean O Domhnaill was one of the mentors prowling Galway's line.

There they were, Galway's last legendary midfield pairing, both having an input but from a distance, underlining yet again that the county has still failed to find a pairing to adequately replace them.

Joe Kernan's arrival to take over from Liam Sammon as Galway boss last winter was greeted like the coming of the Messiah.

The ex-Armagh boss installed O Domnhaill and former All Star Tom Naughton as selectors and also brought in Ulster fitness experts John McCloskey and Paul Hatton.

It was presumed that Kernan would instil the sort of aggression that his mild-mannered predecessor lacked and he was also expected to unearth and energise some young talent.

Eoin Concannon has proved a bit of a find, yet last weekend only Paul Conroy of Galway's 2007 All-Ireland-winning minors started and Sligo completely outdid them on the hunger and intensity front.

Conroy has been dropped for today's Connacht semi-final replay as Joe Bergin has been shifted back from wing-forward to try to solve their perennial midfield quandary.

They lived to fight another day but some inaction on the line was also questioned. Michael Meehan's arrival as their first sub, on 40 minutes, coincided with Sean Armstrong's dismissal, though perhaps they were afraid to risk his fitness earlier.

Some other eyebrows were raised at Barry Cullinane's absence.

While no Walsh or O Domhnaill, Cullinane has been a midfield work-horse for many seasons but was mysteriously dropped off the panel a few weeks back, leaving Galway short of midfield cover.

Some argue that the requisite talent is simply not there, on the bench or in the county, despite Galway's All-Ireland U-21 and minor titles in 2005 and 2007 respectively.

They struggled alarmingly in New York (albeit without a lot of regulars) and are still far too dependant on brilliant veteran Padraic Joyce to pull them out of the fire.

Coming after a league campaign that was more hit than miss, a blast of revisionism has swept the county, even about Kernan's appointment, though he argues that it's far too early for judgment and that progress has been hampered by injuries.

Despite all the new fitness work, the consensus is that they're still awfully slow out of the blocks.


They did, at least, come back from the dead last week when they weren't helped by the enforced absence of Meehan and Nicky Joyce.

Meehan, who made a significant difference when he came in, starts today and there's a rumour Joyce could also return to play some part.

So can they do it?

Galway's 1998 All-Ireland-winning captain Ray Silke believes this is a seminal moment for this team.

"They weren't helped by the ridiculous eight-week break after the New York game but having to go to Markievicz Park doesn't help now," he said. "They'll really have to up the intensity, especially at half-forward and half-back and I'd consider putting Gary Sice at half-back and bringing back a defensive sweeper to help mark David Kelly.

"Niall Coleman won some good ball eventually last week, you'd hope Joe Bergin will improve the midfield and Meehan's return to start is a boost.

"They're still just one win away from a Connacht final and the winner plays Roscommon. That should be a big spur and, on top of that, whoever loses this faces Wexford. The qualifiers this year are like a tank full of sharks so, really, if they're not up for this one they never will be."

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