Thursday 17 October 2019

Colm Keys: 'Galway are still evolving and can be contenders'

Tribesmen can add the necessary attacking layers to their game with returning personnel

Galway boss Kevin Walsh hopes to see the return of Damien Comer from injury and is likely to call in Corofin’s Kieran Molloy after the All-Ireland club final. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Galway boss Kevin Walsh hopes to see the return of Damien Comer from injury and is likely to call in Corofin’s Kieran Molloy after the All-Ireland club final. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Galway's latest triumph over Mayo at the weekend had the unintended consequence of bringing Dublin back into play for a seventh consecutive football league final appearance later this month.

Quite possibly, it would have happened anyway with Mayo still to travel to Kerry and Dublin unlikely to concede any further ground, even allowing for Tyrone's resurgence - they play the All-Ireland champions in the next round - over the last two weekends.

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But when all the Division 1 transactions are reconciled after the final two rounds, a familiar picture is likely to emerge with Kerry and Dublin on top, fighting out a third league final between them in four years.

By any projection, we can get used to that over the next few years.

If it hasn't been a proper rivalry in recent times - Dublin have won the last four championship meetings - it will be. They look like they have it sewn up between them.

If Dublin are to yield - and they will at some stage - it will be Kerry who will exploit that first. The rest really do look quite some distance away.

Damien Comer. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Damien Comer. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Saturday night in Castlebar was another sobering experience for Mayo and the hope that they will extract another big push this summer.

For a seventh successive game, between championship, league and provincial league, they failed to beat Galway. Just as concerning is their failure to accumulate more than 12 scores against them each time.

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True, they have registered 1-11 once during that sequence but the pattern of Mayo scoring against Galway in those seven games has been remarkably familiar - three times they've scored 0-12, twice 1-9 and once each 1-11 and 0-11. They just haven't been able to figure them out.

Being able to repeatedly stifle Mayo in this manner should represent a tactical triumph for manager Kevin Walsh.

Kieran Molloy in action for Corofin. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Kieran Molloy in action for Corofin. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

But instead, it's presented as evidence of innately conservative tactics, a 'handbrake-on' approach that is holding back the natural progression of the team.

The last couple of years have been about putting those building blocks in place, making themselves hard to beat. And for the most part, they have achieved that.

But there is universal acceptance, in Galway and beyond, that they will have to expand their play to take their game to that next level that so many feel they would be comfortable with. Walsh will appreciate that as much as anyone.

But for now, their one poor performance against Dublin in Croke Park has been able to disguise how they've held their ground in the top flight without much fuss despite a debilitating list of absentees.

Damien Comer will miss the entire league because of an ankle injury that eventually required surgery; Cillian McDaid suffered a recurrence of a foot injury that stalled his brief AFL career, ruling him out of what would have been a hugely educational league; Declan Kyne has also been absent in recent weeks; Sean Kelly, the 'find' of last season, was missing on Saturday night too while there are any amount of Corofin players who could make a difference but Ian Burke, Kieran Molloy and Liam Silke are chief among them.

With that quality of player missing the expectation was that Galway would struggle, but their wins on the road in Iniskeen and now Castlebar underpin how battle-hardened they have become and highlight the benefit of what has largely been a winning culture for them. The components they have to add to what they have right now make for exciting reading.

Twelve months ago Comer was the most destructive forward in the game that brought havoc to even Dublin in a league final, something he repeated for a while in an All-Ireland semi-final.

Silke spent last summer in the US but by any measure is a great defender who adds the type of attacking instinct from deep positions that can propel Galway.

McDaid, when fit, can offer similarly mobility while Burke's creativity in the inside line gives a different dimension to the power of Comer and the pace of Shane Walsh.

Variables

There are other variables too. Both Daly brothers, Michael and John, are fit again, Molloy could be another potential link from half-back that adds that something different that they need.

On the periphery Antoine Ó Laoi, Danny Cummins and Padraic Cunningham have illustrated how to profit from a competitive environment.

They already have a considerably better squad than last year.

When Donegal added the various strands to their game that helped them to their 2012 All-Ireland, they committed more players to attack.

With the profile of attacker that they have Galway look more comfortable keeping extra numbers ahead of the ball - Comer, Michael Daly, Burke and Walsh being the obvious targets.

Striking a balance between what they have put in place and where they need to go is one of the football season's great imponderables.

It was significant that when they were reduced to 13 men because of two black cards on Saturday night they went for broke, scoring the game's only goal in that period.

It's in them. And if it comes out they can at least contend.

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