Friday 14 December 2018

Comment: Galway's journey from Fancy Dans to winning ugly... fact or fiction?

Gareth Bradshaw, left, and Damien Comer of Galway celebrate at the final whistle after victory over Kerry in the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 4 match between Kerry and Galway at Austin Stack Park in Kerry. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Gareth Bradshaw, left, and Damien Comer of Galway celebrate at the final whistle after victory over Kerry in the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 4 match between Kerry and Galway at Austin Stack Park in Kerry. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

GALWAY footballers have come a long way since they were cruelly dismissed as ‘Fancy Dans’ in the summer of 1998.

They are now, says Colm O’Rourke, “a bit ugly”.

It has been a spectacular metamorphosis - like plastic surgery in reverse.

The irony, of course, is that the Fancy Dans of ’98 took such umbrage at Eugene McGee’s depiction in the Irish Independent that they won the All-Ireland, just to spite him.

A key member of John O’Mahony’s Galway trailblazers, Kevin Walsh, is now the manager. As a quietly inspirational midfield giant – gifted but granite tough, and the ultimate team player - Walsh was the antithesis of Fancy-Dannery. 

But during the first three years of his Galway tenure, despite signs of incremental progress, his own team couldn’t escape the occasional ‘Fancy Dan’ barb. That was because they were so incorrigibly inconsistent: capable of beating Mayo in Connacht (twice!), yet equally prone to spectacular implosions (against Tipp in Croke Park, Roscommon in last year’s Connacht final).

Even when that didn’t happen, at times they appeared simply too accepting of their fate – as against Kerry last summer.

Which brings us to the spring of 2018. Not a single Fancy Dan has been spotted in maroon over the past month and more. Perceived as likely candidates for a speedy return to Division 2, Galway have won four on the spin in a spiky manner that buries any old ‘flaky Tribesmen’ clichés.

Hence O’Rourke’s commentary on League Sunday after their latest success, against Kerry.

“We always associate, in the past, Galway with free-flowing, attacking football. Some of the greater footballers of the game have played in Galway attacks,” said the veteran RTÉ pundit.

“They’ve turned a bit ugly, I think with their type of system now. Paddy Tally has been brought in from Tyrone. It is a Tyrone defensive-type system.”

Spoken as a member of that fearsome Meath collective of the late ‘80s, O’Rourke should know all about winning ugly. Pot, kettle, black and all that. 

This new Galway image - defensive, physically tough, laced with a cynical streak - is supposedly predicated on Tally sweeping in from Ulster football, in all its austerity, to join Walsh’s backroom team. But is this a reflection of reality or mere propagation of another glib stereotype?

In fairness to Galway, you could argue they’ve been more sinned against than sinning this spring. It’s true that three of their players were black-carded in Tralee last Sunday; but this followed three rounds where not a single Tribesman was the recipient of black while three opponents (two from Tyrone and one from Donegal) received this very punishment.

To date, one Galway man has been red-carded in the league - Paul Conroy  for a double-yellow dismissal against Mayo. Three opponents have been sent off: Tyrone’s Darren McCurry for a straight red and the O’Connor brothers from Mayo, Cillian (straight red) and Diarmuid (two yellows).

Maybe what’s different is that Galway are happy to get in your face if that’s what is required.

The Galway/Mayo league collision climaxed in a series of running melees - proof of a growing discord in a once healthy rivalry. Conroy’s two bookings brought Galway’s yellow card count to nine that day. A month earlier, in echoes of Dublin’s famous 12 Apostles from 1983, Galway ‘bate’ Mayo in the FBD League despite finishing with 12 men.

Suffice to say, they aren’t necessarily winning friends through the purity of their football. But they are winning plenty of points.

Here’s the rub, though: our so-called Fancy Dans won two All-Irelands. Apart from a solitary Connacht (in 2016) and Division 2 (last spring) Galway in their new ‘ugly’ incarnation have won nothing of substance just yet.

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