Conroy: We must work on our mental toughness to catch Mayo
PAUL Conroy still remembers it. Fresh out of minor and fielding calls from then Galway senior manager Liam Sammon to come in and see what he could do with the big boys.
Galway were being Galway that summer. Winning games and doing it in style. Conroy's minor side had won the All-Ireland the previous year and he had been their talisman.
On his first senior championship start, he was entrusted with the frees against Roscommon. Around him stood men like Michael Meehan, Padraic Joyce and Matthew Clancy – and he flourished.
They averaged 20 points a game on their way to a Connacht title. Even when they went out in the All-Ireland quarter-final to a three-in-a-row-chasing Kerry, they kicked 1-16. It all pointed towards a bright future.
"Liam Sammon asked me to come in and I was delighted. And, in my first year in 2008, we were successful. I was starting and we won Connacht. I thought it was going to be like that all the time. It hasn't turned out like that."
In fact, there's only been one Connacht final appearance since then and there are a few other unwelcome stats as well.
Last year, they suffered their worst defeat to Mayo since 1907 and their subsequent narrow back-door win over Tipperary was their first championship success against a team from outside Connacht since 2004.
While things haven't been great for a while, Mayo last year was a low point. "When a situation like that happens all you want to do is get back out and play," said Conroy, an ambassador for this year's Feile, which will see 12,000 boys and girls in action over two weekends later this month.
"We kept the heads down and we got a few easier games in the qualifiers, built a few wins and got back to Croke Park. That was great – we needed it."
Their performance against Cork at HQ last year served as a reminder of where Galway can operate. Two All-Ireland U-21 titles in the last four years suggests there'll be a natural improvement over the next few years, but there was no bounce into 2014.
After three league games they were pointless and staring relegation in the face, but again they rallied. A switch of their home games to Tuam saw them pick up crucial wins against Armagh and Down and, by the final round, they almost brought Monaghan's long home-winning streak to an end.
The inconsistency is frustrating, but at least its something that can be overcome. Mental application holds the key to a new level of consistency for Galway. "It's definitely true over the last few years," said Conroy. "We have put it up to a lot of teams, but we have also lost to teams we shouldn't be losing to.
"I suppose it's down to experience and your mental attitude going into games. We're working to rectify that."
A 'no-win' situation was negotiated in London and now Sligo lie in wait. Whoever comes out of that will face Mayo in the Connacht decider. Bridging that gap to James Horan's side is the ultimate aim.
"If you look at the last few years the reality is that they are that far ahead. We are working to close the gap. Our next aim is only to beat Sligo. But there is a gap there and we can close that gap."