De Paor confident Galway have pep in step
GALWAY footballers are beginning to haul themselves out of a trough of despair with three qualifier wins in succession, and now the stage is set for another step forward against Cork at Croke Park on Saturday.
Supporters of the Tribesmen don't dare to expect that a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals is theirs for the taking, but there's growing belief that the men in maroon and white can be, at the very least, competitive.
If Galway go out on the green sward of Croke Park and play with passion, they will have restored a large degree of faith among the county's long-suffering followers. Two-time All-Ireland winner Sean Og de Paor spoke yesterday of the mood around the county, and it's a lot brighter than it was on Sunday, May 19, when Mayo came to Pearse Stadium and humiliated Galway.
A 4-16 to 0-11 drubbing was unexpected, and unacceptable, but since then Alan Mulholland's men have ground out hard-fought victories over Tipperary by four points, over Waterford by a single point, and then earned a five-point triumph over Armagh.
"In general, people are fairly upbeat locally this week and everybody's looking forward to next Saturday," said De Paor. "We're going to Croke Park again, there's a kind of pep in the lads' step, and they're feeling good about themselves."
The hope is that the momentum gained in that three-match run will stand to Galway against Cork, who De Paor feels cannot be written off.
"I was at the quarter-final last year when Cork just blew Kildare away. By no means are they gone, or anything like that, so Galway have a big challenge next Saturday," he said.
De Paor sees parallels between the state of the Tribesmen's football now and in his early years wearing the maroon jersey.
"In the early '90s we went through four or five years exactly like what they've gone through now," he said. "All I will say is that coming out the far side of it, you are a better player because of all those experiences. It's not that you want to go through those bad times, but you are a better player for it. You've just got to keep plugging away."
Hindsight, of course, tells us that Galway won the All-Ireland title in 1998 and again in 2001, but that latter achievement didn't look likely after Roscommon beat De Paor and Co in the provincial semi-final that year.
Recalling the pain of that setback, De Paor said: "I've been there in the past. I remember Roscommon beating us in that Connacht semi-final and for six or seven days afterwards, you're questioning everything.
"It's the same for the present team. The players have had to lick their wounds and put up with lots of criticism, but here we are in round four and feeling reasonably okay about ourselves. What they need to do is drive on now."
Is there an omen in the 'stat' that reveals Galway won their only previous qualifier clash with Cork?
The year was 2001, the venue was Croke Park, and in addition, Galway beat Armagh in round three that year, just as they have done this year.
Tempting as it is to clutch at coincidence, De Paor prefers to deal in reality. "There was a lot of flak given to Galway for their displays against Tipperary and Waterford, but they were tough games to come through," he said.
"It served them well against Armagh in that they knew how to fight, how to win a match."
The qualifier win against Tipperary in round one last month was a big relief, as Galway had been beaten each year in the back-door competition since 2009.
Michael Meehan is the only survivor of the 2001 team but he, skipper Finian Hanley, Gary Sice, Paul Conroy and Sean Armstrong remain from the 2008 Connacht championship-winning side.
De Paor worked as a selector under Tomas O Flatharta's managerial reign a couple of years ago, and knows the value of those experienced players.
"Take for example Michael Meehan. He's had to put up with a lot in the last two or three years with injuries, but he still puts his body on the line every single time. I couldn't speak more highly of him. The last four or five years, being a Galway footballer haven't been easy but these guys have lived and played through that era. They're better players now for having all those bad experiences."
Cork have made six changes on the team to play Galway but it has to come with a proviso that they have acquired a reputation for naming dummy teams.
According to the team released last night, Alan Quirke takes over in goal from Ken O'Halloran who played in the Munster final against Kerry. Elsewhere, the personnel changes sees Tomas Clancy, Alan O'Connor, Pease O'Neill Mark Collins and Ciaran Sheehan replacing Paudie Kissane, Noel O'Leary, Fintan Gould, Paul Kerrigan and Donncha O'Connor.
Cork (SF v Galway): A Quirke; E Cadogan, M Shields, T Clancy; D Cahalane, G Canty, J Loughrey; A O'Connor, P O'Neill; M Collins, A Walsh, J O'Rourke, D Goulding, C Sheehan, B Hurley.