Saturday 24 February 2018

Freedom of expression and creativity still the core principles for 'new' Galway, insists Walsh

Star attacker keen to press on from Connacht final success and smash another hoodoo with Croke Park win

Galway's Shane Walsh. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Galway's Shane Walsh. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Shane Walsh insists he won't be looking back on previous results but the spectre in the rear-view mirror is so large now that it's impossible to miss.

Little could anyone have thought that when Galway plundered the 2001 All-Ireland title with a Pádraic Joyce-inspired second-half rout of Meath that they would still be waiting for their next victory at headquarters 15 years later.

It's a quite a staggering statistic for a county of its pedigree that they are 'winless' in what is essentially the 'new' Croke Park given the overhaul of the surface in 2002.

In 10 matches since they have yet to return to a dressing-room celebration, the closest being their 2003 All-Ireland quarter-final draw with Donegal, courtesy of current manager Kevin Walsh's spectacular late equaliser.

Walsh himself has been part of the last three defeats there to Cork and Donegal in 2013 and 2015 qualifiers and a 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final to Kerry.

Add in narrow 2011 defeats in a Hogan Cup final to St Colman's in Newry and Dublin in an All-Ireland minor semi-final and Walsh is still waiting to taste victory in Croke Park himself.

"History is there, we're trying to make our own history as we go along. We won't be hanging by that, we'll be sticking to what Kevin and the lads are telling us and that's sticking to the process," he emphasised.

"If we look too much on our losses we'll surely face a loss. We'll be looking at what we've done well this year. This year is what it's all about."

It's been quite a summer so far for them, taking out the two Division 1 teams, Mayo and Roscommon, to win a first Connacht final in eight years.

The promise of more and better to come is predicated on players with pace and dynamism like Walsh, Damien Comer and Tom Flynn really relishing Croke Park.

Walsh wears No 14 but operates mainly at half-forward and within Galway's structure seems to have freedom to roam and then attack space when he has ball in hand.

Expression is important to them as a team but so too are the guidelines laid down by management.

"It might look like a free role but Kevin does have little guidelines for us all," said Walsh.

"You can't really tell a player how to play with the ball but you can tell him what to do without the ball," he figured.

"We all have our own jobs to do on the team. I still have to do my role but when we do have the ball I am freed up and we try and make something happen for Galway up front.

"We're always known as a team that likes to express ourselves out on the pitch. If there's one thing I'd like to always be known for it's creative football. One thing I've probably tried to do is be creative on the pitch. Kevin encourages us and says, 'Try and express yourself'.

Thus he was delighted to get a second opportunity to show what they could do in a Connacht final replay against Roscommon after such a turgid drawn game.

"You don't go into a game like that, with the conditions the way they were nobody could express themselves. You wouldn't recommend people who don't follow GAA to watch that game and start following it.

"Both teams didn't want to make mistakes, they were set up that way. It's hard to fault any team but I was just delighted really that it was a draw because then you could get a chance to go out and produce a good performance on a better day.

"We went out and tried to express ourselves. Conditions let us kick the ball. Galway teams would always be known for kicking the ball and that's what we did.

"We moved the ball quickly and got the scores and we made Roscommon come out and play against us and we exposed them then at the back."

Walsh feels that those who declined invitations to trial or link up with the squad - 52 according to manager Kevin Walsh's count - will be "disgusted" with themselves for that now.

"Some lads made uncomfortable choices in saying they couldn't be part of the panel this year and lads made the choice even before the year started that they didn't want to be involved in it.

"I think they will probably be disgusted at themselves that they didn't. A lot of the reason behind it is that they felt Galway weren't going to win anything this year. You have to buy into something. If you don't buy a ticket, you won't win the raffle."

Walsh admits their motivation was strong as the "disrespect" shown to them in advance of the Connacht Championship stacked up.

"We had so much motivation coming into it. Before the Mayo game there was already enough motivation in that everyone was writing us off. Everyone was kind of tuned into the Roscommon/Sligo game as the more interesting semi-final.

"To hear them on about a Mayo/Roscommon Connacht final, it was very disrespectful to Galway as a county, a county with so much tradition and so much success before, just to be written off completely. Everyone knows in a Galway/Mayo game that it can go any way. Mayo and Galway rivalry mightn't be as strong but on a day, each can beat the other. We showed it down in Castlebar that night, we had so much to prove to everyone.

"The only team that's beaten us since I started playing senior football for Galway was Mayo so to get one over them that night, the relief. To be honest, we just enjoyed the Connacht final replay and we produced a performance like we were enjoying our football."

The Kilkerrin-Clonberne man feels lack of belief to compete with the bigger teams has cost them three years running in Croke Park against Cork, Galway and Donegal but that has now been addressed.

"Maybe it was a bit of belief missing that we could beat a big team. We had beaten teams up to that and, I'm not disrespecting any of the teams that we played last year, but they wouldn't have been seen as the so-called big three or four. That's where Donegal and Mayo are at and we fell at those hurdles. That was kind of a big obstacle for us."

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