Monday 19 March 2018

Galway under pressure to avoid double knockout

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

GALWAY footballers and hurlers head into Saturday's qualifier ties under enormous pressure as they try to prevent the county's earliest double elimination from the All-Ireland senior championships for 44 years.

Defeat for the hurlers against Cork and the footballers against Meath would leave Galway out of both title races by July 9, a disappointment last suffered in 1967.

However, while the 1960s was a grim decade for Galway hurling, which was trapped in a barren liaison with the Munster championship, the footballers had completed the All-Ireland treble over the previous three seasons. They exited the 1967 Connacht championship on June 25, losing heavily to Mayo, and were followed two weeks later by the hurlers, beaten by Clare.

Since then, Galway have always managed to prolong one or other championship campaign later into the season but are now at real risk of a double departure on the second weekend in July.

That would be quite an embarrassment to a county which starts every season with genuine hopes of an extended championship run.

It's all so different to a decade ago, when Galway reached both All-Ireland finals, winning the football with a spectacular victory over Meath and losing by three points to Tipperary in hurling.

Padraic Joyce and Joe Bergin are the only survivors from 2001 on the football team while Alan Kerins, right corner-forward 10 years ago, is back on the hurling team, having come out of retirement a few months ago.

Defeat for both Galway teams on Saturday would not only mean an early double exit from the championship but also lead to a radical overhaul of the squads and, most likely, a change in team management too.

John McIntyre is in his third season as hurling manager so failure to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final would almost certainly mean the end of the line for him. Galway lost quarter-finals in each of the last two years so reaching the semi-final would be the minimum progress required to prevent the spotlight turning towards the management.

Galway gave a much-improved performance against Clare last Saturday but must now step up again if they are to dislodge Cork, who have also used the qualifiers to good effect to re-launch their campaign.

Tomas O Flatharta is in his first year with the Galway footballers, but would face intense scrutiny if Galway's season ended with two successive championship defeats, having earlier been relegated to Division 2.

Galway also had a change of management last year when Joe Kernan departed after one season.

Remarkably, Galway are seeking their first win in the football qualifiers since 2004 when they beat Louth and, in the interim, they have failed to register a single championship win against a non-Connacht team.

O Flatharta has first-hand experience of how brittle they have been in the qualifiers as he was in charge of Westmeath when they beat Galway by a point at Pearse Stadium in a Round 4 game in 2006.

If the bookies are to be believed, the hurlers have a better chance of success as they are 5/6 marginal favourites to beat Cork (11/10) while the footballers are 9/4 to beat Meath (4/9).

Irish Independent

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