Game has changed and Galway must adapt - Hanley
FOR Galway, hope springs from the most unlikely of places this week.
If they'd dare look across the border to Mayo, they'd see it's only three years since their arch-rivals undertook a 'root and branch review' – the words that are buzzing around Galway this week – of football in the county.
Defeats to Sligo and Longford brought about Mayo's worst championship in living memory in 2010. The following summer, and with James Horan in charge, they were almost brought to their knees by London.
With criticism ringing in their ears, they adapted and recovered to make the All-Ireland semi-final. A year later, Mayo were back in the final.
So there's an obvious example for Alan Mulholland to point to when his Galway squad gather next. However, captain Finian Hanley concedes that perhaps their biggest challenge will be changing the DNA of the county's approach to football.
"We're probably the most traditional county, along with Kerry, with regards to our free-flowing football," said Hanley.
"Our supporters and our local media would always say that Galway play the nice football, traditional football, and that's why they won All-Irelands in the past and that's when they're playing their best.
"But the game has changed big time and I think that's something that has to be looked at."
Galway managers have tried. Both Joe Kernan and Tomas O Flatharta, who had a track record of making teams hard to beat with Westmeath, looked to change that approach but neither man got enough time out west.
"We find it hard to come to terms with it. People in Galway look at defensive styles and say, 'well, this isn't for us, we play the free-flowing football'," said Hanley.
"And listen, when we do play it, when we play football well, it's great to watch. But obviously coming up against Mayo on Sunday, a very physical side, it was a different story.
"It's probably an underlying issue that needs to be looked at, with the structures. We've won four (All-Ireland) U-21s (in the last 11 years) but that doesn't necessarily mean senior success. It did 10 or 15 years ago, because an U-21 player could come into a senior team.
"If you look at the top teams in the country now, there's not many of them coming through because of the physical demands, and you need the head for it a bit more now.
"It's not happening as much, so we can't say that we're going to pull in 10 or 15 U-21s and they're going to turn into brilliant senior footballers.
"But I do think that the whole thing needs to be looked at, probably at the end of this year, regardless of how we go in the qualifiers – sit down and see what's gone wrong, what's gone right, and how to change the fundamentals."
Hanley's absence with a shoulder injury was a significant blow to Galway against Mayo but he hopes to return for the first round of the qualifiers. There they'll look to take the first small steps towards respectability and record their first championship win against a team from outside Connacht since they beat Louth in 2004.
"The average age of our players is quite young, 22, 23, and a win will breathe a lot of confidence into them," said Hanley.
"But I don't think it matters who we play in the qualifiers. You could get Donegal or Tyrone, but it's Galway needing to sort ourselves out and see if we can push on."