Mulholland's drive to restore stability
GALWAY footballers will be the first inter-county team into official 2012 action when they take on Sligo IT in the opening match of a Connacht FBD League double-header in Ballyhaunis tonight (6.30 throw-in).
They had their first session together at 9am on Monday morning in Loughgeorge, but new manager Alan Mulholland has already laid down a firm New Year priority.
"Our short-term goal is to stay in Division 2," he said. "I'm not underplaying it or anything, it really is as simple as that.
"Things have been on a downward spiral for a while and our job is to bring a bit of stability for a start," he stressed. "We only won one league game last year so there's a lot of improvement needed."
The senior fortunes of the 1998 and 2001 All-Ireland champions have flagged dramatically in recent seasons. The degree of instability is demonstrated by the fact that Mulholland, who replaces Tomas O Flatharta, is the county's fourth senior manager in as many years.
Having managed Galway to a minor All-Ireland in 2007 and an U-21 crown last year, expectations may be high in some quarters, but Mulholland is keen to play them down.
"There's a big difference between senior and U-21 and it's our job now to see if any of these young lads are good enough to bridge that gap," he stressed.
"We will be using the FBD and the National League to blood new players and see how we can bring consistency and stability to the thing," he added.
"We have put together a training panel at the moment but it's fair to say it's a work-in-progress. There's 50 on it but I'm actually wondering what I'll be left with right now between college commitments and early-season injuries.
"We have three players in NUIG, five in GMIT, a couple in Sligo IT, two in DCU, one in UCD, so what we're left with, at present, is a blend of older and new guys."
Galway's 2011 All-Ireland-winning U-21s like Johnny Duane, Colin Forde, Mark Hehir, Fionntain O Curraoin and Thomas Flynn had already progressed to the senior jersey last summer.
Mulholland said he has already received "a very good response" from the players they have sought from county champions Corofin, who were in action right up until the Connacht final, and tonight's starters will feature one Corofin player, corner-back Kieran McGrath.
But it looks likely that Corofin's teenage dual star Daithi Burke, who is being sought by the Galway U-21 footballers, will concentrate on hurling for the early part of the season at least.
Mulholland said he is giving ageless county star Padraic Joyce plenty of time to see if he would like to continue for another year but confirmed that his cousin, Nicky Joyce, looks set to be part of the panel for the upcoming campaign, having not made himself available to O Flatharta last year.
"Nicky is back doing a bit of gym work with us. Hopefully he will be available for the year," said Mulholland.
"We asked him to come in and do a bit of training and he has done his plan before Christmas. We want to have him with us in the panel so hopefully he will be in a position to put in the effort."
However, Mulholland confirmed that Michael Meehan's inter-county future remains in serious doubt.
Meehan is still recovering from a shoulder injury he sustained in last summer's second-round qualifier defeat by Meath, but it is his ongoing ankle problem, which has already been operated on twice, that leaves the brilliant Caltra star's career in jeopardy.
"The medical diagnosis is that Michael needs to try to get fit without bearing weight on the ankle and, given that, if we had him for the championship that would be a huge bonus," Mulholland admitted.
Sligo will play NUIG in the second game of the double-header (8.0).
Meanwhile, Tipperary manager John Evans has drafted last year's All-Ireland minor winners Michael Quinlivan and Liam McGrath into his squad for the 2012 campaign.