Tribesmen facing massive challenge to arrest freefall
THERE are worse things in GAA life than relegation, but if it's the consequence of seven successive defeats by an average of over four points per game, there can be no explanation other than it represents the desperate labours of a county in freefall.
All the more so if it's the follow-up to a bad championship.
Played seven, lost seven is a fairly rare occurrence. Only twice in the last 10 years have counties bombed out of Division 1 of the NFL without a single point. On both occasions, the victims might have been regarded as punching above their weight by being in Division 1 in the first place. Fermanagh tumbled out without a win in 2007, while Westmeath departed in similar circumstances two year later.
Now, the maroon and white are in danger of experiencing a second ignominious departure -- only this time it's not being carried by Westmeath, but rather by the more illustrious wearers from across the Shannon. Thirteen years after returning to Division 1, Galway are faced with the mighty challenge of beating Armagh and Dublin in their remaining two games to have any prospect of avoiding relegation. Even then, other results would have to go their way.
In normal circumstances, Galway would relish playing Armagh and Dublin, even if the latter are going especially well. Armagh weren't even in Division 1 for the past few seasons, while Galway beat Dublin in Pearse Stadium in 2009 and in Parnell Park last year.
Indeed, a year ago last Saturday, Galway gave Dublin a four-point start, but recovered to win by three. At the very least, it suggested two evenly matched teams, but, since then, their graphs have veered wildly in opposite directions. Dublin have won 11 of 13 league and championship games (the only setbacks coming in the Leinster semi-final wipe-out against Meath and the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Cork), whereas Galway's only win from 10 games -- and a real struggle at that -- was against New York in the Connacht championship last May.
They changed manager after the championship -- scarcely the wisest move in the circumstances -- and while the Football Board can always point out that Joe Kernan resigned, his departure had everything to do with off-field issues and was totally unrelated to player matters.
Tomas O Flatharta (right) took over from Kernan and, after a dreadful campaign by Galway so far, finds himself in the unfortunate position of heading to Armagh tomorrow on a 12-match losing run in the league. The first seven came in 2009 during his tenure with Westmeath and has been followed by five more with Galway this term.
Inevitably, he has taken criticism for the sharp decline this year. He's an obvious target, just as it's easy to blame the absence of Padraic Joyce, Michael Meehan and Nickey Joyce for Galway's dismal scoring return, which has been a major problem this spring. It's the lowest in Division 1 and includes just a single goal in five games. Even then, it was scored by defender Gary O'Donnell.
Outsiders find it difficult to understand how a huge football county like Galway could dip so alarmingly. But then, other than in the league, they have been disappointing for a long time. They have won just one of the last five Connacht senior titles and haven't beaten any non-Connacht county, other than Louth, in the championship since the 2001 All-Ireland final. It's a shocking record, which will further deteriorate if they finish this league campaign without a win.
All-Ireland U-21 successes in 2002 and 2005, followed by a minor triumph in 2007, gave the impression that all was well with the supply lines but obviously that's far from the case.
There are plenty shrewd observers in Galway who are adamant that the underage structure is lagging way beyond the other Connacht counties, that there's no proper developmental model in place for the better youngsters and that there's something radically wrong with coach/manager training when three of the last four senior bosses were from outside the county. It's certainly not a practice that occurs in other top football counties.
Of more immediate concern in Galway is the on-field situation. It's a hugely important weekend on that front as the U-21s, bidding for a first Connacht title since 2005, play defending champions, Roscommon in the final at Pearse Stadium today, followed tomorrow by the seniors' attempt to end their worst run for many years and give themselves a chance of survival in Division 1.
Frankly, the latter target is almost certainly a lost cause, but it's important that they pick up something from their last two games. Otherwise, they will head for Castlebar to take on Mayo (who will beat London in the first round) in the Connacht semi-final on June 25 without a real competitive win (beating New York last year scarcely counts) for 15 months.
That's quite a spectacular crash, even in these days of turbulent markets.