Monday 21 January 2019

Walsh's fresh start reaping dividends

Galway football manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Galway football manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The Galway football manager Kevin Walsh delivered an eye-catching statistic on the cusp of the 2016 championship when he revealed that some 52 players had declined an invitation either to join the county football squad or left at some stage in his opening two-and-a-half years.

It was quite a figure for a county of Galway's stature, tradition and potential but also underlined Walsh's willingness to trawl for options as he sought to build a new team in his first 18 months in charge.

But it hasn't deterred him, quite the opposite in fact. Into his fourth year as manager and Walsh has now given debuts, either at Connacht League, league or championship level to 57 players.

We can take it that among that figure are some of those 52 who have since reconsidered.

It has helped him to create his own stamp on a team that had gone six Connacht Championship campaigns without a title before he took over.

In championship alone, 20 players have had their first start under the double All-Ireland-winning manager.

From that figure, just three are not currently involved: Mike Farragher, Peadar ó Gríofa and Cillian McDaid, now contracted to AFL side Carlton.

Some of the names will not be familiar, their tenure scarcely extending beyond a game or two. That's the nature of such scouting missions by managers and invariably the exposure of these players doesn't last beyond a Connacht league.

But the starting team against Roscommon in the Connacht final contained 10 players who have made their debut under Walsh.

Only Gareth Bradshaw, Paul Conroy Thomas Flynn, Shane Walsh and Damien Comer played pre-2015.

The first wave of debutants in 2015 threw up Cathal and Patrick Sweeney, Declan Kyne, ó Gríofa and Enda Tierney.

In 2016, Walsh introduced Eoghan Kerin, Johnny Heaney, Eamonn Brannigan, Peter Cooke and David Wynne to championship football.

Last year McDaid was joined by Rory Lavelle Michael Daly, David Walsh, Ian Burke and Farragher, while 2018 has been the progression of Seán Andy ó Ceallaigh, Ciarán Duggan and Barry McHugh.

It has helped to bring the average down to 23, one of the lowest, based on starting teams, of the remaining eight teams in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Yet Walsh's pursuit of Seán Armstrong to end his inter-county exile at the end of 2016 and re-introduce Michael Meehan after three years on the sidelines dealing with his injury underlines how age profile and past experience don't always shape selection.

Meehan has since retired from inter-county football but Armstrong's influence was telling the last day as they seized control in the second half of the Connacht final against Roscommon.

This year, at a stage of his managerial cycle when he might feel he has a more settled squad after back-to-back All-Ireland quarter-final appearances, Walsh still gave inter-county debuts to 13 more players, six of whom played league football for the first time.

They have one of the toughest routes of any of the remaining teams, having to play Kerry in their opening game on Sunday with a follow-up game against an in-form Kildare in Newbridge after that before they play Monaghan at home.

Galway championship debutants under Kevin Walsh

2018: Seán Andy ó Ceallaigh, Sean Kelly, Ciarán Duggan, Barry McHugh

2017: Rory Lavelle, Michael Daly, Cillian McDaid, David Walsh, Ian Burke, Mike Farragher

2016: David Wynne, Eoghan Kerin, Johnny Heaney, Eamonn Brannigan, Peter Cooke

2015: Cathal Sweeney, Patrick Sweeney, Peadar ó Gríofa, Declan Kyne, Enda Tierney

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Irish Independent

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