Sunday 22 April 2018

Walsh's new-look Galway face different test from Derry

Galway manager Kevin Walsh
Galway manager Kevin Walsh
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Kevin Walsh won't be mentioning it, even if he was a central figure on both occasions, but the only two previous occasions that Galway played Derry in the Championship were followed by All-Ireland glory.

Walsh fought out a fascinating duel with Anthony Tohill in both the 1998 and 2001 All-Ireland semi-finals on days when Galway outgunned the Ulstermen in very different circumstances.

Galway were all-the-way winners in 1998, whereas three years later, they wiped out a five-point deficit to win by three points.

Fourteen years on, both Galway and Derry are flying in much lower orbits as they battle to stay airborne in a Championship which saw them exit the provincial championships at the semi-final stages.

Nobody expects either of them to be in Croke Park in September but both certainly have ambitions of checking in for All-Ireland quarter-final dates in early August.

Galway made it that far last year, before being shunted aside by Kerry on a day that underlined yet again that the Tribesmen's adventurous style is no longer viable in the claustrophobic world of modern-day football.

Galway's long-held reputation as a county that majored in an open style may have attracted widespread praise but it won't land the big prizes anymore.

Walsh saw how Mayo's harder-nosed edge had not only made them the all-conquering power in Connacht, but also took them very close to All-Ireland success.

So when he took over as Galway manager, he set about tweaking the emphasis. The result has been a much-changed approach, as Galway plough a more defensive furrow, while also trying to deploy some of their traditional style.

They were always going to beat Leitrim in the Connacht quarter-final in Carrick-on-Shannon, yet they used the new approach, which prompting home manager Shane Ward to accuse them of negativity.

"At one stage, they had 15 men behind their own '45," said Ward.

Galway's new approach caused Mayo problems in the semi-final too, but lacked the refinement to outwit a team that has been operating at the highest level for much longer.

Galway's next big test came last Sunday 'away' to Armagh. This time, their system worked, although it must be said that they were helped by Armagh's willingness to back off them. Derry will be different. They will come on to Galway, seeking to test a defensive system that's still very much in the formative stages.

Galway's new game plan won't please the county's purists, but Walsh's job is to organise the team to get the best possible results.

Besides, if Kerry could hold their noses and depart from their usual approach in last year's All-Ireland final, why should Galway be any different?

Times have changed and Walsh is seeking to take Galway into the new, if not exactly aesthetically pleasing, world.

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