David Collins doesn’t have to think long and hard to reveal the moment when he sensed that Galway could come out on the right side of their epic All-Ireland semi-final with Tipperary last month.
The identity parade is confined to one in the Galway captain’s mind, Johnny Glynn’s hook on Pádraic Maher in the 68th minute making the opening for Cathal Mannion to bring the sides level for a ninth time.
There was still time for Noel McGrath to push Tipperary back in front one last time but for Collins Glynn’s pressure said everything about the Galway team that has redefined itself this summer.
“Personally, when I saw it I said, ‘Right, this is it, this is our game. We’re on that curve’. Why I say this is because the work rate, the intensity that the boys kept bringing to it, three points down, four points down, we kept coming back with scores.”
Galway, he insists, are different now from any other team he has known. Collectively, they have come to understand work rate by numbers, not just the feel of sweat on their brows.
They have become more player-driven than any other Galway team he has known because for too long, Collins accepts, their propensity has been to blame the manager.
“We broke it down, stats-wise, in terms of what tackles are being made, who’s making them, who is making the biggest impact tackles,” he recalled.
“When you have that data in front of you and you say, ‘Right. we can get to a tackle rate of around 45 to 50 on any given day’.
“You need to be up there all the time. If you’re not making the targets then you are pulled out and told, ‘This is where you have to go’. In training that’s been done, if you are not getting in the tackles, you are not getting in the hits. It’s the players that are driving it, it’s players that are pulling the other players aside and asking, ‘Where is this going?’, ‘what are you doing?,’ ‘why aren’t you doing this?’. It’s doesn’t have to come from management, which is great.
“There’s a real team bond, there’s a unity that’s there, lads know where they are going, they know what they need to do. Once it’s player-led, player-driven, great, that’s what we need,” he said.
“Many a time in Galway it’s always being blamed on management. ‘The manager is this, the manager is that.’ Take out the common denominator and when have we won anything anyway? The players have to drive it on. It’s key.”
An injury earlier in the season has cost the captain a starting place but he still plays a vital role in motivation and setting the right tone among the players.
Targeting the last quarter of games, an area where they have been so vulnerable in the past, has become a priority, explained Collins.
“We’ve been questioned as a team for the last how many years in terms of consistency and what we can bring if we are able to be consistent. When you say that enough to a guy . . . If you throw enough muck something is going to stick so that was one thing we aimed to address this year. We get a consistent format and we keep trying to win games in the last 15 minutes. If you look over the last couple of years – Clare, Tipperary and Kilkenny have beaten us all in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
“So we needed to bring that freshness and if players need to be brought on to bring that freshness to the game at times, then they have to be injected in. We are finishing games a whole lot stronger than what we were. It’s definitely something we set out at the start of the year to rectify.”
When he looks back, their collapse against Tipperary in last year’s qualifiers was a line in the sand for all of them. For sure they were tired, having played Kilkenny twice in the previous 13 days, but they asked serious questions of themselves after that.
“That really rattled us, I think, in terms of mental capacity to finish out a game,” he recalled. “The awareness of (Lar) Corbett coming on and picking off a handy point in the middle of the field and then going out to the wing and hitting another cracker. Where were our guys and why didn’t we close him down? Stop the rot at that stage and that’s what was key.
“Again we worked on it this year and it has come off, but we have only started to work on it since that game against Waterford where we went, ‘Right okay, we need to sort this, otherwise we are going nowhere again.’”
He sees benefit in losing the Leinster final to Kilkenny in July as the breaks between each game have been consistent since, three weeks between each giving them a near-perfect run-in. Three years ago they had just one match, an All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, in that nine-week period.
“You have a week’s downer after the game, a good week’s hard training and then you have a week down again. Lads are still in the frame of mind where they are saying, ‘Right we can’t step off the gas’. If we had four or five weeks, that’s a different story.”
The burden-sharing in attack, easing the weight on Joe Canning, has also been a telling factor in their progression, Collins accepts.
“I think it’s so much weight off his shoulders. The pressure he was under, he’s only a young lad. It’s like he’s been there 20 years so at least he can hurl away now to his own.
“He has carried it with fair distinction too. He has carried Galway through a lot of games, but that whole thing has changed now which is fantastic. We just need to carry it over the line now.”