Cyril Farrell: 'There's a lot more right than wrong in Galway hurling - but new faces are needed'
It's a long wait now for the Galway races! Still five weeks to go and this time there's a big void for Galway people as supporting the hurlers is off the agenda after the dramatic events in Parnell Park last Saturday.
The defeat by Dublin and news that Wexford and Kilkenny had drawn was the ultimate double-hit, but Galway can have no complaints or excuses.
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The table doesn't lie and while they picked up as many points as Kilkenny, Wexford and Dublin, they had the worst scoring difference. Everyone knows in advance how it works, so Galway have to accept that they just weren't good enough.
Being out of the championship so early has certainly come as shock to a county that won the All-Ireland two years ago and were only a point behind Limerick in last year's final, so the analysis will have to be honest and forensic. First things first, Micheál Donoghue should stay on as manager. You will always get knee-jerk reactions from the public to setbacks like this, but they really don't matter.
Galway won an All-Ireland, two Leinsters and a league title over three seasons. It's a very good haul, so just because they were edged out in Leinster this year, it doesn't mean everything is wrong.
There's a lot more right than wrong in Galway hurling, which is the basis from which the review of where it goes from here must start.
Donoghue knows that and is smart enough and honest enough to accept that various adjustments will be necessary. That tends to happen everywhere from season to season anyway, but the rate of change has to be accelerated in Galway.
There have been relatively few changes on the team or the front-line subs for a few years. Only for John Hanbury's suspension and Joe Canning's injury, 14 of the team that started against Tipperary in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final would have started against Dublin last Saturday, the exception being Conor Cooney, who is also still very much part of the scene.
Obviously, Galway's success rate over the past two years has built up confidence in the lads delivering it, but it still seems odd that a county which is producing so much underage talent hasn't seen an evolution in the panel. Did some players become too sure of holding on to starting places? Did the same subs always feel they would be first to come on? That can happen easily enough when a squad is settled, but sometimes it can be too settled.
There were signs last year that it needed a burst of new energy, but, even without that, they reached the All-Ireland final and finished just a point behind Limerick. In hindsight, that could have been bad for Galway. In overall terms, it wasn't a one-point game. Limerick were at least six points the better team and, if that had been the final result, it might have led to a real shake-up in Galway.
That has to come for next year. No, I'm not advocating a total clean-out, but new faces are needed. There are plenty good hurlers in Galway and after a largely lifeless league and championship campaign this year, fresh energy is vital.
Donoghue will, no doubt, look at his management set-up too. It's a smart group, but there's always room for more expertise. And I'm not talking about Kieran Donaghy, whose involvement this year mystified Galway people.
I'm sure Kieran has many fine qualities, but being invited into a hurling set-up that had won an All-Ireland so soon after stepping out as a Kerry footballer looked odd.
For whatever reason, Galway didn't get it together this year. They didn't top 1B for a third successive year, lost a league semi-final to Waterford in a game they were controlling at one stage, beat Carlow by considerably less than their Leinster rivals and allowed themselves to be bullied to a fair extent against Dublin.
The win over Kilkenny in Nowlan Park suggested they were back on track but, even then, they were hanging on at the finish, despite having an extra man for much of the second half.
Maybe the early championship exit will have an upside in the long run. Once it's analysed in detail, management will have a clear insight into what needs to be done.
By the time they take to the road for the Walsh Cup next January, the panel should have a different look. It has to because there was something stale and predictable about so many performances this year.
Galway have got a painful reminder of how tight the margins are. A win for Kilkenny or Wexford last Saturday would have kept them in the All-Ireland race. Ultimately, they allowed their fate to be taken out of their hands and paid the price.
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Carlow are making a well-argued case for a review of the promotion/relegation system between the Liam MacCarthy/Joe McDonagh levels and I agree with them.
They lost their four Leinster games by an average of around 12 points (they ran Galway to six) and were relegated.
Would it not be better to keep them in Leinster, where the experience of this season would stand to them next year?
Extending the Leinster Championship to six counties would be a big plus for counties like Carlow, Laois, Westmeath and Offaly (hopefully they will emerge from the deep depression quickly). And nobody loses either, so why confine it to five? Is it a case of balancing it with Munster? If so, it makes no sense.