Tuesday 22 October 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Donoghue seeks Galway depth charges in effort to reclaim Liam MacCarthy'

Micheál Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile
Micheál Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The second coming of Liam Sheedy, the impressive start to life as defending champions by Limerick and the question as to whether Brian Cody is bringing another group to their milk have been some of the main stories of the season to date. But, so far, Galway have been hardly mapped.

They haven't pulled up trees with their form in Division 1B and subsequently they have gone under the radar for the most part. Micheál Donoghue is likely happy enough to have it that way as they prepare to welcome Wexford to Salthill on Saturday afternoon.

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Still, Donoghue and his backroom team have been working away quietly, trawling the county in a bid to see what new talent they can introduce as they look to reclaim the title they won in 2017.

When it came to the All-Ireland final last year, it was noted that Galway had made just one change to the starting side that had won the previous year. That change was enforced too, with James Skehill coming in for the injured All-Star goalkeeper Colm Callanan.

But otherwise it was as you were for the Connacht men, as they went in search of back-to-back titles as the men of 1987/'88 had done.

In the end they came up short. And for some it was a result that demonstrated Galway's panel hadn't evolved in the way it needed to if they were to retain an All-Ireland. Others argued that the consistency of team selection was down to the high standards maintained by those who delivered Liam MacCarthy the previous year. Either way, Galway knew they had work to do.

They used three subs in the 2017 decider and four last year with one of those changes coming in goal after Skehill was forced off through injury.

Two of the other subs who came on that day - Niall Burke and Jason Flynn - were also introduced on in the '17 final. The other change from the '17 final - Shane Maloney - wasn't on the match-day panel last year. It suggested that Galway hadn't found new options in the way that the Dublin footballers have been able to do in recent seasons.

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Before last year's final, Offaly hero Michael Duignan reckoned that "Limerick have the best squad in the country but Galway have best starting 15" and that was a theme Galway selector Noel Larkin dealt with in his pre-match media interviews. He reckoned they had added depth to the squad that year.

"At extra-time in the drawn game in Croke Park (against Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final), I looked around and I think there was five All-Stars on the bench for whatever reason, taken off, injured or emptied the tank," Larkin explained.

"We have used 26 players this year in the championship, we have great depth in the squad and against Clare in extra-time our panel got us over the line.

"More depth is something we looked at and we are happy enough where we are going on that score."

However, when it came to it, Galway didn't pull much in the way of new faces off the bench in the final. And in the league so far Micheál Donoghue has plumbed new depths in pursuit of extra options come summer time.

In all, the Galway manager has used 34 players in the five games they have played so far. Interestingly, only Seán Loftus has started all five of the matches with Pádraic Mannion, Cathal Mannion, Seán Kilduff and Davy Glennon featuring in each of those games.

Otherwise the heavy lifting of the spring has been shared out. Donoghue has handed starts to 33 players in total, including three goalkeepers in Callanan, Skehill and Fearghal Flannery. There are, of course, mitigating circumstances. Being in 1B allows Galway to experiment a little bit more while Oranmore-Maree's run to an All-Ireland club IHC title and St Thomas' ongoing campaign has interfered with the availability of their players.

By the time the championship rolls around, Conor and Shane Cooney and David and éanna Burke will surely be reintroduced to the squad, meaning Donoghue will use close to 40 players this year.

It's been quite the experiment. Saturday will give the best idea yet of where Galway are but they have gone about some important business quietly.

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