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John Mullane: 'Donoghue must find four or five players in league if Galway are to claim the Holy Grail once again'

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Galway manager Micheal Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile

Galway manager Micheal Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Galway manager Micheal Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile

New Year, new season. What now for the 2018 All-Ireland senior hurling championship runners-up?

When Galway have found themselves in this situation in previous years, the trend has generally been one of disappointment.

Tipperary in 2010, Kilkenny a year later, and Cork as far back as 2004 spring to mind as the three 'traditional' counties who were able to shrug off an All-Ireland final defeat but come out swinging to land the big prize 12 months later.

It's an extremely difficult thing to do, however, and my home county, Waterford, struggled last year after the highs of reaching the 2017 final.

But what Galway do have in their favour is that they've won silverware over the last couple of years, an All-Ireland title, an Allianz league crown, and two Leinster wins.

It's a lot easier to go chasing something when you have medals banked away than going chasing something that you'd never had but wish to have.

It makes the period of winter reflection much easier and you don't dwell on the 'what ifs' as much.

Obviously, there would have been natural disappointment after relinquishing the Liam MacCarthy Cup to Limerick but it's easier to park it when you've already lived the dream.

Their players may be more driven to right the wrongs of last August and having experienced the highs and lows of All-Ireland final day can be beneficial to them when trying to reclaim the title.

Operating in Division 1B is perfect for Galway and it hasn't hindered them over the past two years when it comes to preparing for the championship.

After defeating Waterford in the 2017 league quarter-final, Galway gathered huge momentum and never looked back.

Last year, they didn't have to kill themselves early doors and they came into the championship pretty much under the radar, which you wouldn't normally associate with All-Ireland champions.

This time, Micheál Donoghue might just opt for the same approach as two years ago, when they timed that run from league quarter-final all the way to the All-Ireland final. They now know what the round-robin system in Leinster holds and on the back of a gruelling 2018 campaign, this is a great opportunity to rest older players and try out younger guys who might freshen up the team.

Donoghue will want to see four or five players putting their hands up for championship shirts.

If they do, Galway will have a big say in where Liam MacCarthy resides next winter.

But if he doesn't, it's hard to see how the same core group of 18-19 players that he's been using can go back to the well again.

Donoghue knows that he needs cover and players who can come in and stake a claim, particularly in defence.

This could be the year, then, when he might upset one or two of the older players who have served him so well in the past.

I think he'll look to rotate the more experienced guys on a week on, week off basis, and bed new players in.

Jack Grealish, Ronan Burke, Fergal Flannery in goal, Kevin Hussey, Jack Coyne, Sean Bleahane and Jack Fitzpatrick are all guys that could be handed the chance to impress.

It will also be really interesting to see how Joe Canning is used in the league.

What was surprising was seeing Joe tog out for the last two weekends and playing a massive part in Galway's Walsh Cup success.

But, again, Division 1B is perfect for Joe as he will probably get to sit out some games and not play week after week.

He's 30 now and a fresh, injury-free Joe Canning heading towards the summer will be vital for Donoghue and Galway.

This team have been compared to the teams of the 1980s and older Galway fans will recall painful All-Ireland final defeats in 1979 and 1987, but they'll also remember the All-Ireland successes of the years that followed, in 1980 and 1988.

That's the kind of history that Galway want to make, rather than walking into the traps that have snared beaten All-Ireland finalists of the past when they go again.

The league itself is going to be a little strange in terms of its format, with no relegation from Division 1A, and no promotion from Division 1B.

This is to enable a restructure which will come into play in 2020 but it dilutes the competition.

If anything, they should have left it well enough alone and alter it with two up, two down, the top two in Division 1A into the semi-finals, with the third and fourth-placed teams playing the top two in Division 1B.

For that extra incentive, I'd also have provided home advantage for the third and fourth-placed Division 1A sides, to make it more rewarding for them in two quarter-finals.

I really do think it's a case of 'if it's not broken, don't fix it' because the league has provided excellent fare in the last few years.

So while the relegation trapdoor has been eliminated, and promotion is not an option for Division 1B counties, Galway and Limerick have shown that good league campaigns can lead to the Holy Grail.

Consequently, managers will be conscious of the need to gain momentum, and the importance of league success cannot be understated ahead of another championship.

Irish Independent