Sport GAA

Wednesday 23 October 2019

No football manager, no hurling manager and a Supermac's stand-off - dark clouds hang over Galway GAA

 

Eye of the storm: Pearse Stadium, home of Galway GAA, has plenty of Supermac’s signage but the sponsor has now questioned the county board. Photo: Sportsfile
Eye of the storm: Pearse Stadium, home of Galway GAA, has plenty of Supermac’s signage but the sponsor has now questioned the county board. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

This wasn't how 2019 was supposed to turn out for Galway. Without a football or hurling manager, and with the county board and sponsors Supermac's embroiled in an embarrassing row which has bemused the rest of the country, the maroon-and-white brand is taking a battering.

Clare are the only other Liam MacCarthy Cup contenders still working on management matters, while Galway is the only county currently without a football boss.

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And if that weren't enough to raise questions about what's going on, the board have been hit with a fierce onslaught from people they regarded as close allies - Supermac's. It's quite a workload and that's without the many other pressing issues facing the county, not least the serious financial challenges.

Outburst

Supermac's outburst ('how was our sponsorship money spent?') came as a real shock, whereas managerial matters have been on the agenda for weeks.

Micheál Donoghue announced on August 20 that he was quitting after four years at the hurling helm, followed two weeks later by Kevin Walsh, who left after five years with the footballers.

The circumstances behind both departures are sufficiently confusing to leave room for speculation - not to mention rumour - as to what exactly was behind them. Donoghue's term was extended by two years last November, yet by August he was gone, explaining that "the time is right".

Why was it so right? Even after their worst season for many years, Galway will still be among the All-Ireland favourites in 2020. It's a prime job for any manager and with nobody querying Donoghue's right to take his tenure into a fifth year, one has to assume there was more to the resignation than a sudden realisation that "the time is right". Galway had been eliminated from the championship more than nine weeks earlier, so why did his decision to quit take so long? Okay, so a period of reflection was inevitable after the shock exit, but nine weeks?

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Since his departure statement was so straightforward we'll probably never know what transpired between management and the board, or indeed with other parties either.

Suffice to say, there are deep suspicions that his exit wasn't simply a case of deciding on a whim more than two months after the championship campaign had ended that he wouldn't fulfil the second year of his latest term. Especially so, when it involves a manager who presided over All-Ireland success only two years earlier.

There was a mysterious dimension in football too, where Walsh waited almost two months before quitting after five seasons in charge. As with Donoghue, why did he take so long to announce a decision? The obvious conclusion is something happened to prompt his departure.

Unlike Donoghue, who still enjoyed full backing in Galway, Walsh had critics who argued that it was time for a change. Galway's style of play in recent years left many supporters uneasy with what they perceived as a corruption of the county's DNA.

It was tolerated for a few seasons as Walsh first led Galway back into Division 1 and then kept them there.

And when they reached the All-Ireland semi-final last year for the first time since 2001, hopes were high that the upward curve would be maintained, albeit with a system which was ugly on the eye.

They weren't expected to beat Dublin but a competitive showing would have nourished ambitions. Instead, they were obliterated in the second half, their defensive systems dismantled quite easily. Once that happened, there appeared to be nothing left, physically or mentally.

It was a serious setback, albeit not as bad as this year's Connacht final where Galway suffered another second-half wipeout.

Leading Roscommon by five points at home in Pearse Stadium, and with the wind behind them in the second half, they seemed poised for a relatively easy run to the title and a place in the Super 8s.

Instead, they were easily subdued by Roscommon, who bullied them physically, while also showing far greater desire.

In fairness to Walsh, there was nothing he could do about it. This was all about the players and their inability to tick even the most basic boxes.

They failed under every single heading, raising genuine doubts about their real substance. Walsh's critics argue that his regimented systems alienated players, but that doesn't excuse their pathetically weak response when Roscommon came at them.

Nor does it explain why they were so disjointed in the early stages against Mayo in the qualifiers three weeks later when they failed in basic defensive work.

After five years under Walsh, they probably need a change of management, but based on their misfires in a range of big games over recent years, it will take more than a new voice and different playing systems to move them to the next level.

Philosophy

There's a popular view in Galway that Pádraic Joyce, who managed the U-20s this year, should take over. As one of the county's great football icons and with a philosophy that's based very much on a positive approach, he appears the obvious choice, provided of course that he wants the job.

While the county board grapple with important management decisions, they find themselves under fire on the commercial front after Supermac's lined them up for a kicking.

It's probably unprecedented anywhere in the world for sponsors to publicly challenge their clients on how money was spent, but that's the uncomfortable situation that applies in Galway right now. Bizarrely, Supermac's appear happy to continue with the sponsorship, whether or not they receive answers raised in their statement this week.

Presumably, they released the sponsorship figures (€1.28 million in direct payments over the last five years) to support their case that 'super' also applies to their generosity. If that's the case, they got it wrong.

Given that they are backing a county at the top end of the market in football (men and ladies), camogie and ladies football, the figures appear quite modest, especially since Supermac's benefit directly through fast food sales at Galway's games. Could their outburst spell the end of a no longer beautiful relationship with Galway GAA?

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