Galway need canning fit for dubs duel
SOMEWHERE across the hurling fields of Galway are jigsaw pieces which, if found and put together in the correct order, will complete a picture that shows Damien Joyce waving the Liam MacCarthy Cup while his joyous colleagues celebrate all around him.
It's 5.0 on Sunday evening, September 4, 2011 -- that's all of 23 years since Galway's last All-Ireland win.
A true story or another fairytale made up by optimistic Galway supporters? Take your pick depending on your views on the Tribesmen.
There are those who believe that, despite the consistent successes by Galway underage teams and clubs, there's a kink in the senior county team's chain which will always cause it to snap under real pressure.
They said that back in the late 1970s too and Galway went on to win three All-Irelands in nine years. You can make any argument you want based on the past, but ultimately all that counts is how a team performs next time out and the day after that.
The truth about Galway is (or certainly has been) that they can beat any opposition on a given day but have failed to acquire the necessary consistency to win an All-Ireland since 1988.
Can they do it this year? Of course. Will they do it? Who knows? My own hunch is that they will have a better season than they've had for quite some time -- but then, they haven't reached an All-Ireland semi-final since 2005 so there's plenty of scope for improvement.
This evening's clash with Westmeath should be a gentle introduction to championship 2011 and then it's on to face Dublin in two weeks' time. One vital area which must come right for Galway -- if they are to make real progress -- is the availability of most (if indeed not all) of their best players.
They have been unlucky with injuries in recent seasons and haven't fared too well this year either but things do seem to be coming right. If they have a full squad to pick from, they are in with a right good chance of making their biggest impact for a long time, either through Leinster or the back door.
People talk about the big counties having huge squads to select from but the reality is that once any team loses a few key men, the entire complexion changes.
It even happened Kilkenny for last year's All-Ireland final and again for this year's league final. Now if Kilkenny can't afford to lose a few players, what chance have the rest?
Galway are very much in that category. Joe Canning isn't selected for this evening's game, which is a sensible move, but it's crucial that he be ready for Dublin.
And, if so, he must be parked close to goal. Canning creates and scores goals so there's no point having him 40 yards out. He does well there too but the opposition love to see him so far out on the basis that he's a whole lot less likely to score goals.
What Galway need is to deliver a few good performances, get themselves into Croke Park for an All-Ireland semi-final and then let the creative stuff flow.
They have as much talent as anybody else and a whole lot more than most, yet they haven't delivered on it. However, they have to regard that as being in the past and move on.
They could spend ages trying to figure out what has gone wrong over the years, but guess what? It's best forgotten. Instead, concentrate totally on the future and the opportunities it offers. By all means, carry forward the lessons of the past but only in terms of not making the same mistakes again.
That applies to players, management and everybody involved in the camp.
We won't know if that's going to be the case this evening since Westmeath won't be strong enough to apply the level of pressure required to test Galway's mindset -- but Dublin will certainly ask the hard questions.
Despite their long outsiders' rating, this evening's game will be a great experience for Westmeath and their Galway manager, Brian Hanley, who is an excellent coach. They're in bonus territory after beating Carlow and know that when they lose to Galway, they still have at least one more game to come. They will be in championship hurling up to mid, or possibly even late, June.
As for Galway, it's all about getting a rhythm going against Westmeath and building on it over the next two weeks. There's still a great uncertainty about Galway but that can develop into a negative or a positive. It's up to them which way it goes.