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Galway the masters in art of illusion

The apology has become a common tool in hurling this summer so, first up, we'll take a leaf out of the books of John Mullane and John McIntyre and issue one ourselves.

This is to the Waterford players and those who have involved in the careful husbandry of talent in the county over the last decade or more, ensuring that, since their initial breakthrough under Gerald McCarthy against Len Gaynor's Tipperary in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 1998, they have remained one of the most prominent hurling forces in the game.

Last Sunday's comprehensive victory over Galway ensured that the Deise will contest a sixth hurling semi-final in successive years, a ninth since that day in Cork 13 years ago when they finally mined a championship win of some consequence over the then All-Ireland finalists.

For the last 10 years they have consistently been one of the top three teams in the game, third behind Cork and Kilkenny at the height of their hegemony around the middle of the decade and third again behind current pacesetters Kilkenny and Tipperary.

Players have come and gone on the back of huge disappointments, others have had to succumb to ageing legs and signed off on long careers of great service, but the county's status as a top-three team has remained in tact.

It's a pity we haven't always recognised that fact. It's a pity we have been too quick to point to the defeats and the nature of them rather than the days when the sun has shone brightly for them.

It's a pity we have looked at where the underage titles have all been going, noted their absence and come to the conclusion that there can't be a lot happening there.

It's staggering to think that they have won just one Munster minor title (2009) and one Munster U-21 title (1994) in the 20 years since they did the provincial double in '92.

Their record at U-21 level in particular has been quite shocking, with defeats in the 2007 and '08 Munster finals hugely forgettable from their point of view.

But what has it mattered in the greater scheme of things?


The system, structure and ease with which they have brought players through is working seamlessly.

It is an insult to Waterford hurling that Galway have been pitched above them so often as the team more likely to threaten the duopoly established between Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary a different stages of the last decade.

But then Galway hurling has consistently managed to cast a spell over the game and deluded everyone into thinking that they are better than they actually are. On Sunday last that delusion reached its highest ever level.

Is the vast success they have enjoyed at underage level now more of a millstone around their neck than a springboard from which to launch themselves? In terms of building undue expectation it has been a weight bearing down on them.

Since their last All-Ireland title in 1988 they have matched the number of All-Ireland minor titles (seven in all) won by Kilkenny and have also been beaten in a further seven finals, three more than Kilkenny.

At U-21 level they have also kept step impressively, winning five to Kilkenny's seven. But they haven't been a means to an end.

The former Galway hurler Cathal Moore put it well last night when he drew comparison to the work being done at underage level in Dublin.

"A lot of people would tell you now that they never want to hear of Galway winning a minor or U-21 again because we have won a lot over the past 20 years," said Moore.

"But having said that, when you take the Dublin situation, everyone is saying they have improved so much this year because of the great underage system that they have. You can't have it every way. Galway have a great record at underage, but we do have a big problem bringing those players through."

There is far greater opposition in Galway to signing up their underage teams to Leinster competition and, it must be said, there is strong opposition in Leinster, particularly from Wexford and Offaly, to such an arrangement too.

But wouldn't Galway get a far more accurate insight into the strength of their U-21 teams if they were to contest a province every year rather than enjoy a free ride to the play-offs every August?

It would appear that senior manager McIntyre has signed his own departure papers with the admission that Galway hurling is as far away from an All-Ireland title as it has been in the last 20 years.

McIntyre has been honest, fair and protective of players over the course of the last three years, players who badly let him down in the minutes after half-time on Sunday when they let the game run away from them with almost casual nonchalance. But ultimately that hasn't nearly been enough.

Is there a better alternative to the management team that has effectively put its hand up and invited someone else to come in? If there is, it's not patently obvious.

Mattie Murphy, who has spearheaded some of the most recent minor successes, has been there twice before. Noel Lane was an interested candidate the last time, as was Michael Bond.

Undoubtedly Galway will go knocking on the door of Eamonn O'Shea, the former Tipperary coach who worked in tandem with Liam Sheedy until last year's All-Ireland success. O'Shea lives in Galway city and if Galway are in the market for new management then he would be the first obvious port of call.

Would Galway be bold enough to pursue Sheedy too, despite the obvious pressures of work that called time on his three-year stint with Tipperary last September?

Living near Nenagh and with the luxury of a new motorway to the heartlands of Galway hurling from his work base in Dublin, Sheedy could be tempted, unless the obvious bond with these Tipp players is too strong.

But it would be another tremendous challenge for the pair. And Galway need to be bold.

Irish Independent