Martin Breheny: Ignorant Galway followers wrong to attack players
IT was the considered opinion of some Galway fans in Tullamore last Saturday evening that their hurlers, team management and all associated with the poor performance against Dublin were a disgrace.
Furthermore, it was also their view that they were entitled to unload themselves of that opinion -- loudly and angrily. And so they vented their fury rather colourfully as the team left the pitch, heads down, spirits drained, future uncertain.
It was an ignorant response from, admittedly, a small number of people but it did show the level of frustration felt in Galway. However, that does not give anybody the right to abuse amateur players.
Sure, the squad had failed to deliver on their own and others' expectations, but they didn't need any further reminders from people whose unhelpful contribution to the cause was to yell from the terraces.
Earlier in the day, the supporters -- and quite probably the squad too -- would have read the rather stark analysis offered by former Galway stars Conor Hayes, Noel Lane and Brendan Lynskey in the Irish Independent, where the consensus was that the current generation of players were under-achieving.
The trio won eight All-Ireland senior medals between them as players. Two of them later managed Galway, steering them to All-Ireland finals, while the third served as a selector, so there isn't much they don't know about the game in the county.
Their critique, offered with the conviction and genuineness that they all brought to their outstanding careers, was packaged under the heading: 'Are Galway too soft?'
Lynskey said that Galway players were "a little on the shy side", Lane queried their mental toughness and Hayes talked of "capitulating too easily".
Those are damning indictments and, since they came from three of the sturdiest pillars in Galway hurling, they are rightly given credence.
However, there's another elephant in the Galway room that, for some reason, continues to be ignored. It has grown into the big beast it now is off a diet of unpalatable facts known as championship results.
They point to one inescapable reality -- Galway simply haven't been good enough to deliver on the bloated expectations which surround them every year. Take 2005 out of the equation and they have failed to live up to their pre-championship ranking every year since '01, when they also reached the final.
Indeed, two of their worst capitulations were in '04 and '06, which suggests that '05 was something of a freak.
Now here's the thing: Galway went into last Saturday's game with four of the six defenders -- Damien Joyce, Tony Óg Regan, Shane Kavanagh and David Collins -- who played in the '05 All-Ireland final (it would have been five if Ollie Canning hadn't retired). How is it that six years later -- without reaching even one All-Ireland semi-final in the interim -- so many of them are still first-choice?
And when repairs were necessary in attack last Saturday, they went back to 34-year-old Alan Kerins, almost two years after he last played for Galway.
Obviously, the management believe that the old guard are still the best available, even if Galway haven't made any progress in recent years. That suggests the back-up talent isn't up to the required standard, although there's a view that you're better off taking a chance with new -- even unproven -- players rather than retaining those who have failed repeatedly.
For reasons not rooted in logic, Galway have been installed as third favourites behind Kilkenny and Tipperary for the All-Ireland title over the last three seasons. It's as if there is a belief out there that players who haven't delivered before are suddenly going to emerge as a real force.
It hasn't happened and the signs are not encouraging but, then, just how good are Galway? They have won several underage titles with well-balanced, well-coached teams but other top counties tend to get more individuals through from minor and U-21.
There's more long-term benefit for a county from a minor team which fails to win an All-Ireland but produces three of four good senior players than a well-balanced squad that takes the title simply because they have a more even standard of player than the opposition.
Galway have thrived in the latter department but, with a few exceptions -- Joe Canning being the most obvious in recent years -- the minor teams aren't producing the senior stars. The consequences of that were there for all to see last Saturday evening.
Dublin now a real force to be reckoned with
MOST of the focus was on Galway after their poor performance against the Dubs last Saturday but is the point being missed?
Could it be that Dublin are developing into something really special? Last Saturday was their 13th game of the season (Walsh Cup, NHL, Leinster SHC), of which they have won 10, drawn two and lost one (against Galway in the NHL, when they shot 19 wides).
Also, wasn't there an uncanny similarity about how last Saturday's game followed much the same pattern as the league final? Galway and Kilkenny each led Dublin by 1-1 to 0-2 early on; both were restricted to 1-2 for the full half; Dublin scored 0-11 against Kilkenny and 0-12 against Galway in the first half.
Kilkenny cut the deficit to six points in the second half; Galway cut it to five. Kilkenny were restricted to eight scores, Galway to nine. Kilkenny and Galway each scored only twice in the final 15 minutes.
It suggests that Dublin are one mighty force right now, which adds immeasurably to the sense of anticipation for the big rematch with the Cats on Sunday week.