Alan Mulholland’s Galway eager to seize the day at headquarters
Promising young team looking forward to putting it up to Kerry in an attractive quarter-final clash
Tipperary manager Peter Creedon shakes hands with Galway manager Alan Mulholland after the qualifier in Tullamore. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The sometimes difficult task of making an All-Ireland football quarter-final is something Alan Mulholland is only now beginning to appreciate. Some counties never manage it, and now that Galway are back there for the first time since 2008 it’s clearly a day he’s intent on seizing.
“Yeah, I’m three years at it, and didn’t realise how hard it was,” said the Galway manager, after last weekend’s qualifier win over Tipperary set up Sunday’s showdown against Kerry at Croke Park. “But once you’re in a quarter-final you always want to go a step further. It’s important now that we put in a good performance the next day. Just getting to a quarter-final isn’t good enough.”
That Kerry stand in their way of a first All-Ireland semi-final since 2001 (Galway’s last year to win the All-Ireland, too) offers an additional sense of opportunity: it was Kerry who took them out in that 2008 quarter-final, a game played under such dark skies and torrential rain that it required the floodlights at Croke Park be turned on – a first for a summer championship match.
Last Saturday’s victory over Tipperary – 4-17 to 4-12 – possibly revealed more about Mulholland’s influence on the team that any other performance to date. Not only are Galway playing with greater intent, and cohesion, but they’re playing with more belief too. And, playing for their manager.
Three survivorsBut then many of them would have previously played under Mulholland during his previous roles as Galway minor and under-21 manager. Of the 15 likely to start against Kerry on Sunday, there are only three survivors of the team that started in 2008: defenders Gareth Bradshaw and Finian Hanley, and forward Paul Conroy.
Michael Meehan hasn’t given up on making a return yet, but in the meantime the young forward line of Danny Cummins, Michael Martin and particularly Shane Walsh have impressed. They have now scored 4-41 in their four matches this summer.
The only worry for Mulholland is that Galway have also conceded 7-37 in their last three games, against Tipp, Mayo and Sligo. If anything the four late goals conceded to Tipp last Saturday comprised a timely reminder that against a team like Kerry, that will be curtains.
“We definitely retreated into our shell, didn’t pick up lads high enough up the pitch, and allowed them to come at us. We’ll have to work on that because that’s not going to work against Kerry.”
That desire to improve again, says Mulholland, is something Galway are determined to bring to Croke Park.
“Really what we’ll be working on is the stuff that we did poorly against Mayo, and the stuff that we did poorly against Tipp, trying to rectify that and get in a proper and good performance, and maintain the whole positivity around the whole thing.
“Six years is a long time. Look, Kerry will be favourites, but it’s a great challenge to have. And you always have to believe. I believed we could beat Mayo as well. If things had gone differently in that game as well it might have had a different result.”
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has also identified Galway’s young forward line as one that is capable of inflicting major damage.
“Alan Mulholland has been in charge now for a couple of years, and he has been able to put his own stamp on the team,” said Fitzmaurice. “They are very strong in the middle of the field, they have momentum, and belief coming into next Sunday, so they will be difficult opponents.
A decline“I remember 2008, when Kerry were going for three-in-a-row. Galway were in a slight bit of a decline at the time but it showed that on a given day, that Kerry and Galway games are usually good open football games. And anything can happen when Galway have forwards like they have. And any team that you’re playing in All-Ireland quarter-final is going to be very hard to crack.”
Galway’s only injury worry is centre back Gary O’Donnell – with Daithí Burke likely to start should he not make it.