Skehill confident Galway have what it takes to bounce back against Clare
Tribesmen eager to put Leinster final defeat behind them as they target a semi-final place
Galway’s Joe Canning reacts to a missed chance in the Leinster hurling final against Dublin. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Hunter S. Thompson always said there is no such thing as objective journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms. And with the possible exception of things like match statistics, substitutions and the final score, the sporting pages have little space for any pretence of objectivity.
So when Liam O’Neill stood up in Croke Park earlier this week and calmly declared this hurling championship “the best ever” – an entirely subjective statement if there ever was one – he was greeted with eager nods of approval, especially from us journalists.
Nearly everything about this hurling championship so far invites this sort of sweeping statement. There were, however, two silent objections, from two men sitting nearer the front – Galway goalkeeper James Skehill, and his Tipperary counterpart Brendan Cummins.
Skehill was staring at the floor, and Cummins was staring off into space, and for good reason. Galway’s championship to date has been bitterly disappointing but they could begin some major redemptive work against Clare in Thurles tomorrow. For Tipperary the worst is already over because their championship is over already.
Both men were in Croke Park to promote next month’s Poc Fada competition, but that sideshow will be a small consolation for Skehill should Galway fail in their primary goal – no matter how great the rest of the season turns out to be for everyone else. No team is ever consoled by the success of their rivals.
So behind all the breakthroughs, the ending of 52-year waits in Leinster and 17-year waits in Munster, the magical replays and still mysterious outcomes, lies the prospect of some desperate irrelevance, and especially for Galway.
Defeat to Clare tomorrow – and Galway by the way have lost their last five quarter-finals – wouldn’t just undo all the progress of last year but also further extend their trend of following one good season with a distinctly poor one since they last won the All-Ireland in 1988.
The irony is that year Galway put All-Irelands back-to-back, and yet they have consistently failed to put together two good seasons ever since. In the 25 years since Galway last won that title, 12 defending All-Ireland champions made it back into the final the following year, as have six of the beaten finalists – and yet Galway have failed four times out of four (see panel).
Now, unless they quickly rediscover their form of last summer – which included the stunning Leinster final victory over Kilkenny, and subsequent battling All-Ireland final replay defeat to the same opposition – Galway won’t even make an interesting footnote to this hurling championship. The danger is very clear and very present.
Skehill agrees that Galway haven’t yet t “clicked” in 2013 but he remains positive.
“We obviously didn’t win the Leinster final so we haven’t achieved that goal, but I wouldn’t say we’ve gone back too far, or slumped badly from last year, as some people are saying.
“We’re still quality hurlers. We’re a quality side with a quality management and a quality backroom team. It’s just about getting everything right on the day. We’ve just got to click, really. So this Sunday now, while I won’t say it’s redemption, it’s a game that needs to be won for us to progress. Our main aim is to win the All-Ireland and to do so we have three games to win. And this is step one.”