Galway under-21s’ succcess could be tip of iceberg
Second All-Ireland Under-21 title in three years raises prospect of senior success
Galway captain Fiontán Ó Curraoin lifts the cup after victory over Cork in Saturday’s All-Ireland Under-21 football final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Photograph: Inpho
Those typically tardy Dubliners arriving into O’Moore Park for the 2002 All-Ireland Under-21 final were met by a instantly depressing sight. The scoreboard read Galway 0-5 Dublin 0-0. Joe Bergin was dominant, silencing the blue hoards.
Matthew Clancy and Michael Meehan had the Portlaoise town-end umpire waving his white flag like a supporter.
It was only October yet John O’Mahony couldn’t help dreaming about capturing Sam Maguire for a third time in five years.
But the Tribesmen inexplicably died away, winning a paltry three Connacht senior titles since without ever threatening the national status quo .
This matters today because last Saturday evening Fiontán Ó Curraoin produced a similar show of aerial dominance to Bergin as the Galway under-21s swept past Cork.
“It reminded me of that performance against Dublin in 2002,” said O’Mahony yesterday. “They literally threw themselves at Dublin and annihilated them.”
It finished 0-15 to 0-7 but by 2011 the likes of Alan Brogan, Stephen Cluxton, and Bryan Cullen finally added an All-Ireland medal to their glut of provincial jewellery.
“We had won the All-Ireland in 2001 and watching that game a year later I thought, ‘Jeez, we’ve a third team coming here’.
“But it didn’t happen that way. We were beaten by Donegal in a replay in the quarter-final in 2003 and it went downhill from there.Then came the 2005 under-21 win under Peter Ford, followed by the minors in 2007 but they couldn’t kick it off either.
“It used to be Mayo who couldn’t translate the success at underage up to senior. Certainly in the present decade it is Galway. Then again, maybe they’ll have something to say about that on the 19th of May.”
That’s their date with Mayo and perhaps destiny.
“Galway could emerge as a power again but they have had two or three really miserable seasons at senior level,” said O’Mahony.
The current under-21 manager Alan Flynn is well placed to supply an educated guess about what the future holds. Cautiously optimistic, Flynn believes “12 to 24 months” are required for the 2013 vintage to mature.
“Nineteen of the current 33-man panel are eligible to play under-21 in 2014. Of the starting XV, full back James Shaughnessy, corner back Eoin Walsh and five of the six forwards are underage again.
“So you can see my point about giving them time,” said Flynn. “There is no guarantee that they will progress to senior football but when you have two groups coming along in such a short space of time it does give you a great chance to build over the next two, three years.”
Four of them are already on the senior panel. Tom Flynn, Tom Healy, Shane Walsh with Ó Curraoin looking a special talent; the heir apparent to Bergin and maybe even Kevin Walsh.
Of the 2011 under-21 side that beat Cavan in the final, Breathnach, Gary Sweeney, Colin Forde, Johnny Duane, Josh Moore, Conor Doherty, Danny Cummins and Mark Hehir have broken into Alan Mulholland’s senior panel.
Saturday’s showing could be the tip of a Galway iceberg.
“It was a very traditional-type Galway win, with a lot of natural, positive football,” said the Mayo TD. “ The challenge is to get a step up from underage to senior. I think that will come but there are question marks as to why that hasn’t happened yet.”