How do you solve a problem like Galway?
The Tribesmen have had little success since joining Leinster – it’s a move that still divides opinion, writes GAVIN CUMMISKEY
GALWAY HAVE been in the Leinster hurling championship four seasons now. They’ve won nothing, instead providing a welcome leg-up for Dublin and Kilkenny.
They nearly even revived Offaly’s fortunes in 2010. Only a marvellous Joe Canning point, from his left as he drifted over the line and into the arms of the few Galway fans who journeyed cross-country to Portlaoise, got them into the provincial decider that year.
Kilkenny were waiting. They lost by seven points. That is the Everest they must scale once again in Croke Park tomorrow.
“If Kilkenny weren’t the Kilkenny we have now the move into Leinster would be a great success,” said John Fahey, the long serving Galway hurling board administrator. “It was the right move for hurling, put it that way.”
Many soothsayers see a heavier thumping than seven points for Anthony Cunningham’s young recruits.
“Well, bottom line is we haven’t won a Leinster championship because we are not good enough,” said former Galway manager Mattie Murphy. “This year’s management have gone on a youth policy. I honestly think that will work sooner rather than later because we do have a lot of fine young hurlers, there is no doubt about that. They are getting regular games and they will improve. They will step up to the plate eventually.”
Murphy is speaking from a position of authority, having sent out some breathtakingly talented minor Galway sides in recent times.
“It is going to happen,” he continued. “Ourselves and Cork are probably on much the same page; they tried a lot of young fellas in the last few years. Clare are the same, probably a year or two ahead of us. We have gone for broke so maybe it will be a year or two before we actually see the benefits of that.”
But the main question surrounding the Galway hurling conundrum is whether entry into the Leinster championship has proved beneficial. There is no on-field evidence yet, except for the increased sight of Canning, or arguably those Offaly games, or the brilliant 2009 shoot-out with Kilkenny in Tullamore.
The current arrangement is not an equal partnership. Galway and Antrim are still just visiting. There is no clear voice calling for the Galway minors or under-21s to follow the senior pathway into Leinster.
“There seems to be no appetite on either side for that,” explained Leinster Council secretary Michael Delaney. “Galway don’t want it and the counties of Leinster are sceptical about it. We tested the waters on that last year. Galway did their own review and their clubs said they were doing fine as they were. Kilkenny don’t really say much on it but the next batch of four or five counties see it as a threat to their chance to progress at minor and under-21.”
“It would only create more headaches,” is Murphy’s take. “I think Galway hurling would be at a disadvantage if the underage teams were to go into Leinster. We have a limited enough window of opportunity with playing our club games. That would seriously bother us, you know?”
We know. The club scene in Galway remains sacrosanct. There is, at least, talk of the western city getting a home fixture after the current structures are reviewed next year.
Fahey speaks about the obvious benefits of bringing a Leinster tie to Pearse Stadium:
“The last one we had was Galway-Tipperary in 2004. We had a full house that day. And the city accrues an obvious benefit as well.”
But why has this been allowed to go on so long? The mechanics of change within the GAA are, in many instances, notoriously lethargic. “We didn’t demand anything so Leinster are quite right, they are going to keep all perks for themselves,” said Murphy. “It’s not so much that Leinster are wrong, it’s the fact that the people who brokered the deal for Galway were naive, to put it mildly.
However, Delaney has left the door open for further integration. “We always said that when the first experiment was over, and we are going again after 2013, that Galway and Antrim would have home and away arrangements with Leinster counties. We are prepared to enter into dialogue with them on that.”
Anyway, back to the big picture of hurling and its convoluted structures. Along with Antrim’s unsuccessful entry into the province, the expansion of Leinster is already under review. Again. The entire hurling championship is being looked at. Again. GAA president Liam O’Neill said as much this week. There are obvious problems.
Despite the meeting of two ancient hurling counties in a provincial final, Delaney only anticipates “20 to 25,000” to show up at GAA headquarters tomorrow. It will be a cavernous atmosphere that pales in comparison to the pandemonium of a Munster hurling clash.
“Galway have certainly been a boost to the Leinster hurling championship,” Delaney continues. “It had become a bit stale, especially since Wexford and Offaly had gone back, becoming less and less competitive. It has reinvigorated it somewhat.
“They have justified their existence. The players seem to be happy. There is still a hardcore in Galway that are not happy with it but you will always have that.”
Murphy believes the entire championship structures are inherently flawed.
“A complete overhaul is needed. It is not a fair and equitable system where there are nine teams in Leinster and five in Munster. It is an antiquated system, the provincial system. We have to bite the bullet at some stage – you can’t have the tail wagging the dog the whole time.
“We all can see why the provincial councils won’t vote for Christmas, why would they?”
Galway: The Leinster years so far . . .
2009 Qtr-final – Galway 5-29 Laois 0-17, Portlaoise
Semi-final – Kilkenny 2-20 Galway 3-13, Tullamore
(Lost All-Ireland quarter-final to Waterford 1-16 to 0-18)
2010 Qtr-final – Galway 2-22 Wexford 1-14, Kilkenny
Semi-final – Galway 2-19 Offaly 3-16, Croke Park
Replay – Galway 3-16 Offaly 2-18, Portlaoise
Final – Kilkenny 1-19 Galway 1-12, Croke Park
(Lost All-Ireland quarter-final to Tipperary 3-17 to 3-16)
2011 Qtr-final – Galway 4-17 Westmeath 2-14, Mullingar
Semi-final – Dublin 0-19 Galway 2-7, Tullamore
(Lost All-Ireland quarter-final to Waterford 2-23 to 2-13)
2012 Qtr-final – Galway 5-18 Westmeath 4-13, Mullingar
Semi-final – Galway 5-23 Offaly 3-15, Portlaoise