John Allen: Galway have to prove they have stamina against Clare
Western county’s lack of ability to see out big games a major issue as they try to bridge gap
Dejected Galway players after their defeat to Kilkenny in the Leinster final at Croke Park on July 3rd. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.
The Galway hurlers have come in for quite a bit of criticism again since the Leinster final. Much of the narrative about them over a long number of years centres on the inconsistent nature of their performances. Much of the criticism is justified and of course the final score in every game is the most important statistic. Galway have often performed very well for long periods in many games and ultimately ended as losers. But surely it’s a little unfair to be generalising and using one-size-fits-all statements to categorise their results.
So much is expected from the Galway hurlers every year. Since the beginning of this century they have won half a dozen minor championships, three under-21 titles and the same number of league titles. So it’s not as if they don’t have – or haven’t had – quality players to win a Liam MacCarthy in that period, it’s a question of why they’ve come up short all the time in the senior finals they’ve played in and in so many other senior championship games.
I don’t think it’s being fair to be questioning the credentials of the present group of players any more forensically than previous squads and arriving at conclusions that are ill considered and sensational. The facts are that Galway have lost six finals (eight if replays are included) since Conor Hayes last lifted the coveted trophy in 1988.
Divided opinionAnthony Cunningham
But the cold facts remain that too many of their senior teams have failed to finish out finals. They don’t have the disadvantage of a lack of games since they began playing in the Leinster championship in 2009, so that excuse doesn’t wash anymore.
There was talk of a curse (a la Biddy Earley) before they finally silenced that bit of fantasy in 1980 with their first victory since 1923.
Since 2009 they have the same level of competition as all the other contenders, they have a pool of players that, based on their underage success in the past decade, have to be considered good enough to achieve senior success. So what’s the problem?
Well the answer in a word could be Kilkenny. Kilkenny have beaten all before them consistently over the past decade (with one or two blips) so why should Galway come in for any extra level of criticism?
Kilkenny now have that certitude of champions that great winning teams develop, that self-confidence that has grown over the many games that the county have won in the Brian Cody era.
No other hurling county has now got that assuredness. Galway’s big match day nerves are often alluded to. But surely the problem, in the main, for them seems to come in the last quarter rather than the first. Galway are no different to Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick and Cork who Kilkenny have beaten in finals since 2006.
What has been noteworthy though has been Galway’s inability, over the past number of years, to play to the final whistle. Would it be too simplistic to proffer the opinion that match fitness is part/some of the main problem? A fade in the last quarter has often been their lot. Why? Is this psychological? I don’t think so. In their latest capitulation against Kilkenny they were a goal behind with 10 minutes left and ended up losing by eight points.
In the match television commentary it was interesting to hear co commentator Michael Duignan say that he thought the fizz was gone out of Galway in that last part of the game and this before Kilkenny totally took over. Commentator Marty Morrissey had the same sentiment a few minutes later but he used the word “buzz” instead of fizz.
So what did they run out of? Why was it not possible for them to keep playing at the same level they were at in the first half? Why did they run out of steam in last year’s final? Why have they not finished out games when they looked to have the initiative for the greater part of so many of those contests? Are the best 15 on the field in the last quarter (accepting that the starting 15 has the responsibility of keeping the team in the game until that final quarter)? Is training not consistently run at match intensity?
Or is it just that, once again, the opposition was Kilkenny?
On Sunday they take to the field against Clare, a team which has also been accused of their own version of inconsistency in recent years. The Clare management won’t have been too pleased with their performance over 70 minutes against Limerick a fortnight ago. They haven’t reached the “settled team” stage yet.
While the comprehensive beating that their under-21 team got from Waterford last week isn’t too significant, it can’t be ruled out as a negative in the build up to Sunday. Podge Collins’s football exploits are not ideal from a training and game preparation perspective.
The bookies odds, based on a mixture of statistical probabilities and public opinion, point to a Clare win but then odds change depending on the behaviour of customers. However, the betting markets are reliable enough predictors of winners. Keep and eye on those fluctuating odds because I’m not sure who’ll win this one.