Galway get back to work


Tomorrow night, the Galway boys will be back in the dressing room together for the first time since that explosive Sunday in late September. For every other side in the country, Autumn is full of fresh vows and distant ambition, a new time. To Galway, it's just another chapter of a never ending season.

"Well, it's the same old story. I suppose for every All-Ireland winning team, the League comes around a bit too quickly," acknowledges John O'Mahony.

"I don't know where we stand to be honest. We haven't any training done since the All-Ireland and there is a risk element there I suppose. And we also have the new rules to contend with now so, we'll just have to wait and see what happens."

When you win the Championship, calendars go out the window. Yesterday, O'Mahony drove to Tuam to watch a couple of delayed Galway club games. Scribbled notes to ward off the chill. But as a new season beckons, Galway folk are still warming themselves on the embers of the summer season. Every night, functions and visits give way to silvery reminiscing. Everyone wants a piece of Sam. Easy to forget the grafting that went into attaining that bit of silver.

"We'll have to refocus, but we won't be training all that much over the winter. Players need time to recuperate. We have picked up a number of injuries since the All-Ireland through club games, so already the toll is showing. Against that, we will be going into the League knowing teams will need little motivation when playing us. We visit our old rivals Leitrim on Sunday and they will still be smarting from the summer defeat," he says.

Like most managers, O'Mahony regards the NFL experimental rules with a degree of trepidation.

"Well, the rules were put to the managers at a meeting last week and I said then that I felt the biggest factor in the betterment of the Championship had been the implementation of the rules by the referee. There were a lot of good matches this summer so I don't see any major need to change the game wholesale," he commented.

While praising the contribution of the Games Development Committee, which formulated the new rules, he expressed reservations about some of the innovations.

"I think the restriction on goalkeepers is extremely severe," he said, referring to the modification whereby the goalkeeper cannot hand-pass from inside the square, to encourage longer clearances.

"I realise that some teams specialise in the short game but I think it is becoming apparent now that styles have to be mixed. And I felt the hand pass rule was strictly enforced in the games we played in. I suppose we'll have to wait and see how it goes."

But how much value do elite teams place on the League anyway? Is it anything more that organised match practice?

"Certainly it is of tremendous value to Galway in that we spent a considerable amount of time in Division three and having emerged from there, we want to maintain our higher status. But I feel that we need to settle on a format now or players and managers will begin to lose interest."

Last year, Galway's active interest in the League ended when they fell at the quarter-final stages but they turned away from it content that they had secured a season with Division one teams.

"Now we come back to find that that has changed in the boardroom over the summer and we are facing a different League format than last year, which was also experimental. As well as that, the rules differ from those enforced last year. To tinker about with this too much could be dangerous," O' Mahony says.

But hand-pass or not, Galway will ride into most towns as the top draw of the year and might notice an edge unusual for the winter months when facing their opponents. Chances are, though, that the Galway team sheet may read a little differently over the winter than to which featured in the All-Ireland final.

"Well, I'll wait and see. Obviously I kept the panel fairly static over the summer when we got a run going but I have been paying close attention to the club Championship here and will continue to do so. If I feel players are good enough, they will be drafted in. We'll see. It'll be a long winter."

But not as long as it used to be, not in Galway.