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Murph’s Sideline Cut: Galway out in time for the Races

It has been another frustrating year for the Tribesmen, with both the footballers and the hurlers seeing their involvement in the championship ended this weekend.

Sean Denvir at the end of the game on Saturday.
Sean Denvir at the end of the game on Saturday.
Image: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

THE GALWAY FOOTBALLERS and hurlers are both out in time for the Races.

It’s never a good sign. But there are good ways and bad ways to take leave of the GAA hurling and football championships, and the teams in maroon showed us the two extremes this weekend.

The footballers had about 36 hours of (relative!) sobriety to get through until they could clock off for Ballybrit, and in that time they will surely have looked back on the Round 4 qualifier defeat to Cork as a massive opportunity missed.

I still think Cork might have the most gifted panel of footballers of any county (including Dublin), but I’ve lost all faith in them as a top team. I’m far from sure that all the reports I read in the Sunday newspapers of them finally finding their mojo and blowing Galway away in the last 7 minutes are telling the full story of this game.

It is true that they were always going to get a goal given the amount of chances they created. But the reality is that after a really fantastic third quarter from Galway, we were out on our feet for the last ten minutes. Aidan Walsh took the goal very well, and they scored a couple of excellent points after that, but they were up against a team who were running on empty.

Aidan Walsh might be a perfect metaphor for this Cork team. He is, without doubt, an unbelievably gifted footballer. In fact, if you were given a year to create the perfect modern-day Gaelic footballer, you’d probably clone Aidan Walsh and hit the beach.

When he galloped through the heart of the Galway defence and crashed a first half effort off the crossbar, you feared for what he would do to us. Everything appeared to be in place for him to dominate the game completely… but we just didn’t see enough of it. He scored the winning goal, and that should brook no argument – but similar to Cork telling us ‘a win’s a win’ – sometimes you have to ask for more than that.

For Galway it marks the end of a very strange year. The Mayo defeat will still haunt this team, but to their credit they have done an awful lot in the last four weeks to try and change the script. They’ve shown an appetite for the qualifiers that’s been lacking in recent years – helped no doubt by the long gap between the provincial defeat and the start of the qualifiers, and by a pretty kind series of draws.

Jonathan Glynn walks off the field at Semple Stadium yesterday. Credit: INPHO/Donall Farmer

We’re still a long way off the top quality teams, but what we saw on Saturday was a totally committed team, with three or four really top quality players. No more, no less. If you’d asked me in March I’d have told you that Finian Hanley, Paul Conroy, Sean Armstrong and Michael Meehan are in that category, and we didn’t see anything in this championship to suggest we have any additions to that list… yet.

Armstrong in particular has long been a lightning rod for criticism, and much of it from people who watch club football in the county and should know better. I won’t deny he has often flattered to deceive, and maybe he owes Galway a couple of years of really consistent performance, but he has genuine star ability, and footballers that fall into that category in Galway are not exactly ten a penny.

He won a county final for Salthill on his own last year, which appears to be a game that many Galway fans have flushed from their memory, and hopefully his display on Saturday can be a personal catalyst for 2 or 3 years of real achievement.

Meehan meanwhile is in many ways one of the bravest footballers I’ve ever seen. He is nowhere near the physical athlete he was 5 or 6 years ago, and there are not many men who would be prepared to go through what he’s gone through to play inter-county football. But he is a class act – a freakishly gifted player who is trying to wring two or three more years out of a body that has been betraying him.

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If Danny Cummins had been able to stay on the field, Meehan might have benefited even more from a stretched Cork full-back line. As it was he was asked to do a lot of the selfless running that he is not really designed to do anymore. But hopefully the memory of this defeat will convince him another hard winter of training is worth it.

Crossroads

The footballers managed to give us a summer against the odds, but even though the hurlers lasted about 22 hours longer in their championship, their year simply never got going.  One win, against Laois, and two spirit-crushing, comprehensive defeats leaves hurling in the county at yet another crossroads. There is no guarantee that the talent Galway showed last year will ever rear its head again.

And that’s what makes this so frustrating.

Their conquerors in last year’s All-Ireland hurling final also bowed out, as you can read about elsewhere TheScore. I wrote last year that if Kilkenny hadn’t won the All-Ireland replay so easily, Cody might have thought it a good time to step away. The truth was, that All-Ireland replay victory papered over the slow decline that’s been evident in their play for the last two years, and against which they have battled so magnificently.

If he goes now, it will close the book on one of the really great stories of the GAA – of Cody, and Shefflin, and the extraordinary success those two men were able to create.

This Week Murph Was – sitting in Croke Park on Saturday with two Cork football fans behind us when a friend turned to me and said – “don’t ever slag off a Cork player when there’s a fan within earshot. If they’re at the game, they’re probably related to a player.” And yes, I AM that bitter. Gimme a week, I’ll be ok by next Monday…

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