Tribe on the march

Shane Walsh ready to end Galway's 15-year Croke Park hoodoo

The Tribesmen haven’t won a championship game at GAA HQ since they lifted Sam Maguire in 2001.

FINIAN HANLEY USED to tell his teammate Shane Walsh about the 2008 Connacht title he won in his first year on the Galway panel. Hanley expected the silverware to keep rolling in, but they made it to just two Connacht finals in the following seven years. They lost both to Mayo.

Shane Walsh Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Galway fell off the radar in the proceeding years, as Mayo’s strange hold on the province took place. But for a county who’s U21 footballers have won the same amount of titles as Dublin’s U21s in the last five years, they’re finally starting to deliver on some of their enormous potential.

Yet when you examine Shane Walsh’s record in Croke Park, you realise just how far off-Broadway this team had been playing before their resurgence under Kevin Walsh. Galway haven’t won a championship game at Croke Park since the All-Ireland final in 2001.

The young forward has played five games at HQ and lost all five — once with the county minors, once with his school in a Hogan Cup final, and three times with Galway in the last three years.

Hard to believe a team that failed to get out of Division 2 of the league is one win away from producing the county’s deepest run in the championship since the blowout All-Ireland final win over Meath fifteen years ago when Joyce, Fallon, Donnellan, Og de Paor, Meehan et all cast their names in stone.

It says plenty about Galway’s fortunes in the years in between, but it also says a lot about this group of players and their character. Is there a danger they’ll sit back, content with a first provincial final in eight years? No chance, says star forward Shane Walsh.

“To be honest, I think with the group that’s there, no. They’re never happy enough. We want to see what this team can really produce. Everyone knows that it’s all about Croke Park, everyone loves to produce it in Croke Park.

“I think the lads will just eat it up now coming into Croke Park and getting to run out there, I think it’ll be a massive experience for them. I think everyone will look to drive it on and just step it up another gear hopefully when we get to Croke Park.”

Walsh can sense a huge difference in arriving into Croke Park as Connacht champions. Galway will face a Tipperary in Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final side buoyed by a run through the qualifiers, but Walsh feels confidence is high in the Galway camp too.

“It’s a massive change. I’ve never experienced it really, just preparing for the game. It’s a great feeling to be going in on a high. There’s no flaws there, because we might have lost a game, there’s no black marks.”

Shane Walsh Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

“We have our things to work on. We’re by no means perfect and we haven’t been perfect up to now but we have been working towards trying to get there. It is, it’s a new change getting ready to a quarter-final as champions. But it’s something we’ll embrace, the confidence the lads have at the moment we’ll be trying to bring it into the quarter-final.

Galway were motivated by a siege mentality, and they used the hype around Mayo as a huge motivator heading into their Connacht semi-final with the six-in-a-row chasing provincial champions. Walsh was the second Galway player in the last week to reference being “written off” before they played Mayo, with Damien Comer also making that point.

“We had so much motivation coming into it. Before the Mayo game, like, there was already enough motivation in that everyone was writing us off. Everyone was kind of tuned into the Roscommon/Sligo game as an interest in the other semi-final.

“To hear them on about a Mayo/Roscommon Connacht final, it was very disrespectful to Galway as a county, a county with so much tradition and so much success before, just to be written off completely. Everyone knows in a Galway/Mayo game that it can go anyway.

“Mayo/Galway mightn’t be coming as strong but on a day, any of them can beat the other. We showed it down in Castlebar that night, we had so much to prove to everyone. It’s just brilliant, a brilliant feeling that night. That was a night really of relief for us.”

Championship was always what Galway had targeted, despite a less than

“The Cavan thing was just another game. It was a black mark we didn’t win it, it was a black mark that we made mistakes. But we got on with it. We just looked forward to 11 weeks’ time because at the start of the year it was always just looking forward to the first day of the Championship.

“That was what we always looked forward to, getting another crack at Mayo. That’s what we built towards and that’s why I don’t think the Cavan game, while it would have been nice to get promoted, it wasn’t significant for us as a group.

“Obviously we were disappointed with the result but as the year went on we didn’t look back on it at all. We said we were going to learn and that’s what we did, we kept building on and building on it.”

Now the challenge is to keep building. An All-Ireland semi-final and a first win in Croke Park in 15 years would be tangible progress.

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