Damien Hayes: transitional period. INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Young blood giving new life to Galway, insists Damien Hayes

The Portumna sharpshooter feels the new management can help smooth the transition from underage success to senior glory – and build on the huge enthusiasm in the Tribe.

THROUGHOUT ALL THE  change, Damien Hayes has remained.

Anthony Cunningham promoted a raft of his All-Ireland winning Under-21 side of 2011 when he was appointed Galway manager late last year.

It meant a culling of some big names, but the free-scoring Hayes was always going to be key to the Tribe’s resurgence.

Depending on how results go in this weekend’s league, Galway could either be facing into a league semi-final or a relegation play-off. Such is sport when a talented bunch tries to gel.

“We’re in a transition at the minute and we’ve 18 Under-21s in our squad,” said Hayes. “The most important thing for our league, and our Walsh Cup and Railway Cup, was that them lads were blooded and see who was stepping up to the mark and who wasn’t.

“There is some very good talent in the squad and our panel is being cut at the end of the week so we’ll know exactly who’ll be on the panel and who will not.

“I know we’ve won All-Ireland minor and Under-21 titles but there’s a huge difference. Under-21 and senior — there’s absolutely no comparison. Sometimes you’re called in for having a good club campaign and next thing you’re called into the inter-county panel — it’s just completely different. The speed: you have two seconds on the ball to control it — so you have to blood them and see what they’re like.

“When you’re called in the management have to guide you and you’ve to bind to the whole system. You have to know you’re not just going to walk straight onto the team and how hard you’re going to work to get onto it.”

Hayes sees huge merit in the appointment of Cunningham along with selectors Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert, all of whom will continue with the Under-21 side. ”The other advantage is that the three lads are over the Under-21s as well so basically if a lad doesn’t make the cut on the 30 and they’re in with the 21s and a couple are maybe showing good form or playing well, they can be drafted back in.

Damien Hayes celebrates scoring a goal against Cork in a 2011 qualifier. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

“The advantage with that as well is that if two or three lads are injured and we’re playing a trial match amongst ourselves, that they have at their disposal maybe bringing the three lads that are showing good form with the 21s into the seniors without asking any questions.

“I think that was the reason for it, the reason the lads got the Under-21 job as well.”

Galway have won a litany of titles at underage level over the years but still have to go back a quarter of a century to see any dividends at senior level. While youthful enthusiasm brings energy to a side, it does not always offer consistency.

“We didn’t play well at all in the first half the lads day (against Waterford, as was the case against Cork),” explains Hayes. “I don’t know what the reason for that (starting slowly against the Rebels) was.

“Maybe the reason was that a lot of us were up at six, half-six in the morning and that long bus journey down. We didn’t (start well) but then in the second half we showed some glorious patches of hurling. So it was a great result in Cork, no doubt about it. It’s just something we’ll just have to work on, trying to get off to good starts.

“Hopefully Sunday (in Kilkenny) might be a bit better, but we know we have areas to work on. But as Sean Og (O hAilpin) said inside (in the press conference): this is the league.”

Always giving off an air of optimism, the Portumna forward is cautiously looking forward to the season. Perhaps 2012 feels a little different? “There is huge enthusiasm in the squad and they’re bring a freshness and different approach to the whole thing.

“I suppose this would have been one of the first years we would have trained under lights at Athlone IT. We’d be hoping we’ll benefit from that later on. We have no real set-up in Galway under lights. As far as I know there’s one pitch, and that’s Mullagh, in Galway with lights. But we train in Athlone IT which has an unbelievable set-up.”

As ever, Hayes is looking on the bright side.

Damien Hayes was speaking at the launch of Centra’s ‘Brighten Up Your Day’ Community Event.

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