Galway's focus on silencing the many doubters
All-Ireland would end the annual questions over inability to translate underage and club success into senior glory
There is, it seems, a constant noise around Galway hurling in times of strife.
A rowdy din of accusation and recrimination.
A few years ago, on the morning they were beaten by Dublin in Tullamore, three ex-greats lined up to question the very hardiness of the team in the Irish Independent ahead of a match that would send their season into a tailspin.
This year, it's their removal of Anthony Cunningham by the players.
It's the non-performance in a second half against Kilkenny for the second time running.
It's Ger Loughnane calling them "gutless". It's Joe Canning. It's their lack of leaders.
It must then, be hard to be a Galway hurler preparing for a season-defining match with so much noise around them, seemingly all the time.
"How does a team with no leaders get to All-Ireland finals and semi-finals and big games against Clare next Sunday?," says Colm Callanan, their goalkeeper.
Here, it seems that Galway's players are very much aware of the noise.
Hearing it and listening to it are two different things, though,
"Sure like that's not for us really to get involved in, we'll focus on the match, those debates and opinions will always be there, it's part and parcel of it and it's water off a duck's back really," the current All Star reckons.
Most - perhaps all other - teams could endure a loss to Kilkenny and write it off.
For Galway, the Leinster final defeat and last year's All-Ireland final are pulled apart and examined microscopically.
"I don't think it's anything you brush off or accept," Callanan, now 34, suggests. "You don't want to lose to anyone, you want to win all the games and you want to be at the top of the pile yourself.
"You wouldn't be brushing it off easier or anything, it's still heart-breaking any time you do lose out, you want to be coming off the field as the winner or what's the point going on it in the first place.
"I wouldn't say it's easier to accept.
"We were a few points up," Callanan recalls, "but that's the way it goes.
"I mean you're up against probably the top team in the country in the ultimate game and when it doesn't go your way it's tough to take but you just have to get on with it.
"A new year again and we've a quarter-final to look forward to and that's where the focus is."
Maybe it's Galway's inexplicable absence from the All-Ireland winners enclosure that prompts such a reaction each year they fail to close that gap to 1988.
Since then, they've won nine minor All-Irelands and six under 21 All-Irelands.
Teams from Galway have won the All-Ireland senior club on 11 occasions in that barren span of time.
"I suppose there is no defining answer," Callanan says.
"You get over the line - then those questions may go away.
"But until we do everyone is going to try and find reason.
"I'd like to simplify it myself. There is probably six or seven teams out there who can realistically win an All Ireland.
"The margin of decision-making in a game hurling is so small.
"The reality is there is big teams out there and we would like to think we can compete with those teams. But it is very easy for it to go, I suppose, the bad way as the good way as well and it has just happened most recently that we lost.
"That is two years out of four years it has happened us the last game of the year where we didn't get over the line.
"But we were very close and even more attention was paid to it and 'why why why'...when if we're caught in losing qualifiers or not getting to provincial finals there would be a bigger deal.
"But when it's losing All-Irelands, losing semis, losing quarters, there's a big emphasis then - 'why do you not get over the line'?"
And thus every year for Galway is the season it has to happen.
"It's not that it has to happen," Callanan interjects.
"You've no divine right to win any game. The other teams are putting in the same amount of time and effort as you are.
"To be part of the whole thing, playing for your county, is a huge honour.
"To get playing out there is an unreal experience no matter what the day is, Leinster final, quarter-final or All-Ireland final.
"That's what motivates you. Playing in the big games, hoping you can win them.
"We've been working on a few things," Callanan adds, of their time spent since the Leinster final, trying to find an answer to some of the questions being asked of the team.
"No more than any other team and I'm sure Clare are the same.
"I don't think it's too different to any other game," he says of Sunday's trip to Thurles.
"You're not going to be doing anything too much different.
"The bit was between the players' teeth since we started back at the start of the year. If it's not, you're not going to last.
"Is it between our teeth a bit more now?
"I'd like to think so."