Tuesday 12 December 2017

Welcome to mad world of Connacht football . . .

QUESTION One: Name the Connacht county which can boast two All-Ireland senior football titles in the last 15 years?

Question Two: name the Connacht county whose recent search for a new managerial Messiah generated enough media copy -- voraciously lapped up by the public, so it seemed -- to fill a book?

Answer number one is, of course, Galway. And answer number two is, of course, Mayo, whose last annexation of Sam Maguire came a full half-century before Galway last supped from the cup.

Hold it there: has not the land of the Tribes just concluded its own search for a new boss, culminating in last week's appointment of Tomás O Flatharta? Correct again.

The relatively muted interest in the quest to find a (more successful) successor to Joe Kernan, compared to the frenzy that greeted every new twist in the Mayo saga, was remarkable but don't ask us why.

Yes, Galway had just endured a disastrous summer (beaten by Sligo in a replay, then ambushed by Wexford) but even this sounded marginally better than Mayo's humiliating campaign (unable to even force a second day out of Sligo, then humbled by Longford). Ergo, if hope was scraping the floor in Galway, why should it be any different in Mayo?


Maybe it's reflective of the Mayo mindset -- an obsessive interest in their county team, the mood fluctuating between delusional expectation and rampant paranoia, depending on the last result. Leaving aside its traditional north county hotbed, the Galway public has never seemed quite so consumed by all things big ball.

A quick perusal of that well-known home for GAA anoraks -- www.gaaboard.com -- illustrates the point. Almost two weeks since James Horan's appointment, traffic on the Mayo manager thread had now slowed to a trickle -- but not before stretching to 93 pages. As of last Monday, the Galway manager thread extended to ... four pages.

"Well Tomás, welcome to the mad world of Connacht football. Jesus, if this thread is anything to go by, interest in football in Galway seems to be at an all-time low," one poster opined.

To which another replied: "We just don't have as many Galway posters on the board, unlike our Mayo counterparts. Any day now I'm sure Oliver Stone or Clint Eastwood willl stumble on the 90-odd page Mayo Manager thread and direct some cinematic epic that will do the whole process justice."

Big, brash Oliver Stone sounds like just the man, alright, for a plot that includes high-profile politicians in the spotlight (for JFK read double-jobbing Johnno), political intrigue (can anyone find that root-and-branch review?) and a stellar cast of would-be Messiahs (Micko, the third coming of Maughan, the homecoming of Tommy Lyons).

As for a climax? Well, after weeks of arseboxing in full public view, the county board chiefs deliver an unexpected twist with the widely acclaimed appointment of a bright yet understated rookie boss!

The Galway trawl was, by comparison, pretty dull stuff. Maybe the fate of Big Joe had scared away other high-profile candidates hailing from east of the Shannon, but the list of nominees was criticised in some quarters for lacking the 'oomph' you associate with marquee appointments.

O Flatharta won't mind if that's what people thought, especially now that he's got the job. Moreover, sceptics shouldn't gloss over the impressive body of work he produced with another maroon outfit.

His six years with Westmeath -- two as Páidí Ó Sé's sidekick, four as main man -- produced good results every second year. The Kerry duo created history with that maiden Leinster title in year one; O Flatharta reached an All-Ireland quarter-final via the scenic route in year three (famously ambushing Galway away to get there); then he claimed a league Division Two title in year five.


The other three years, especially his last one, are best forgotten ... but Galway fans will hope that O Flatharta can reproduce the defensive work that made Westmeath at their best so impenetrable, most notably in 2008 when keeper Gary Connaughton and corner-back John Keane ended the year as All Stars.

With Westmeath, he was operating with very finite resources -- a hard core of high-calibre players who all needed to stay fit. Galway have the greater cachet, of course; but as recent summers have painfully underlined, their resources are equally constricted.

Galway are but a pale shadow of the team that thrilled the nation in '98 and '01. With injury robbing them of Michael Meehan for most of their shortlived SFC campaign, it was telling that Padraic Joyce -- 33 years young -- was left carrying an inordinate burden up front this year.

Joyce cannot go on forever. Meehan cannot do it all on his own. More alarming still, Galway have even bigger structural problems in defence and especially midfield.

Suffice to say, it won't be easy for O Flatharta as he crisscrosses the country from his Dublin base to training in Galway.

Let him to be thankful, then, for that fancy new motorway to shorten the journey. And also for the fact that, unlike Joe Kernan, he won't be dogged from the start by unreasonably great expectations.

One wonders if his Mayo counterpart will be granted the same breathing space.

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