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Saturday 17 November 2018

Where Galway must improve to have any shot at Sam Maguire

Damien Comer, left, and Shane Walsh of Galway following the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Roscommon and Galway at Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Damien Comer, left, and Shane Walsh of Galway following the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Roscommon and Galway at Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In keeping with this column's title, let's get straight to the point. Leaving Hyde Park on Sunday evening we thought to ourselves, 'Galway may be Connacht champions, but they won't be All-Ireland kingpins'.

Most September soothsayers probably agree with that, even though Galway are now 15/2 third-favourites for Sam.

That's partly because of the giant shadow cast by you-know-who-in-blue, but also because we didn't see enough against Roscommon to suggest that Galway are ready to make the next quantum leap.

For the past two summers they've hit the top-eight glass ceiling; all the evidence of 2018 suggests that they're now top-four, but can they be top of the pile? Not on Sunday's curate's egg evidence.

Is this critical judgement, coming in June, far too pre-emptive? Perhaps.

Based on the historical precedent of Galway's last two All-Ireland wins, in 1998 and 2001, it would be utterly foolish to discount them.

Touted

Back then, Galway struggled to an even greater degree against Rossies underdogs. In '98 they required a late equalising free from Niall Finnegan to force a Connacht final replay, where they eventually prevailed in extra-time. Leaving the Hyde that Saturday 20 years ago, Galway weren't being touted as champions-in-waiting.

Things looked even worse in 2001 when they lost a Connacht semi-final to Roscommon. Even with the new qualifier system offering an unfamiliar second chance, Galway appeared all washed-up.

But they regrouped, John O'Mahony tinkered, players of proven pedigree found form... you know the rest.

Speaking to The Herald last week, O'Mahony reckoned they wouldn't have won in 2001 "only for '98, because once we got back into Croke Park and in winning territory, that deep-seated belief came through in people".

We're in a different universe now, partly because this team doesn't have that All-Ireland winning memory to fall back on.

Moreover, for all their consistency this season (nine wins, one draw, one Division 1 final defeat to Dublin) we can't be sure if they have that winning mentality against the best.

In their favour, they have at least three forwards - in Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Ian Burke - close to warranting marquee status.

To go deep into summer, beyond the Super 8s, they'll probably need all three firing simultaneously. Against Roscommon, while Walsh was sublime and Burke in fine fettle, Comer only got motoring at the death, but he still delivered two priceless points when it mattered.

Some defensive doubts remain, even if they'd only leaked two goals in ten games prior to Sunday, when that tally doubled.

But ultimately, we suspect, Galway will need to reprise their second-half showing for closer to the full 70 from here on. It's not merely about pushing up on kick-outs or coming out of their 'defensive shell', it's about playing at full intensity for more than the last half-hour. Call it cut-throat ambition from the off.

Potshots

Reducing the error count (be it cheap turnovers or potshots) is another must. Kevin Walsh felt this was the root of their first-half problems on Sunday; Shane Walsh tended to agree, saying: "Kevin gave us a right rollicking because we're a lot better than that."

Therein lies the key. With Dublin surely poised to retain Leinster, Galway will be in a different Super 8 group, increasing their last-four qualification hopes.

But back in '98 or '01, Galway had no team of Dublin's stellar quality to contend with. And were their paths to cross later this summer, Galway simply won't get away with Sunday's game of two halves.

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