Relegation should never be a popular option and Pádraic Mannion stresses it isn’t a picnic but there are fringe benefits. Division 1B this year afforded Micheál Donoghue the chance to cast a net he may never have been able to in the top flight.
Sure, commitments with Ahascragh-Fohenagh meant Mannion and young brother Cathal were unavailable but then so too were St Thomas’ players for a short time and injuries to the likes of Joe Canning compelled Donoghue to experiment.
But he would have wanted to anyway and coming up against lower standard teams in Division 1B made it easier to give game-time to 34 players. Mannion knows that would have been difficult in the cut-throat 1A. “It mightn’t have happened. You’re playing the top teams week-in, week-out but I know you’d hear people saying that teams are in relegation from Division 1A that there’s a bit of a crisis, but I think the year Clare won the All-Ireland, it was themselves and Cork in relegation that year and the two of them got to the final.
“At the end of the year, it’s not the league that people look back on. It’s championship that you’ll be judged on, it’s separate to the league.
“I suppose the ultimate aim of the league is for management to have a look at players and for everyone to get a bit more experience. I think this year we definitely did that, I think there’s 33 or 34 different lads got game time during the league. When you see it from that point of view it was definitely a successful campaign so far.”
That’s not to suggest Galway didn’t want to come back up to Division 1A a season after coming down. Although Wexford caught them out in round two, there was still hope they would make an eight-team top division, which was touted prior to their defeat of Limerick last month. It was later rubbished by the GAA but Mannion admits it was on their minds going into the game in the Gaelic Grounds. “Yeah, it would have been. After losing to Wexford, it was a big dent in the promotion hopes but then we knew that if we came second, you might have a chance of getting up as well.”
Had Donoghue been appointed earlier than December 23, 2015, they might not have found themselves in such a predicament. Donoghue may have took something out of Division 1B but another season there won’t do them any favours.
Mannion recognises there is a dichotomy of quality in the six-team group. “There’s a bit of a gulf in class between some of the teams in Division 1A and 1B and you’d have to wonder are the weaker teams really benefiting from the format at the moment.”
And as a team who fancy themselves as a cast-iron top-four county with All-Ireland designs, more will be expected. The defender can’t ignore that they have to do more than just knock on the door. “You are never too far away, but kind of you hear it being said over the last few years, ‘we are not too far away’. We don’t want to be keeping saying that either. You eventually want to get over the line.
“One of the things we saw from the Waterford game was the character we have. And I don’t know would Galway teams of the past have come back and won that game.”
However, what’s slightly troubling for Galway is that while they beat both Waterford and Limerick in their last couple of games they did so after terribly slow starts. Coming back from 10 points down against Waterford in Salthill, he says, has given them “massive confidence” but Limerick today will be braced not to surrender a lead should they again manufacture one.
“Yeah, we didn’t start great in that game either,” the 24-year-old recalls of last month’s three-point win over Limerick. “We let them get a bit of a lead on us. The way they set up, they imposed their game on us so we’ll say we didn’t start well but they’ll probably say that they started really well and they’d be disappointed with the second half.
“But we felt at half-time that if we went out and just gave it everything for the second half, we felt we could come away with the win. Obviously, when a team has a lead and they come out and they have the wind in the second half they’ll be disappointed if they don’t push on and win it.
“We took confidence from the way we played in that second half. We’ll definitely expect a bit of a backlash from Limerick but we just have to be ready for that and hopefully we can put a 70-minute performance together now.”
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