If Galway don’t win on Sunday, they won’t be winning an All-Ireland

Carlow’s James Doyle and Galway’s Gearoid McInerney collide during last weekend’s Leinster SHC clash at Pearse Stadium. Picture: Tommy Grealy

I was below in Cork the day that Galway played Carlow two weeks ago. It never even entered my head to check the result because I thought it was a foregone conclusion. Yet when I heard Carlow were just three points behind with eight minutes remaining, I honestly wasn’t that surprised.

I knew Galway would see the game out, but I kind of get their mentality. I understand it because west-of-Ireland people think differently to most of the country. We’re more laid back.

I know that might sound hard to believe when Ger Loughnane and Davy Fitzgerald have represented the face of Clare hurling for so long. But we are.

When I hurled for Clare, we always found it difficult to do a number on any team ranked below us. I’d often watch Tipperary and Cork annihilate Kerry into the ground in an opening-round Munster Championship match and struggle to understand it. You could get the job done without beating them to a pulp.

That attitude surely stems from being on the other side of so many hidings for so long of our history, and Galway still probably carry those inherent traits in their DNA.

They are a powerhouse, but they didn’t build the empire from the rubble of all the teams they rolled over along the way.

Just look at Kilkenny against Carlow last weekend; Colin Fennelly had the ball in the net after 18 seconds; Kilkenny were ahead by 2-4 to 0-1 after 10 minutes; they led at half time by 3-9 to 0-3. Carlow outscored them in the second half, but Kilkenny still won by 14 points.

Galway are still lacking that ruthless edge. I know fatigue was an issue, but they led Clare (on both days) and Kilkenny (in the Leinster final replay) by big margins last summer and struggled to put them away. Galway don’t have the killer instinct of Kilkenny or Tipperary, but they have still proven they’re good enough. Poor and all as they were in last year’s All-Ireland final, they still could have won the match. If Joe Canning had landed that late free, I’d be fairly confident that they would have won the replay.

Are they any better now? You’d have to say no. Aside from losing Joe, I’m not convinced that the new guys are any better, or have made the team any better, or more threatening. Jason Flynn and Davy Glennon are good lads. Jack Grealish, Kevin Hussey, and Sean Loftus have huge potential, but I’m unconvinced that the new guys introduced can make Galway the powerhouse they were in 2017.

This is a huge game for them tomorrow. If Galway don’t win, they definitely won’t be winning an All-Ireland. Wexford will come with all guns blazing but they did the same in the league quarter-final and Galway silenced them in the second half against the breeze.

Galway looked in big trouble that day at half time, but they just seem to know how to disarm Wexford’s system. You’d imagine that if the Galway half-back line gets a grip tomorrow, limits the damage Lee Chin can do, and if Aidan Harte does his stuff as the sweeper, that Galway will get enough ball up at the other end of the field to get the job done again.

If I was to be some way critical of Micheál Donoghue last year, I felt there was a definite change in style in trying to score more goals. Every team has to try to evolve, but if you can win an All-Ireland by outscoring teams with points, I wouldn’t see much reason to change. The goals will always come but you don’t always need goals to be ruthless. You can slice teams open with a thousand cuts.

One of the best halves of hurling we ever played as a team in Clare was the second half against Tipperary in the 1997 All-Ireland final. We conceded two late goals. We didn’t score a goal over the 70 minutes but winning in the style we did almost sweetened the satisfaction.

Galway probably don’t know where they are themselves now because they look like a team whose confidence has taken a big hit. Losing Joe to injury is a primary reason, but their form-line has been hazy throughout the season. Even their late collapse to Waterford in the league semi-final may be instructive when you consider Waterford’s struggles since.

The team will get stronger as the summer progresses. Joe should be back in a few weeks. Johnny Glynn and Joseph Cooney have returned from the US and Australia. The break in Harvard

certainly didn’t seem to do Shane O’Donnell any harm against Waterford, but I’d still question how much of an effect that will have on Shane later in the campaign. And it’s similar now to Glynn and Cooney’s return — have they enough fuel deposited in the tank to last the summer?

Wexford have as many questions to answer. They look to have their strongest team available but for long periods last Sunday, Dublin were by far the better side. Dublin had a lot more scoring chances and Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning was nearly man of the match.

It was interesting to hear Jim Bolger’s comments on RTÉ Radio 1 after the game, where he questioned the style the team were playing, and if Wexford were getting the most from the players with that system. Davy Fitz tells us all that we don’t understand the system, but the product is getting harder to sell unless Wexford start scoring more and conceding fewer.

One of the biggest difficulties they have is winning enough clean possession, especially from their own puckout. They don’t have enough tough guys or hard men, particularly when you look at some of the battle-hardened warriors Wexford produced in the past. The current crop are lovely ball players, but I just wonder are they almost too caught up with this accurate, short stick-passing game?

Wexford almost look obsessed with this snappy possession that they don’t seem fully equipped to win enough 50-50 duels when the contest is in the air. Dublin blew them out of it too easily last Sunday.

There are doubts about both teams, but I still believe Galway are in a much better position. If I was Micheál Donoghue, I’d see this as an opportunity to ask massive questions of the squad. If I was in his position over the last couple of weeks, I would certainly have Joe around the dressing room but I would have excluded him from any group discussion.

That might sound ludicrous when Joe is such an integral part of the group, and therefore needing to be up to speed on any tactical changes, but I’d just feel that the input would need to come from everyone else. They don’t have Joe for these few weeks so they shouldn’t need him, or be leaning on Joe, to be driving it from the sideline.

The bottom line for Galway is that they will have the three Js — Joe, Johnny, and Joseph — back in harness pretty soon. But they need to win tomorrow to ensure that Galway are still in the mix when those three return. Galway need to be primed and pumped because Wexford will bring big intensity to Pearse Stadium. Galway will be ready and I’d be fairly confident that they’ll win.

There is only one game in the Joe McDonagh Cup this weekend — Westmeath v Kerry — but the big story in the competition this week has been Offaly’s continuing struggles, and their decision to get rid of Kevin Martin as manager.

When I was in the Irish Examiner office last Monday morning getting ready to do our podcast, I was flicking through Twitter. It was mostly to check up on the level of abuse I was getting after half-writing off Cork before the Limerick game, but I was keen to see what the Offaly lads were saying about their defeat to Westmeath, which has now plunged Offaly into a relegation battle.

Michael Duignan, Brian Carroll, and Daithí Regan had very little to say, which I viewed as almost an acceptance of where Offaly now are, and of the world they live in. The three boys came out in full support of Kevin later that day when the county board removed him. I agree with everything they said, because I thought it was very wrong.

Offaly can go back to when they had a great team in 1998, when they got rid of Babs Keating and replaced him with Michael Bond. The move worked back then, but this is a different world, with a very different team now.

Maybe the county board think they’re a basement Premier League club and they’re opting for the same model as most clubs in that situation — sack the manager and hope the bounce the new fella will bring will save them from relegation.

Joachim Kelly is a great guy, a great hurling man. When I was very young, I remember my older brother Michael telling me in the early 1980s he was the best player in the game.

But Joachim Kelly isn’t Sam Allardyce.

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